Can Your Heart Go ‘Bananas’?

The humble and versatile banana — a popular fruit worldwide that’s great as a snack, breakfast, or even dessert. There are lots of recipes that feature bananas, like smoothies, oats, pancakes, puddings, fritters, muffins, and even bread. (Yes, we’re referring to the lockdown banana bread obsession!)

So a banana can be a great addition to many dishes, but there’s a lot of confusing information out there about whether the fruit is actually good for health. Some hail banana as a “superfood”, while others condemn it as a culprit for weight gain and indigestion.

In particular, there’s a lot out there about how bananas affect blood pressure and heart disease risk. Dr. YOU is here to demystify the scientific research behind the link between bananas and heart health.

Breaking down the science

Contrary to (un)popular belief, bananas are actually nutritious fruits that are rich sources of a host of vitamins and minerals. These include vitamin B6, fiber, potassium, magnesium, vitamin C, and manganese.

One medium ripe banana (which is one serving) contains:

  • About 110 calories
  • 0 grams of fat
  • 1 gram of protein
  • 28 grams of carbohydrates
  • 15 grams of naturally occurring sugar
  • 3 grams of fibre
  • 450 mg of potassium

Notice how the potassium content is in the hundreds? This is where our buddying fruit might have a positive effect on heart health. Potassium is an essential electrolyte for sending electrical signals via the nerves, muscle contraction, and maintaining fluid balance in your body.

Potassium and sodium have opposite effects and are in a constant state of tug-of-war in your body. Sodium raises blood pressure, while potassium helps the body get rid of excess sodium through the urine, thereby helping reduce blood pressure. Sodium leads to fluid retention in your body, while potassium helps counterbalance this effect of sodium.

We know how salt can be a major culprit of high blood pressure. This is because of the sodium in it. So foods high in potassium are encouraged to regulate your blood pressure. Healthy adults should aim for 4,700 mg of potassium daily, and bananas are considered one of the best sources of potassium! One medium ripe banana helps you meet about 10% of your daily potassium requirement.

Research says a lot!

Bananas are good sources of potassium, and a high-potassium diet is recommended to help manage blood pressure and other aspects of heart health.

1. Bananas, which are a rich source of potassium, can help regulate your blood pressure and minimize your risk of stroke!

The science says: An analysis that pooled results from several studies showed that increasing potassium intake can lower systolic BP by 3.49 mm Hg and diastolic BP by 1.96 mm Hg among adults with hypertension. Moreover, higher potassium intake was linked with a 23% lower risk of stroke.

2. Bananas can help lower your diastolic blood pressure!

The science says: One study that used data from four countries looked at whether consuming different raw fruits was linked with BP changes. Banana consumption was inversely related to diastolic BP among participants in China and Japan, but had no effect on systolic BP.

3. Bananas can help lower your blood cholesterol levels!

The science says: One review stated that phytosterols, which are naturally occurring compounds found in the banana peel and pulp, help regulate blood cholesterol levels. These compounds have a similar structure to that of the cholesterol in your body. So, they compete with cholesterol to get absorbed in the intestines. In fact, doctors recommend diets rich in phytosterols to patients who can’t tolerate cholesterol-lowering medications.

4. Bananas can boost your good cholesterol levels!

The science says: A study explored whether eating bananas for breakfast for 12 weeks had any effect on patients with high cholesterol. The researchers found that eating about 2 medium bananas lowered the ratio of ‘bad’ cholesterol to ‘good’ cholesterol by 0.3 points, and this was statistically significant. Thus, eating bananas might have positive impacts on blood cholesterol levels in the long run.

So should you go ‘bananas’?

Yes, bananas are beneficial for heart health, mainly due to the BP-regulating effects of potassium. But it’s important to note that bananas are not the only source of potassium. Other good sources of potassium include avocados, apricots, fat-free milk and yoghurt, spinach, peas, tuna, dates, and oranges. Managing your blood pressure and general heart health requires several aspects of your lifestyle, like medication adherence, stress management, quitting smoking, and regularly exercising.

Given the high nutritional content of bananas, these fruits will also assure you of other health benefits, like digestive health, antioxidant effects, and weight maintenance. So there’s no harm in sneaking this yellow goodness into your breakfast, snack, or dessert!

DISCLAIMER: Dr. YOU aims to bring you the latest evidence-based science, and our content is for informational purposes only. The content is not medical advice or guarantee of an outcome. You should always consult a doctor or qualified healthcare professional if you need further clarification and before making any changes to your treatment plans and lifestyle, or that of others.

Dr. YOU is a one-stop platform to address the health information needs of health consumers. Our goal is to arm people with the information necessary to make meaningful decisions regarding their health and nudge behaviour change.

With our combined experience of two decades in research and healthcare, we built the Dr. YOU platform around the WHO-endorsed “Best Buy” intervention design for preventing and managing chronic diseases.

Follow us on Medium (@drYOUofficial) and Instagram (@dr.YOU_official) for the latest content and updates.

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