Bananas (Bananos)

The Ardent Light Motherland is blessed with about 500 banana trees of six different varieties making our tribe banana self-sufficient (we never have to buy bananas again). Banana (called banano in Costa Rica) is the most popular fruit in the world with about 1000 varieties (with various sizes and colors such as green, yellow, red, purple, or brown when ripe) in existence and grown in more than 150 countries, producing 105 million tons of fruit per year. It is a deciduous plant now cultivated throughout the tropical and subtropical world. The most commonly known banana is the Cavendish variety, which is produced for export markets (see featured image above). Bananas are often grown seedless although seedy varieties are known to exist in the wild. Technically, banana are herbs that have been mistaken for trees because of their woody stem that can grow up to 15 meters (49 feet) high. The banana fruit itself is actually classified as a berry as they grow in clusters like most berries.

The Story of Bananas

Wild banana with large, hard seeds.

Some horticulturists believe bananas are the first fruit to come into existence on the earth, originating in Southeast Asia, in the jungles of Malaysia, Indonesia or Philippines, where many varieties of wild bananas still grow today. The original banana was green, had seeds, was not sweet, and had to be cooked in order to make it edible. By cross-breeding the green and red cooking bananas (modern day plantains), a Jamaican by the name of Jean Francois Poujot produced the first seedless yellow sweet banana that we know of today that can be eaten raw. The word banana is derived from the Arabic word banan which means ‘finger’.

Nutrition and Medicinal Value

bananas

A variety of bananas on the Ardent Light Motherland.

Organically-grown bananas (scientific name Musa acuminata colla) are a good source of carbohydrates, vitamin A, B6 (pyridoxine), C, magnesium, manganese, fiber, potassium, calcium, biotin, and copper. Flavonoids and poly-phenolics, such as lutein, zeaxanthin, beta and alpha carotenes, act as free radical-gobbling antioxidants as well as superoxide dismutase, catalase, and glutathione antioxidants. For the most antioxidants, eat fully ripened fruit.

Medicinally, bananas have been used to treat or alleviate grey hair, hangovers, insomnia, depression, vision problems, low libido, stomach ulcers, morning sickness, upset stomach, heartburn, indigestion, GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease), constipation, diarrhea, PMS (premenstrual syndrome), muscle cramps, stress, warts, pimples, arthritis, anemia, high blood pressure, stroke, heart disease, diabetes, obesity, osteoporosis, kidney stones, cancer, and HIV or other infections. Bananas are also used to increase and maintain good energy levels, alertness, and concentration. One medium-size banana contains (not an exhaustive list):

  • Vitamin B6 28% Daily Value (DV) – the amount needed daily to help prevent anemia and coronary artery disease
  • Vitamin C 15% DV 11 mg – supports immune system, fights infections, repair and maintain skin, blood vessels, cellular tissue, teeth and bones. It’s antioxidant properties stop free radical compounds from damaging DNA and aid in the prevention of heart disease, osteoarthritis, cancer and high blood pressure.
  • Manganese 16% DV – needed to activate antioxidant enzymes
  • Potassium 12% DV 467 mg – important for controlling heart rate and blood pressure and decreasing the risk of osteoporosis, kidney stones and stroke. Potassium helps activate enzymes vital for adenosine triphosphate, or ATP synthesis and energy metabolism. It is an electrolyte as well as a mineral and helps maintain skeletal, smooth and cardiac muscle contractions. If your diet is high in sodium, your body may require more potassium than normal to keep the minerals in balance. Bananas are often called a brain tonic because its rich source of potassium can make a person very alert so they are perfect for students.
  • Fiber 12% DV 2 g – soluble and insoluble fiber which helps decrease the risk of digestive system disorders.
  • Copper 10% DV – enough to keep up the production of red blood cells
  • Vitamin H (Biotin) 10% DV – help metabolize fats and carbohydrates, prevent hair loss, strengthen hair and nails, regulate blood sugar, maintain nervous system
  • Vitamin A 2% DV – together with carotenoids help protect you against chronic diseases like diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and other types of cancer.
  • Iron 1% DV 0.3 mg – increases the production of hemoglobin in the blood to prevent anemia
  • Sodium 1 mg – primary ion and electrolyte within the body needed for blood regulation, glucose absorption, enzyme operations, heart performance, muscle contraction, and transmission of electrical impulses throughout the nervous system

For a more complete nutrient profile of banana, see Banana: In-Depth Nutrient Profile by The World’s Healthiest Foods.

Prevents/Reverses Grey Hair

Superoxide dismutase breaks down free radicals, and catalase is an enzyme that protects cells by degrading excess hydrogen peroxide thereby preventing or even reversing grey hair if enough is consumed.

Prevents Cancer & HIV or Other Infections

Glutathione, considered one of the most powerful of all antioxidants, may play a critical role in preventing cancer and infections. Research showed that among fruits and vegetables proven to be associated with cutting your risk of renal (kidney) cell carcinoma, bananas were the highest. Though bananas are high in potassium and therefore naturally occurring radioactive potassium isotopes, the level of radioactivity is harmless even if you ate bananas all day. See Are Bananas Radioactive & Unsafe to Eat? video to learn more.

The Journal of Biological Chemistry in March 2010 published a study which found a lectin protein in bananas called BanLec which binds not only to sugars but also binds to HIV-infected cells, enveloping them and preventing their replication and transmission.

