What if we told you there was a groundbreaking new tool to help you lose weight, reduce bloat, fight cancer and increase your energy—all for just about 19 cents a piece. And bonus: Each one comes with a free carrying case, so you can grab it and go! You’d call us bananas. And we’d say you’re right.
The humble fruit—botanically, actually a berry!—is perhaps the least-heralded supermarket staple, a superfood more associated with kids, monkeys and slapstick comedy than with steel-cut abs. But its powers are proven, and to investigate just how impactful they can be, Eat This, Not That! consulted our team of nutritionists to determine exactly what eating one banana does to your body. (Cool pro tip: The riper the banana, the more nutrients it has! Here are the top 21 most b-a-n-a-n-a-s things that will happen when you add the fruit to your daily diet.
You’ll Build Lean Muscle
If after a workout, you’ve felt like your muscles are sore—or not growing fast enough—you might not be getting enough magnesium in your diet. A good source of magnesium, bananas can help with muscle contraction and relaxation as well as protein synthesis — which, in turn, increases lean muscle mass. A bonus: magnesium intake helps boost lipolysis, a process by which your body releases fat from its stores. One fun way to get your magnesium: Make banana tea. Just boil some water, cut off both ends of a banana (still in its peel) and boil for 7-10 minutes. Then drain and drink before bed.
…And Recover Faster
We all know that bananas are a prime source of potassium. Because it’s an electrolyte, potassium helps your muscles recover from a workout, strengthens their development, and allows you to work out more.
You’ll Feel Happier, Faster
Bananas don’t just look like smiles; they promote them because they contain vitamin B9, (also known as folate), a nutrient that may fight depression by boosting a substrate that has antidepressant properties. In other words, it helps serotonin, the feel-good chemical, enter the brain faster. A study in the Indian Journal of Psychiatry asserts that patients with depression have blood folate levels that are, on average, 25 percent lower than healthy folks’ levels. Some doctors recommend increasing folate intake if you’re taking anti-depressants, to boost their effects.
You’ll Feel Less Stress and Anxiety
Besides the mood-boosting B9, bananas also have tryptophan, “a precursor for serotonin,” says Cassie Bjork, RD, LD of Healthy Simple Life, “and serotonin may be the most important brain chemical because is a natural anti-depressant and can treat, anxiety and insomnia, as well as other mood issues such as fatigue, irritability, agitation, anger, and aggression. Bananas also have norepinephrine, which regulates our “‘fight or flight response,’ which helps to regulate stress. They’re an optimal, natural, real-food way to promote positive moods and help to prevent depression,” she continues. “Good thing we don’t need a prescription!” (Try mashing on into detox water and drink your way calm.)
You’ll Sleep Better
This is also because of the tryptophan, says Bjork. “It’s a precursor for melatonin, which promotes relaxation and helps to regulate sleep.” Peel one before bed.
You’ll Look Less Bloated
Belly bloat makes even the most toned six-packer look like they just downed a six-pack of Coors. Fight back against the gas and water retention with bananas. One recent study found that women who ate a banana twice daily as a pre-meal snack for 60 days reduced their belly-bloat by 50 percent! Why? The fruit increases bloat-fighting bacteria in the stomach, and it’s also a legendarily good source of potassium, which can help diminish retention of fluids.
You’ll Start Burning Fat
Bananas have 12 mg of choline, a fat-blasting B vitamin that acts directly on the genes that cause fat storage in the abdomen. (One reason heavy drinkers have bloated bellies is that alcohol depletes choline, causing weight gain around the liver.) You can also find it in lean meats, seafood, and collard greens.
Your Blood Sugar Will Stabilize
“Bananas are a great source of nutrition for a lot of reasons!” says Bjork. “I encourage consuming protein and healthy fat with the banana to slow down the absorption of the sugar from the banana into your bloodstream. This is the most effective strategy for keeping blood sugar levels stable, which means consistent energy levels and weight loss (since stable blood sugar levels allow the pancreas to secrete glucagon, the fat-burning hormone!).”
You’ll Have Less Cravings
This is another benefit of keeping your blood sugar stable, one of our classic Eat This, Not That! weight loss tips. Eating a banana between meals means less binging, and no more monkeying around in the snack drawer.
