Ask SK: “I heard that bananas are fattening, is this true?”
This is a common question that we’ve received from our community, and it is a great question. There is definitely some confusion when it comes to fruit in general – is it healthy, does it lead to weight gain, what do we do about fruit? The reason why it is confusing is because there are so many different opinions online, plus our government changes guidelines constantly (probably based on who is funding them) so yes, its difficult to know what to eat!
Bananas are high in carbohydrates (one medium banana has about 30 grams of carbs) and relatively high in sugar (around 15 grams of sugar per medium banana – this can vary greatly on the ripeness) and any food that is high in carbohydrates and sugar is going to favor fat storage (more on this below). So for this reason, yes I’d have to say that they do favor fat storage.
Why bananas (carbohydrates) favor fat storage
Bananas are high in carbs and sugar, and when you eat any type of carb (other than fiber) your body breaks it down to glucose. When glucose is released into the bloodstream, your body identifies this as being highly toxic, and so it sends a hormone to get the glucose out of the blood as fast as possible. This hormone that released is insulin, which is produced by the pancreas, and it is triggered by the presence of glucose floating in the bloodstream. Insulin then shuttles the glucose to the fastest and easiest place it can, which are your fat cells, and this is why insulin is called the “fat storage hormone.” So the more carbs you eat, the more insulin that is released, and the higher the likelihood those calories will be stored as fat.
Some good news..
Bananas do have some fiber, and fiber helps to slow the release of sugar into the blood, meaning slower release of insulin, and decreased chance of fat storage. Bananas are also high in vitamins and nutrients, notably potassium which helps to decrease muscle cramps among other things. For this reason, bananas are still much better than drinking fruit juice, eating white bread, or eating candy or other non-fiber containing food.
How to eat bananas to prevent fat gain
1. Reserve bananas for after you exercise
As with any carb, the best time to them is after exercising. This is because exercise causes chemical reactions that tells your muscles to take up the glucose from the blood, meaning less insulin release and less fat storage.
2. Eat a small amount
Eat a half a banana or one banana, bananas are dense and you don’t need very much to get a good dose of sugar and flavor – remember one banana has around 15 grams of sugar.
3. Eat with a protein or fat
Both fat and protein will help to slow down the digestion of the carbs in the bananas, meaning slower release of glucose into the blood, and slower release of insulin.
4. Go for greener bananas
Ok, I know green bananas are not so tasty and that’s because they are very low in sugar. At the very least, avoid brown or browning bananas because these are higher in sugar.
5. Bananas as dessert
Bananas should be viewed of as a healthy treat because that is essentially what they are. Bananas are an excellent sweetener and can be used as a base in cakes and cookies.
If you are trying to lose weight or you have been told you are pre-diabetic or you have type 2 diabetes, then you will want to keep your banana intake on the lower side. Yes bananas are higher in sugar and carbs, yes they can promote fat gain, but follow one or more of the recommendations above and this will prevent any negative effects from eating them.
Personal note: I LOVE bananas, but I know they are higher in sugar and so I try to pair them with a healthy fat like almond butter if I do eat them. I also use them as a base for making healthy cookies – check on Instagram to see some of our recipes with banana.
About the author: Sarah-Kate Rems is an Ivy-league trained Board-Certified Family Nurse Practitioner licensed in California with an expertise in preventative healthcare. She considers nutrition and exercise to be the basis of well-being and is a strong advocate for daily physical activity and maintaining a healthy diet. Sarah-Kate is also a co-founder of The Mindful Tech Lab
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