They may be higher in carbs than other fruits, but the humble banana packs a very nutritious punch.
I'm often asked about my stance on bananas, and when I give them the green light some people will ask, "But aren't they fattening?" The truth is that bananas are a real power food—as long as you don't overdo it on the portion size.
An Appalachian State University study, which compared bananas to a sports drink during intense cycling, found that bananas 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 road race of two-and-a-half to three hours. 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. While it's true that bananas do pack more carbs per bite than other fruits (because they're lower in water content), there's no need to shun them, even if you're trying to lose weight. Bananas are a rich source of potassium, an essential nutrient in the body which, in addition to reducing blood pressure, helps support muscle maintenance and acts as a natural diuretic that alleviates water retention and bloating. The high levels of vitamin B6 in bananas also helps maintain healthy blood sugar levels and is vital for the production of feel-good neurotransmitters like serotonin and norepinephrine. Bananas are also packed with fiber, which boosts satiety and improves digestive health.
More good news: Bananas are super easy to incorporate into your diet. 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 "five-piece puzzle" concept (meals made from specific portions of produce, whole grain, lean protein, plant-based fat, and natural seasonings).
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 2 tablespoons of almond butter, top with a 5-inch portion of sliced banana, sprinkle with ground cinnamon, and enjoy with a cup of ice-cold organic skim or nondairy milk.
Fold a 5-inch portion of sliced banana into 6 ounces of nonfat organic Greek yogurt or a nondairy alternative with one-quarter cup toasted rolled oats, 2 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 1 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 6 ounces of nonfat organic Greek yogurt or a nondairy alternative and a 5-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 bestseller is S.A.S.S. Yourself Slim: Conquer Cravings, Drop Pounds, and Lose Inches.