Why You Should Eat More Bananas

February may be the shortest month of the year, but it’s loaded with important holidays and events.

A lesser-known food holiday that happens on Feb. 23, but one still worthy of celebration, is National Banana Bread Day. Clearly, its founder thinks it’s the best thing since sliced bread!

Bananas, the star of this delicious quick bread, are one of the world’s most popular fruits, with annual worldwide consumption exceeding 100 billion. On average, Americans eat about 90 bananas per person every year.

Affordable and accessible, bananas have numerous health benefits that deserve some serious unpeeling.

Bananas are a rich source of carbs, which appear mainly as starch in unripe bananas and sugars in ripe bananas. Carbs provide fuel for daily activities and workouts and may also help reduce exercise-related muscle cramps and soreness. For those with diabetes, bananas can often be worked into one’s overall meal plan or as a healthy snack to aid with stable blood sugars.

Hearts love bananas for more reasons than one. A good source of potassium—an essential mineral for maintaining normal blood pressure—bananas help keep our tickers ticking.

The fiber in bananas also does a heart good by helping to reduce blood pressure, quell inflammation, and ferry out bad cholesterol.

Lastly, bananas are high in vitamin B6, a critical vitamin that helps break down an amino acid (homocysteine) that, when elevated, has been linked to greater heart disease risk.

As mentioned, bananas boast a decent amount of fiber, with one banana providing about 3 grams of both soluble and insoluble fiber. In addition to lowering cholesterol levels, a banana’s soluble fiber absorbs water in the gut, which then forms a gel that slow downs digestion, keeps you feeling full, and slows the stream of sugar into your blood. Insoluble fiber, on the other hand, adds bulk to your stool, which helps keep you regular. In general, foods that are high in fiber help with both weight maintenance and loss.

Just over 100 calories, nutrient-rich bananas are also a good source of immune-boosting vitamin C and have no fat, cholesterol or sodium. 

Healthy Banana Bread

Adapted from wellplated.com

1½ cups ripe bananas, mashed (about 3-4)

1 large egg

1/3 cup plain Greek yogurt

2 tablespoons canola oil (or substitute applesauce)

1/3 cup light brown sugar

¼ cup pure maple syrup

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1 teaspoon baking soda

½ teaspoon ground cinnamon

½ teaspoon salt

1½ cups white whole wheat flour

¾ cup chopped walnuts or pecans

Place the rack in the center of your oven and preheat the oven to 350 F. Lightly grease a 9-by 5-inch loaf pan and set aside.

Mash the bananas in the bottom of a large bowl until mostly smooth.

Whisk in the egg, then the yogurt and oil.

Whisk in the brown sugar, maple syrup, and vanilla. Sprinkle the baking soda, cinnamon, and salt over the top, then stir until combined. Gently stir in the flour until barely combined, then fold in any mix-ins.

Scrape the mixture into the prepared pan. Bake for 50 to 60 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Check at the 35-minute mark and tent with foil if the bread is browning too quickly at the corners. Place the pan on a wire rack and let cool for 15 minutes. Remove from pan and place on rack to finish cooling completely (for neat slicing), or enjoy warm and don’t worry if the slices are messy.

TO MAKE MUFFINS: To bake this recipe as 12 muffins instead of a loaf, lightly grease a standard muffin tin, then divide the batter evenly among the cups. Bake at 350 F for 20 to 22 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean and the muffins spring back lightly when touched.

Anne Palumbo is a lifestyle columnist, food guru, and seasoned cook, who has perfected the art of preparing nutritious, calorie-conscious dishes. She is hungry for your questions and comments about SmartBites, so be in touch with Anne at avpalumbo@aol.com.