And Feel Fuller
Prior to ripening, bananas are rich in something called resistant starch, which, as the name suggests, literally resists the digestion process. This feeds healthy gut bacteria, which suppresses the appetite and leads to more efficient fat oxidation. In fact, one study found that replacing just 5 percent of the day’s carbohydrates with a source of resistant starch can boost post-meal fat burn by up to 30 percent! Since underripe bananas are a bit bitter, we suggest adding them into weight loss smoothies with other fruits and veggies to mask the taste.
You’ll Reduce Bad Cholesterol Levels
If you’ve recently eaten at BK or other fast food chains, you’ve likely consumed trans fats—the kind of fat that raises your LDL (“bad”) cholesterol levels. Before you reach for the Lipitor, grab a banana. They contain phytosterols, which are compounds that have LDL cholesterol-lowering effects according to a study in The Journal of Nutrition. Additionally, “Bananas contain Vitamin B6 which is important for nearly everything—heart health, immune health, digestive health, and nervous system function,” says Bjork.
You’ll Digest Easier
Do you constantly feel…not right after eating? Of find yourself blaming the dog? Bananas can help your poor digestion. They’re an excellent source of prebiotics, nondigestible carbohydrates that act as food for good gut bacteria (probiotics) and improve digestion—because they contain (say it with us, now) fructooligosaccharides, a cluster of fructose molecules that lead to better gastrointestinal health.
You’ll Be More Regular
If you have kids, you likely already know this trick: The high fiber in bananas can help normalize bowel motility. With 3 grams of insoluble fiber, they help you push out waste better by making stools easier to pass. Bonus—they also help when things are loosey goosey: “Bananas are binding for anyone with diarrhea, and they also contain probiotics that are essentially ‘food’ for the healthy microbes (probiotics) that live in our guts,” says Isabel Smith, MS RD CDN, founder of Isabel Smith Nutrition. If you suffered from any sort of bowel trouble, you might have IBS.
Your Bones Will Grow Stronger
Although bananas don’t contain a high amount of calcium—less that 1% of your daily recommended intake—they can help promote calcium uptake with the help of those prebiotic fructooligosaccharides. As fructooligosaccharides ferment in the digestive tract, they enhance the body’s ability to absorb calcium according to a study in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.
You’ll Have More Energy
There’s a reason marathoners grab a banana before (and during, and after) the race: Bananas are rich in glucose, the most easily digestible source of sugar that will provide optimal energy for your run, power lift or Soul Cycle class. Eating one post workout helps to quickly replenish energy stores that are depleted during a tough sweat session.
Your Body Will Fight Disease
Even though bananas have no vitamin A, they can still help alleviate vitamin A deficiency. How? They’re rich in three different types of carotenoids (provitamin A carotenoids, beta-carotene, and alpha-carotene) that the body actually converts into vitamin A. Cool, right? And according to an article in the Food and Nutrition Bulletin, foods containing high levels of carotenoids have been shown to protect against chronic disease, including certain cancers, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes.
…and Battle Cancer
Delphinidin is an antioxidant found in bananas that has anti-tumor properties. A study in Carcinogenesis found that delphinidin may prevent and treat cancer.
Your Blood Pressure Lowers
According to the FDA, “ the combination of a low-sodium, high potassium intake is associated with the lowest blood pressure levels and lowest frequency of stroke in individuals and populations.” Well guess what? Bananas are high in potassium and low in sodium, the fruit is officially recognized by the FDA as being able to lower blood pressure and protect against heart attack and stroke.
Your Blood Gets Stronger
Strengthen your blood and relieve anemia with the added iron from bananas. “Iron is important for energy levels since it transfers oxygen to your cells,” says Bjork. “Iron deficiency can halt weight loss because when levels are low, the body attempts to conserve energy, which means a slowed metabolism and stalled loss, and even weight gain.” (To stoke weight loss, try experimenting with chia seeds!)
Your Vision Will Improve
Bananas contain vitamins A and C, and “both are antioxidants and are eye and skin-healthy nutrients,” says Smith. “They also have beta carotene, an antioxidant that can help to protect cells and repair damage at the cellular level. Bananas also contain other nutrients like vitamin E and lutein—both which are eye-healthy. Lutein is a nutrient that may help to reduce risk for macular degeneration.”
Rich in pectin, bananas are an all-natural detox. This gelatin-like fiber sticks to toxic compounds in the blood and flushes them out of the body through the urine. In fact, citrus pectin has been proven to increase mercury excretion in urine by 150 percent within 24 hours of supplementation, according to a study in Forsch Komplementärmed. As a rapid weight loss bonus, research shows pectin can limit the amount of fat your cells can absorb!