What Is Banana Milk, and Is It Healthy?
With the growing list of dairy-free milk alternatives, you could try a new plant-based beverage every day for a week and not taste the same one in your coffee, smoothies, or cereal twice. The newest innovation to cap off the catalog: Banana milk is a gluten-free, plant-based milk made primarily from water and, you guessed it, bananas. Growing in popularity, you can likely find a couple of options at your local market, including Banana Wave (Buy It, $23 for 12, amazon.com), which contains water, banana puree, cane sugar, and oats and Mooala Bananamilk (Buy It, $26 for 6, amazon.com), made from water, bananas, and sunflower seeds. Aside from the strictly banana-based options, you'll find mash-ups of banana and nut milks, such as Almond Breeze Almondmilk blended with real bananas (Buy It, $3, target.com), featuring water, almonds, and banana puree. If none of these innovations tickle your tastebuds, you can even create your own by blending a ripe banana with a cup of water and adding in chia or flax seeds, dates, or nut butter for a boost of nutrients (though these extras may create an even thicker milk).
But is it really worth it to drink your bananas instead of eating them? Here's what you need to know.
How Healthy Is Banana Milk?
Not to be confused with Korean banana milk, which is banana-flavored cow's milk, banana milk is plant-based and dairy-free, making it ideal for vegans and the lactose-intolerant alike. In terms of nutrition, Mooala Bananamilk boasts just 60 calories and 3 grams of fat per one-cup serving. Thanks to the bananas that have been blended and bottled, the beverage also offers 360 milligrams or about 8 percent of the recommended daily allowance (RDA) for potassium — a nutrient that plays a key role in regulating blood pressure, says Keri Gans, M.S., R.D.N., C.D.N., author of The Small Change Diet. Similarly, Banana Wave's milk contains 80 calories, no fat, and 170 milligrams of potassium, and Almond Breeze's version offers 80 calories, 2 grams of fat, and a whopping 470 milligrams — or 10 percent of the RDA — of heart-healthy potassium per cup.
Much like other non-dairy "milk" products, Mooala Bananamilk and Almond Breeze's almond-banana blend are also fortified with calcium, a mineral that's super important for bone health, explains Gans. Just remember to give the jug a good shake before pouring a drink, as the added calcium sediment can settle on the bottom of the container.
While Mooala Bananamilk's third ingredient — sunflower seeds — seems a little bizarre for a smooth and silky drink, Gans says the seeds may have been infused into the drink to add a particular flavor, and with that, comes a nutritional bonus as well. "There are some health benefits to the seeds, such as monounsaturated fats, which have been associated with a decreased risk for heart disease," she says. Plus, sunflower seeds provide vitamin E, an antioxidant that has been associated with skin health and can help strengthen the immune system thanks to its anti-inflammatory properties, explains Gans. Still, the vitamin E content in Mooala Bananamilk is just 6 percent of the daily value (DV), a small portion of your RDA, she says. So if getting a large dose of vitamin E is one of your top priorities, opt for Banana Wave or Almond Breeze since they are fortified with the nutrient and pack 7.5 milligrams — 50 percent of the DV — in just one cup.
The naturally sweet bananas give all varieties a delicious and sweet taste. Still, Mooala Bananamilk's chocolate flavor and Banana Wave's original variety both contain 6 grams of added sugar from cane sugar, but Gans stresses that doesn't mean you should immediately rule it out. "In the context of a total diet, 6 grams might not be that much, but you'd need to consider where else you're getting added sugar from," she says. Since the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) recommends capping calories from added sugars at 10 percent of your total caloric intake, there is some room to enjoy a glass of chocolate banana milk if that's what you've got a hankering for (especially after a tough workout), explains Gans.
In general, banana milk might seem like a winner, especially since it boasts essential nutrients and half the calories and two-thirds the fat of two-percent milk. But Gans stresses that its overall nutritional profile isn't going to beat out cow's milk — or even some other alt-milks — for one primary reason: protein. "If people are choosing it to provide protein with their morning meal or in their smoothie, it will be lacking," she says. (Related: Good News: The Benefits of Milk Outweigh the Potential Downsides of Dairy)
Banana Milk vs. Other Alternative Milks
When considering protein content in each of the plant-based, dairy-free milks, soy milk comes out on top, says Gans, packing in nearly 8 grams per cup — the same amount as a cup of two-percent milk — according to the USDA. Like it's legume-based cousin, oat milk also offers more of the muscle-building macronutrient — 4 grams in a one-cup serving, to be exact — than banana milk. This leaves the fruit-based drink in line with almond milk (1 gram) and above rice milk (.68 grams) for protein.
Banana milk falls short when it comes to fiber as well. With just a single gram per serving, banana milk ranks alongside almond and soy milk at the bottom of the fiber totem pole, while oat milk holds the number one spot with 2 grams of fiber, as Gans previously told Shape. "Not that you really look for fiber in your milk product, but it's something to consider," says Gans. Translation: If you want to increase your fiber intake through small changes, you might think about using higher-fiber milk in your cereal, oatmeal, etc. (Though it's always a good idea to eat more fruits, veggies, and whole grains to score more fiber, too.)
And need not forget about the drink's vitamin D content — and in some cases, lack thereof. Since very few foods found in nature contain the nutrient, which helps the gut absorb calcium and is necessary for bone growth and health, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), vitamin D is often added to milks and alt-milks, cereals, orange juice, and yogurt. For example, Silk almond milk contains 2.5 micrograms or about 16 percent of the RDA in a one-cup serving, and Oatly's oat milk offers 3.6 micrograms or 24 percent of the RDA. While Mooala Bananamilk is not fortified with vitamin D, Banana Wave's version offers a mighty 4 micrograms of vitamin D (roughly 27 percent of the RDA), and Almond Breeze's contains 5 micrograms or one-third of the RDA.
So Should You Add Banana Milk to Your Diet?
Banana milk might not take the cake as the most protein- or fiber-packed vegan milk at the supermarket, but it still offers some key macro- and micronutrients needed to stay healthy. And that means it can have a place on your plate or in your cup, says Gans. "There's room for all dairy-free 'milks' in one's diet," notes Gans. "Maybe one's for your smoothie, and one's for your coffee. There are so many uses that you don't have to commit to just one." So if you're trying to decide between using banana milk over cashew milk, almond milk, or soy milk, taste should be your determining factor, she says.
If you want to add rich and warming notes to your hearty bowl of oatmeal, swap your almond milk for banana milk. To turn your gluten-free banana bread into a treat that makes everyone bust out their best Gwen Stefani rap, use banana milk as your liquid component (it's an easy 1:1 swap!). When you're craving a sweet coffee but don't want to use straight-up sugar, splash some banana milk right into the mug. Just be aware of what it might be lacking nutritionally (think: protein), and know that it's not the be-all and end-all of healthy alternative milks solely because it's made from fruit, says Gans. "Bottom line: It's another option out there," she says.