The banana is probably the most consumed fruit on Earth. It’s a great snack and nutritious too – but it brings lots more benefits to your health apart from a fat-free diet. Text by Henrylito D. Tacio
Davao City, 10 December 2010. Its supporters claim that in one form or another, raw or cooked, more bananas are consumed daily than any other fruit in the world. Surprisingly, nearly 90 percent of bananas that are grown are consumed locally, according to UN reports. Even so, many millions find their way onto a supermarket or grocer's shelf near you. Wherever it comes from, the humble banana is a very popular fruit.
The word “banana” is derived from the Arabic word “finger,” and in popular culture usually refers to soft, sweet “dessert” bananas that are usually eaten raw. The banana is mentioned for the first time in written history in Buddhist texts in 600 BC.
Alexander the Great discovered the taste of the banana in the valleys of India in 327 BC and described it as “the heavenly fruit that tasted like nectar sweetened in honey.” Bananas from a group of cultivars with firmer, starchier fruit are called plantains, and are generally used in cooking rather than eaten raw.
When you compare a banana to an apple, the banana has four times the protein, twice the carbohydrate, three times the phosphorus, five times the vitamin A and iron, and twice the other vitamins and minerals.
Bananas originally came from the Malesian area, where wild ancestors can still be found in the forests. Inhabitants discovered that some of the plants had edible fruits and could be propagated by suckers. Since then, selection has profoundly altered the properties of the original wild species to the yellow finger we know today.
Good for You
Many health experts claim that banana is low in protein, free of fats but high in energy. A fully ripe banana has 20-25 percent sugar. It has a significant amount of B-vitamins, especially B1 and B6. B1 is a brain tonic whereas B6 can relieve uncomfortable symptoms of pre-menstrual syndrome.
People suffering from depression have also reported good things about bananas. This may be because bananas contain tryptophan, a type of protein that the body converts into serotonin, known to help relaxation, and generally make you feel happier.
A medium-sized banana boasts 100-125 kilo calories, 4-5 grams of fibre, about 400 milligrams of potassium, 17 milligrams of calcium, 36 milligrams of phosphorus and traces of other minerals like iron.
All these can be good for the health in the right doses. Some research has pointed to reports that high potassium diets (banana being one of these) lower blood cholesterol levels. Humans taking in extra dietary potassium are also thought less prone to hypertension, strokes and atherosclerosis.
In the United States, the Food and Drug Administration recently allowed the banana industry to make official claims for the fruit's ability to reduce the risk of blood pressure and stroke. Bananas could also help people trying to give up smoking. The B6 and B12 they contain, as well as the potassium and magnesium found in the fruit, help the body recover from the effects of nicotine withdrawal.
Tree of Life
Apart from the coconut, the banana has a good claim to be the most beneficent fruit. It can be eaten fresh, processed into jam, made into sweets, fried, dried and made into purees or chips. Banana extracts can also be processed into wine, ketchup and vinegar.
The banana blossom is used in Southeast Asia and in Indian cuisine, either served raw with dips or cooked in soups and curries. The tender core of the banana plant’s trunk is also used, notably in a Burmese dish. A banana fried with batter is a popular dessert in Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia.
The banana leaves – which are large, flexible, and waterproof – have their uses, too. In some areas, banana leaves are believed to be medicinal and can heal open-skin wounds. Aside from being used as roofing, packing materials in markets and other areas of trade, the banana leaves are also used to wrap food in for cooking, and as plates to eat off.
Going bananas? It looks like we are.
Want to know more about how bananas work in the global economy? BananaLink is a site devoted to looking at the realities, for people and their environment, behind the production and trade of our favourite fruit. Banana cultivation can impose economic and social injustices through the profits generated in international trade. The pack aims to empower users to challenge these injustices as active and informed global citizens.