It seems like every week, a new "superfood" is being introduced to the public. Many of these are exotic and expensive fruits that are often only available in Australia in supplement or extract form. Others, such as blueberries, are seasonal, so we have to wait with bated breath until they come back in season or pay a premium for imported produce. Meanwhile, one of the most popular fruits in Australia and one that is freely and inexpensively available throughout the year is often taken for granted. Is the humble banana the unsung superfood?
Health Benefits of Bananas
Most superfoods are called so because of their high levels of important antioxidants. Antioxidant levels in bananas are not extraordinarily high, so that may be why they are not touted as superfoods. However, they are rich in other nutrients that many superfoods lack or contain insignificant levels of. Some of these include:
In addition to these, bananas contain high levels of fructooligosaccharides. These unsung nutrients are prebiotics that help stimulate the growth of healthy bacteria in the digestive tract in much the same way yoghurt does. The unique combination of these prebiotics, potassium and dietary fibre help make bananas an excellent food for consumption after bouts of diarrhoea, when potassium is leached from the system and healthy bacteria is in short supply.
Vitamin B6, too, is important for healthy digestion, aiding in breaking down carbohydrates and turning it into energy instead of fat. That is one reason why many health conscious sports nutritionists recommend bananas instead of sugary and caffeine rich energy drinks for athletes. Vitamin B6 also contributes to brain health. In fact, the vitamin plays an important part in the functioning of over 60 enzymes in the body.
While antioxidant levels in bananas are not extraordinarily high as compared with many other superfoods, they are not absent. One class of antioxidants, carotenoids, help prevent chronic diseases.
Have you ever noticed that bananas seem to have a soothing effect on the nervous system? This is because bananas contain tryptophan, an amino acid that is converted into serotonin in the body. Serotonin's nickname is the "happy hormone" because of its powerful mood regulating effects.
Almost all dietitians agree that a balanced diet is an ideal diet. What could be better than a "super fruit salad" containing bananas and other fruits (including antioxidant rich berries)? If you don't have time to make a fresh fruit salad, just remember to take a banana or two with you wherever you go. They can give you an energy burst when you need it and you'll be doing your body a favour at the same time. Glamorous they may not be, but bananas are delicious, affordable and nutritious, In the end, isn't that more important than making the headlines as the latest "superfood"?Originally published on May 28, 2013