You’re here because you need to know… are bananas good for you. Don’t worry! Here at Clean Cuisine we get asked this a lot. At first I thought it was a silly question. I believed everybody knew that ALL fruits and ALL vegetables were good for you.
However, with so many asking about if bananas are good for you, I had to really think about this.
Now that this post is live, we now know that MANY of you did not know how healthy bananas really are. I am here to comfort you… yes, bananas are good for you. Let me show you the details.
Although I won’t name names, I am now well aware that numerous fad diets are responsible. These diets popularize the myth that eating foods like carrots, potatoes, bananas and beets are “fattening” and not healthy.
Diet gurus who forbid foods like bananas and potatoes encourage dieters to be conscious of the glycemic index (GI). Which is the carbohydrate-containing foods they eat.
By the way, bananas and potatoes contain a special type of fiber called “resistant starch”. This type of starch actually helps to control blood sugar and reduce fat storage after meals. Which is certainly not a bad thing!
Low GI foods are considered “good” while high GI foods are considered “bad”. Since carrots, potatoes, bananas and beets all rate high on the GI index they have all been labeled “bad”. Which I don’t agree with at all.
But to understand this all a bit more you need to understand a smidgen about the GI…
Let’s Talk About the Glycemic Index (GI)
The glycemic index is a numerical system of measuring how quickly a carbohydrate- containing food turns to glucose (blood sugar). Once glucose from the food you eat is absorbed into your bloodstream blood glucose levels go up. This makes your pancreas secrete insulin to move sugar out of your bloodstream and into your brain and muscles. After all, it is not safe to have high blood sugar levels.
On the GI index, the slower a carbohydrate containing food is turned to sugar, the lower the GI score. Here’s a very general scale:
70 GI or more is considered HIGH
56-69 is considered MEDIUM
55 or less is considered LOW
The theory behind the Glycemic Index is simply to minimize insulin-related problems. This is done by identifying and avoiding foods that spike blood sugar levels. This sounds simple and reasonable enough. But things aren’t always as simple as they seem.
Research shows a diet that contains unrefined foods in their natural form does NOT negatively impact blood sugar. Foods such as bananas, carrots, “whole” potatoes, whole grains and beans actually have the opposite effect.
Studies have shown that a diet based on such “whole” carbs can actually reduce fasting insulin levels 30-40% in just three weeks (1). The key is that the diet must be based on unrefined and fiber-rich “whole” carbs.
Carbohydrate-rich refined and empty calorie foods that are sugary and floury like pretzels, fat free cookies, pizza dough and white bread are not what I am talking about. If you eat refined carbohydrates like these, you will negatively impact your blood sugar and secrete more fat-storing insulin than is desirable.
Would You Eat 3 Bananas All at Once?
In addition to unjustifiably classifying some “whole” carbs in the “bad” category, thr GI rating system has another problem.
When the GI rating system is measuring the GI value of food, it does not take into consideration the normal portion size a person would typically eat. Would you eat 3 bananas at one single sitting? Probably not.
But that’s the amount of bananas the GI rating system assumes you would eat in a single serving and that is the serving the GI system is based on.
How is the GI of a Food Determined?
The GI value of a food is assessed by giving 10 or more volunteers a serving of a carbohydrate-containing food with 50 grams of digestible carbohydrate.
Scientists then take blood samples every 15 minutes to test how long it takes the 50 grams of carbohydrates to turn into blood sugar. The subject’s response to the carbohydrate being tested is compared with the subject’s sugar response to 50 grams of pure glucose.
Since glucose is standard, it is the reference food and the testing of glucose on the subject’s blood sugar levels is done on a separate occasion. The average blood sugar response from 8-10 people will determine the glycemic index (GI) value of that particular carbohydrate containing food. And yes, it is complicated (far too complicated I might add!)
Using the complex GI assessment method, carrots end up ranking high, or “bad”. However, the typical 3 ounce serving of carrots contains just 9 grams of carbohydrates and 2 grams of fiber (7 grams of digestible carbs).
It’s not at all accurate to say that carrots have a high GI because it’s practically impossible to eat 21 ounces of carrots. Which is the amount needed to obtain the 50 grams of net carbs used to measure the GI of a food.
Bananas Have a High GI Rating Too
Yes, it’s true. According to the GI index, bananas have a high GI rating too. Except, as mentioned above, you would need to eat nearly 3 whole bananas in order to obtain 50 grams of net carbs. Again, I’m betting you have never eaten 3 whole bananas in a single day, much less all at once!
The portion distortion issues with the GI system are just one reason why it is not a reliable method for making healthy food choices.
Are Bananas Good For You?
Yes, yes, yes! Bananas are good for you. So are carrots, potatoes (with their skin), beets and all other “whole” carbohydrates that are eaten in their natural and unrefined form. And yes, they too have been given a high GI rating.
