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Bananas: Nutritional Info and Interesting Facts

History: Bananas are America’s number one fruit. An average American eats 28 pounds per year. Bananas grow from bulbs or rhizomes; they sprout shoots annually on plants, not trees. Bananas contain no fat, cholesterol or sodium. Chiquita and Dole split top sales for the banana market at 25% each; Del Monte controls 15%. (www.corsinet.com/trivia/bananas.html)

There are more than 500 varieties of bananas. The most commonly sold in the U.S. is the Cavendish, which was developed to resist disease, insects, and windstorms better than earlier varieties. Bananas are not grown commercially in the U.S. India and is the world’s largest producer, then Brazil. Most of ours come from S. China. Bananas were officially introduced to the U.S. at the 1876 Philadelphia Centennial Exhibition, wrapped in foil and sold for 10 cents each. (corsinet.com)

According to East Indian legend, the banana was the fruit referred to in paradise as coming from the “Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil,” and they theorize that Adam used a banana leaf, not a fig leaf, to cover himself. (www.innvista.com/health/foods)

Plants can grow to 40 feet high and hold as many as 200 bananas. Banana clusters are called hands and each contains 10 to 20 “fingers.” Bananas begin by growing downwards, but then grow towards the light so the tips point upward. Fifteen hands can weigh about 90 pounds. If you put a ripening banana in a closed container with green tomatoes or an avocado, the other fruits will ripen much quicker. (www.innvista)

Health benefits: Bananas contain potassium, which helps to maintain normal blood pressure and heart function. Bananas protect the stomach lining from forming ulcers; their fiber helps with elimination; and potassium may help promote bone growth or, at least, help prevent thinning bones. (The World’s Healthiest Foods at www.whfoods.com.)

Bananas can also help with anemia, since they are high in iron; hangovers, since they can calm the stomach; morning sickness by keeping blood sugar levels up; and the inside peel is good for stopping the itch of mosquito bites. (corsinet.com/trivia)

After age 50, the average person experiences some muscle loss. Muscles appear to break down to neutralize acid residues left by foods we eat, but potassium carbonate can slow muscle loss. Potassium may also lower risk of stroke, bone loss, and kidney stones. (Nutrition Action Healthletter, May 2008)

Nutrition: An average sized banana has 108 calories and contains Vitamin B6 (pyridoxine), Vitamins A and C, calcium, iron, potassium (467 mg), dietary fiber, antioxidants, and manganese.

Cooking bananas (plaintains) have a starchier quality than a regular sweet banana and are usually considered a vegetable.

Bananas contain fructooligosaccharide, a compound called a prebiotic, which nourishes probiotic (friendly) bacteria in the colon. Good bacteria help the colon to work more efficiently, aids the body in absorbing calcium, and decreases the risk of colon cancer. (whfoods.com)

The more golden colored banana cultivars also contain provitamin A carotenoids, “which have been shown to protect against chronic disease, including certain cancers, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes.” (whfoods.com)

Bananas ripen naturally, off the plant. To ripen quicker, add an apple to bananas placed in a paper bag. Do not refrigerate before they ripen it will stop the process – but it is OK to put fully ripened bananas in the refrigerator to keep the fruit longer. The skin will darken, but the fruit will stay fresh longer. You can also freeze bananas and keep them for about two months. Remove the peel and place in plastic wrap or puree and place in a freezer container. You can add a touch of lemon juice before freezing, to prevent discoloration. (www.whfoods.com)

Warnings: If you have a latex allergy, some fruits, like bananas, plaintains, avocados, and chestnuts, contain substances called chitnases, which can create a crossover allergy affect. The enzymes are increased with food processed with ethylene gas; cooking the foods can deactivate the enzymes. (whfoods.com)

Bananas can interfere with the action of drugs like MAO inhibitors (monoamine oxidase), used as antidepressants or antihypertensives. The point of the drugs is to break down tyramine, an amino acid, so it can be removed from the body. Tyramine is a chemical that constricts blood vessels and raises blood pressure. Bananas contain tyramine. (innvista.com/health/foods)

Bananas also contain large amounts of serotonin, a natural chemical that causes blood vessels to expand or contract. Carcinoid tumors secrete serotonin that creates by-products in the urine, which can be tested. If a large amount of foods containing serotonin – bananas, avocados, eggplant, pineapples, plums, tomatoes, and walnuts – are eaten up to three days before an endocrine tumor test, you could get a false positive. (innvista.com)

Ripe bananas can be enjoyed raw and added to other foods – like cereal, salads or sandwiches – or they can be an ingredient in delicious baked goods like banana bread or banana cream pies. They can also be made into drinks or ice cream. They can also be cooked into wonderful cuisines, such as sous vide style banana pudding (make sure you also read some sous vide vacuum sealer reviews)

Bananas are so common that we all know to peel them before eating. However, as recently as 1930, the banana was still an exotic fruit to some people. A northern warlord, Wu Chusheng, was invited to Peking to attend a banquet where bananas were served. He ate one whole. His host showed him how to peel and eat the banana properly. So as not to lose face, Wu took another one and said, “I always eat them like this,” and ate another unpeeled banana. (innvista.com/health)

1. http://wwwcorsinet.com/trivia/bananas.html. “31 Banana Facts.” Retrieved 5-11-08.
2. http://innvista.com/HEALTH/foods/fruits/banana.htm. “Bananas,” 4 pages. Retrieved 5-12-08.
3. http://whfoods.com/genpage.php?pfriendly-1 tname;=foodspice dbid;=7. “The World’s Healthiest Foods.” Health benefits, description, history, nutritional profile. Retrieved 5-11-08.
4. “Nutrition Action Healthletter,” published by the Center for Science in the Public Interest, May 2008.