I’m often asked about my stance on bananas: thumbs up or thumbs down? When I give them the green light some people are surprised and will ask, “but aren’t they fattening?” The truth is bananas are a real power food, and as long as you don’t overdo it on the portion size.
A new Appalachian State University study, which compared bananas to a sports drink during intense cycling, found that naners offered several advantages. In addition to providing antioxidants not found in sports drinks, they pack more nutrients and a healthier blend of natural sugars. In the study, trained cyclists gulped either a cup of a carb-rich drink or downed half a banana every 15 minutes during a two and a half to three hour road race. Blood samples taken before and after revealed that the cyclists experienced similar performance effects, and a greater shift in dopamine, a neurotransmitter that plays a role in movement and mood after eating the bananas. Some research also indicates that inadequate dopamine may be tied to obesity.
But bananas aren’t just for athletes. In my newest book S.A.S.S! Yourself Slim I include several banana recipes, including my Green Tea and Vanilla Banana Almond Smoothie and Vanilla Almond Frozen Banana snack. They’re also on the list of fruits you can use to build your own meals using my ‘5 piece puzzle’ concept (meals made from specific portions of produce, whole grain, lean protein, plant-based fat and natural seasonings).
While it’s true that bananas pack more carbs per bite than other fruits (because they’re lower in water), there’s no need to shun them, even if you’re trying to lose weight. Bananas are a rich source of potassium, which in addition to reducing blood pressure, supports muscle maintenance and acts as a natural diuretic that alleviates water retention and bloating. Their vitamin B6 also helps maintain healthy blood sugar levels and their fiber content boosts satiety and improves digestive health.
To avoid carb overload just be sure to choose “baby” bananas, the ones that are about the size of long fingers, or stick with a five-inch portion. Here are three of my favorite satiating but slimming banana-based breakfast and snack combos:
Spread one slice of toasted 100 percent whole grain bread with two tablespoons of almond butter, top with a five-inch portion of sliced banana, sprinkle with ground cinnamon, and enjoy with a cup of ice cold organic skim or non-dairy milk.
Fold a five-inch portion of sliced banana into six ounces of nonfat organic Greek yogurt or a non-dairy alternative with one quarter cup toasted rolled oats, two tablespoons sliced or chopped nuts, and a generous shake of ground nutmeg. Allow the mixture to sit in the fridge overnight for even more flavor, or freeze it to enjoy as an ice cream alternative.
Banana ginger chocolate parfait
Melt a quarter cup of dark chocolate chips, such as Dagoba Chocodrops, which are 73 percent dark. Fold in one teaspoon fresh grated ginger and one serving of a puffed whole grain cereal like Arrowhead Mills puffed millet or brown rice. Layer the chocolate mixture with six ounces of nonfat organic Greek yogurt or a non-dairy alternative and a five-inch portion of sliced banana.
Cynthia Sass is a registered dietitian with master's degrees in both nutrition science and public health. Frequently seen on national TV, she's a SHAPE contributing editor and nutrition consultant to the New York Rangers and Tampa Bay Rays. Her latest New York Times best seller is S.A.S.S. Yourself Slim: Conquer Cravings, Drop Pounds and Lose Inches.