Grabbing a banana in the morning will quiet your grumbling stomach, but this popular breakfast fruit also offers long-term benefits for your heart. The average American eats 33 pounds of bananas each year. The vitamins, minerals and antioxidants in these sweet fruits help to control blood pressure, reduce cholesterol and prevent heart disease.
Potassium is an electrolyte, which means it can transmit an electric current. Your body needs potassium to contract your heart muscle. This essential mineral also works with sodium to balance water in your body. You need some sodium for good health, but too much sodium causes water retention in your blood, raising your blood pressure. A high-potassium diet controls blood pressure by reducing these harmful effects of sodium. You need 4,700 milligrams of potassium a day, but most adults eat only half of this recommendation. One medium banana contains 358 milligrams of potassium.
Fiber is a carbohydrate that passes through your digestive system completely undigested. Bananas are a source of soluble fiber, a type of fiber that controls cholesterol and may reduce your risk of heart disease. A study by Harvard University found that a high-fiber diet reduced heart disease risk by 40 percent. For heart health, aim for at least 25 grams of fiber a day. One medium banana provides 3 grams of fiber.
Several vitamins in bananas protect the health of your heart. One medium banana provides 15 percent of your daily recommendation of vitamin C. Vitamin C absorbs iron, the mineral that transports oxygen through your bloodstream. Bananas are high in vitamin B-6, a nutrient that may prevent heart disease. Several preliminary studies show that high levels of the blood protein homocysteine increase heart disease risk, but eating enough vitamin B-6 reduces levels of homocysteine in the blood. Bananas also contain phenols, powerful antioxidants that may have a protective effect against many chronic diseases, including heart disease.
Bananas are healthy foods, but they do contain calories and sugar. One large banana has 121 calories and 17 grams of natural sugar. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, you need 1 1/2 cups of fruit a day, and one large banana equals 1 cup of your daily requirement. Enjoy your bananas fresh, cooked or frozen. If your bananas go brown before you eat them, store a few in your refrigerator. According to the Produce for Better Health Foundation, refrigerated bananas stay fresh for up to two weeks, even if the skin darkens. Instead of adding sugar to your yogurt smoothie, toss in a fresh banana for sweetness. Add bananas to whole-wheat pancakes for a hearty breakfast. For a healthy alternative to ice cream, puree bananas and toss them in the freezer. Top your frozen banana puree with a light drizzle of honey and fresh blueberries.
- USDA Nutrient Database: Bananas, Raw
- MedLine Plus: Potassium
- Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: Potassium
- Harvard University: Fiber: Start Roughing It!
- Fruits and Veggies More Matters: Banana: Nutrition, Selection, Storage
- Medline Plus: Vitamin C
- Journal of Applied Pharmaceutical Science: Antioxidant Activities of Different Musa Sapientum Fruit
- Harvard University: Three of the B Vitamins: Folate, Vitamin B6, and Vitamin B12
- Medline Plus: Potassium in the Diet
Jennifer Dlugos is a Boston-based writer with more than 10 years of experience in the health-care and wellness industries. She is also an award-winning filmmaker and screenwriter who teaches screenwriting and film production classes throughout New England. Dlugos holds a master's degree in dietetics.