Bananas are nature’s version of candy: they’re so naturally sweet that they make anything you pair them with taste like dessert, albeit a much healthier version of it.
When you consider the versatility, portability, affordability, and tastiness of the humble banana, it’s not exactly shocking to see that global production of the tropical fruit is at an all-time high. In fact, bananas are the most exported fresh fruit in the world, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.
But are bananas good for you?
Even with its unwavering popularity, some still avoid bananas because they’re higher in carbs and sugar than many other fruits. But here’s the thing: it’s easy to forget that your body actually needs carbs to fuel your body, and unlike processed sweet treats, a banana’s naturally occurring sugars are accompanied by many vitamins and minerals. Plus, bananas are also rich in fiber, which slows your digestion of sugar, not to mention helps keep you feeling full.
So, are bananas healthy? You bet!
Bananas are packed with potassium
One medium banana contains 422 milligrams of potassium, or about 12 percent of your daily value of the mineral, according to the National Institutes of Health.
Your body needs plenty of potassium to operate normally. This electrolyte helps your muscles contract, nerves function, move nutrients into cells (and waste out of them), regulate your heartbeat, and regulate sodium in your body. So when you don’t get enough potassium, your blood pressure and kidney stone risk can increase, you may feel weak and tired, or even experience muscle cramps. (Here are other foods high in potassium.)
Bananas help keep you hydrated
How the heck can a solid food aid in hydration? Potassium plays a part here by helping regulate the balance of fluids in your body, especially the electrolytes you lose (like sodium, magnesium, calcium, and yes-potassium!) after a sweaty workout. Moderate to intense activity can cause small cellular changes in potassium, and athletes are encouraged to eat potassium rich foods to counteract these imbalances, according to the International Society of Sports Nutrition.
Bananas are good for your gut
One medium banana has 3 grams of filling fiber (about 10 percent of your daily intake). Bananas also contain prebiotics, a type of fermentable fiber that helps the good bacteria in your gut (also know as probiotics) thrive. (Learn more about prebiotic vs. probiotic foods.) That’s a big win for your overall health, since research suggests these beneficial bugs may improve digestion, shorten the duration of your cold, and even aid in weight loss.
Bananas are the perfect pre-workout fuel
The best foods to eat before you work out are the ones that contain natural sugars (carbs) for energy, but aren’t too harsh on your stomach. Bananas check off both of those boxes, and are portable enough to throw in a gym bag. Plus, research suggests that bananas have unique compounds that can enhance athletic performance.
… and they may help boost post-workout recovery
On the flip side, bananas may be beneficial after your workout, too. One small 2018 study published in the journal PLOS One found that certain compounds and phytochemicals in bananas could play an effective role in reducing exercise-induced inflammation-which spurs muscle soreness-after a tough bout of endurance training (in this case, intense cycling).
Bananas are good for your heart
Put another point in the potassium column, because this important mineral is vital for your heart. Research shows that eating lots of potassium is associated with significantly lower blood pressure levels and a decreased risk of stroke. That’s because potassium helps flush excess heart-stressing sodium from your body through your urine, reducing the potential damage it may have on your ticker.
Bananas can replace sugar in baked goods
One of the best reasons to eat bananas is the naturally sweet taste and soft texture that makes them an ideal ingredient in many baked goods. You can’t sub in bananas for sugar in every recipe, but you sure can look for recipes that have already done that work for you.
Bananas are rich in vitamin B6
While vitamin B6 doesn’t see the spotlight all that often, it’s an essential vitamin for a reason. Bananas contain nearly one third of your daily value of vitamin B6, which is important for brain development during pregnancy and enzyme reactions involved in metabolism. Most Americans don’t seem to fall short on their intake, but it doesn’t hurt to eat foods that are naturally rich in the nutrient.
Bananas might keep your appetite in check
No one food will take away the hanger after skipping a meal. However, eating a banana as part of a well-balanced diet may help curb your cravings. Bananas contain a type of fiber called resistant starch, which seems to help people eat fewer calories and manage their appetite, studies show. While more research needs to be done to understand the link, one medium banana only packs about 100 calories and is super satisfying due to its fiber content, so need to feel guilty about adding one to your breakfast smoothie, peanut butter sandwich, or post-dinner yogurt parfait.
Bananas keep your kidneys healthy
A banana a day may keep the doctor away. In a study of 61,000 Swedish women, researchers found that people who ate lots of fruits and vegetables-more than 75 servings per month, or roughly 3 servings total per day-had the lowest risk of developing renal cell carcinoma, the most common type of kidney cancer.
When researchers looked at fruits specifically, bananas seemed to have the most pronounced effect due to their high concentration of phenolics, compounds with antioxidant effects.
Another large study of more than 90,000 women also found that women who consumed more than 4,099 milligrams of potassium daily had a 35 percent lower risk of kidney stones than women who downed less than 2,407 mg. That’s because potassium can also help your body get rid of excess calcium, a building block of the most common type of kidney stone.