This is what I mean by eating these foods in their “natural” and “unrefined” form. I mean eating corn, not corn flakes and steel cut oats rather than a granola bar “made with oats. Like the steel cut oats we use in our favorite Easy Baked Oatmeal with Blueberries.
When you choose to eat whole food carbs, like bananas, you really don’t need to worry about overeating or the GI.
“Whole” carbs are difficult to overeat because they take up a lot of bulk and space in your stomach. They work mechanically to fill you up. That’s why you never see anybody gorging on bananas! And I can assure you if you have excess pounds to lose it is most likely NOT because you were eating too many bananas.
An Australian study actually showed that 240 calories of plain boiled potatoes (which are “whole” carbs and rather bulky) satisfied test subjects an astounding 7 x’sas much as a very non-bulky–but low GI— 240 calorie croissant serving.
The boiled potato / croissant study clearly demonstrates one reason why food volume / bulk is so important in weight management—the more space a food takes up in your stomach, the more full you feel and the fewer calories you eat. (2)
Banana Nutrition 101
But let’s get back to bananas. Are bananas good for you? Here’s just a bit of what you’ll find in a single banana—you decide!
Bananas are high in fiber but low in calories.
Bananas only have 100 calories! They definitely beat those “100 calorie snack packs” for nutrition and convenience! Plus, they are full of fiber. Including resistant starch that helps control blood sugar and reduce fat storage after meals.
Great for lowering blood pressure and important for bone health.
Bananas are good for your potassium intake which means they are great for lowering blood pressure. Plus, they are full of magnesium which is important for muscle and bone health.
Bananas are an anti-aging tool.
Anti-aging antioxidants including vitamin C can be found in bananas. Along with the anti-aging and disease-fighting phytonutrients.
Bananas are a Prebiotic!
Full of Vitamin B6.
Vitamin B6 is a water-soluble vitamin that your body needs for several functions and found in bananas. Yes, of course. Want to learn more? Click here for the health benefits of Vitamin B6.
Recipes With Bananas
Some of the best ways to get all of these benefits is to eat bananas in their whole form. We love adding them to our smoothie recipes, baking recipes and even these delicious “Banana Bread” Pancakes.
Or, check out our Health Banana Muffins – with no added sugar!
Or Homemade Banana Ice Cream that is so healthy, we encourage you to have a bowl for breakfast! Yum!
If you’re interested in learning just a bit more about the Gycemix Index, here you go:
Additional Major Pitfalls of the Glycemic Index
The GI doesn’t take the nutritional value of the food into consideration. Just because a food has a low GI does not make it a nutrient-dense food! According to the Glycemic Index the following foods are equally healthy choices simply because they have similar GI ranks:
- Carrots and white pasta
- Bananas and potato chips
- Watermelon and white bread
- Baked Potato and glucose
- The GI goes against common sense. Even with the most rudimentary nutrition education, common sense tells you carrots, bananas, watermelon and baked potatoes are healthier than white pasta, potato chips, white bread and glucose!
- The GI is too complicated!! Doing calculations for everything you eat and memorizing complex GI food charts is NOT practical for real life.
- The GI doesn’t take into consideration that carbohydrates are often eaten in combination with other foods that contain fiber, protein and fat—–fiber, protein and fat all slow the conversion of carbohydrates to blood sugar and reduce the glycemic load of the entire meal.
What About the Glycemic LOAD?
The intrinsic portion distortion problem with the glycemic index ultimately led scientists to come up with the idea of glycemic load, which is better than the GI but still imperfect and too complicated.
The glycemic load (GL) considers the total amount of absorbable carbohydrate (again, not counting fiber or resistant starch) in a 100 gram serving portion of the food being measured that you eat in addition to the GI of that food. Because the glycemic load factors in quantity (and therefore calories) it is a considerably better system than the GI. Using this system low density foods like potatoes, bananas, watermelons and carrots that happen to have a high GI offer a relatively low glycemic load. But regardless, the glycemic index and the glycemic load are a ridiculously complex way to approach eating. Like the misleading Nutrition Facts label, the GI food ranking system is just not the best way to choose your foods.
If You Can’t Rely on the Glycemic Index Then How Can You Tell if a Carbohydrate is “Good” or “Bad”?
The only thing you need to worry about when trying to figure out whether a carbohydrate is “good” or “bad” is whether or not it is a “whole” carbohydrate that is unrefined. That means ALL fruits, ALL vegetables, ALL beans, ALL legumes, ALL whole grains (quinoa, steel cut oats, wheat berries, sprouted flourless whole grain bread, amaranth, barley, etc.), corn and potatoes (with their skins on!!) are all healthy, slimming and good carbohydrate choices. It does not need to be made any more complex than that.
- Barnard RJ, et. al. “Role of diet and exercise in the management of hyperinsulinemia and associated atherosclerotic risk factors.” Am J Cardiol. 1992 Feb 15;69(5):440-4.
- Holt SH, et. al. “A satiety index of common foods.” Eur J Clin Nutr. 1995 Sep;49(9):675-90.