Good for Diabetics

Though a ripe banana contains 14-15 grams of sugar on average, it has a low Glycemic Index (GI) or impact on blood sugar levels because of the increase in pectins and fructose when bananas ripen. Pectin is a special configuration of fiber of which part is soluble and part is insoluble and helps slow down the release of simple sugars into the bloodstream thereby allowing the body enough time to properly utilize the simple sugars for energy. The increase in fructose relative to glucose allows the cells to absorb the simple sugar without the need for insulin, thereby giving the pancreas a break. Glucose, on the other hand, requires insulin in order to enter the cells for energy production, so ripe bananas are good for diabetics. Pectins also gently chelate toxins and heavy metals from the body.

Feeds Beneficial Gut Bacteria

Bananas are also high in fructooligosaccharides (FOS) which are unique fructose-containing carbohydrates that are are not broken down by enzymes in our digestive tract. Instead, they move through the digestive tract until they reach our lower intestine where they feed the beneficial bacteria (probiotics, especially Bifidobacterium) helping them grow and multiply thereby improving our immune system’s first line of defense, our digestion, production and assimilation of nutrients, and elimination of wastes, bad bacteria, viruses, fungi, parasites, and toxins from the body. FOS act as a prebiotic, a substance that encourages probiotics. As FOS ferment in the digestive tract, they enhance the body’s ability to absorb calcium thereby preventing osteoporosis.

Good for Controlling Weight & Cravings for Sweets

For those who want to control their weight by controlling their cravings for sweets, research has found that cravings for sweets during stress could be successfully satisfied by eating a banana every 2-3 hours. Also, a healthy level of gut bacteria (see above paragraph) plays a critical role in weight loss and maintaining healthy weight.

Better Than a Sports Drink & Prevents Muscle Cramps

According to a 2012 study of distance cyclists, eating half of a banana every 15 minutes of a three-hour race was just as good at keeping energy levels steady as drinking an equivalent amount of carbohydrate and minerals from a processed sports beverage. The advantage with bananas is that it has no toxic processed sugar and is free of the chemical food coloring found in most processed sports drinks. Athletes also use bananas to prevent muscle cramps due to their high potassium levels. A recent study showed that the consumption of one or two bananas prior to an hour of exercise kept blood potassium levels higher after the training. You can also prevent nighttime leg cramps by eating a banana before going to bed.

Remedy for Hangovers

A raw banana milkshake with raw honey can give you immense relief from a hangover. Cold raw grass-fed milk soothes the stomach lining and bananas with honey build up depleted blood sugar levels.

Helps Prevent or Alleviate the Effects of Depression

Though bananas do contain serotonin (the “feel-good” or “happy” neurotransmitter) and tryptophan (the amino acid that together with the vitamin B6 in bananas helps your body make serotonin), the serotonin and tryptophan levels found in bananas are not high enough to be an effective cure for depression unless you eat bananas all day long. However, they do have other nutrients (e.g., five B vitamins) that help combat the effects of depression thereby making it an effective preventative. For example, people who suffer from depression commonly lack energy and have trouble concentrating. Bananas have the amino acid tyrosine and vitamin B6 both of which your body needs to make norepinephrine, a neurotransmitter that stimulates brain activity to produce alertness and concentration. Vitamin B6 also helps serotonin cross the blood-brain barriers to help alleviate depression. The potassium, as we learned above, helps activate enzymes necessary for ATP and energy production. Insomnia is another common symptom of depression. Foods that contain tryptophan can help a person fall asleep more easily, so eating a banana shortly before going to bed at night may help alleviate insomnia.

Help Maintain & Calm the Nervous System

Of the eight known B vitamins, bananas are an good source of five of them: thiamin (B1), riboflavin (B2), niacin (B3), pyridoxine (B6) and folate (B9). The basic food source of the nervous system, these B vitamins aid the body in digesting and using other nutrients, as well as supporting a healthy heart, muscles and nerves. B vitamins “help produce and maintain new cells and are an essential part of many biochemical reactions in your body,” explains a report on bananas written by Joanne Marie for SFGate. “Bananas contain useful amounts of these B vitamins, ranging from 785 micrograms of niacin to 24 micrograms of folate in one medium banana.”

Treats & Prevents Vision Loss

Bananas, combined with the African herb orinol, have been used to treat cataracts in Nigeria. Like many other fruits, bananas also have the ability to prevent neovascular and age-related macular degeneration (ARMD), the leading cause of vision loss in adults. According to a study published in the Archives of Opthmalogy in 2004, people who eat 3 servings of fruit per day are less likely to develop macular degeneration. An 18-year study of more than 100,000 men and women found that increased fruit intake like that of bananas were even better than vegetables when it came to certain vision problems such as neovascular ARMD which is even more severe than the standard ARMD. Neovascular means that new blood vessels are growing in parts of the eye where they should not be, which leads to blood and fluid leaking underneath the retina, typically leading to blind spots in central vision and even blindness.

Improves Male Libido

Though Mother Nature gives us a hint with the phallic shape of the banana, they actually do help boost male libido with its bromelain enzyme content. Bananas are also a good source of B vitamins like riboflavin and potassium, which increase energy levels and are also vital for sex-hormone production.

Treats Skin Conditions

Tape a banana peel with the white side on top of a wart (yellow side exposed to the air) and it will shrivel and fall off in a few days. Do the same for pimples to dry them out naturally. To remove the sting and reduce the itchiness and swelling of a mosquito bite (or other insect bite or hives), rub the white part of the peel on it. To nourish and moisturize dry skin on the face, mash a ripe banana and apply and leave on the face for about 10 minutes. You can even shine your shoes or purse with the white part of the banana peel by rubbing it on then polishing it with a dry cloth.

Other Medicinal Uses

Eating a banana can lower body temperature and cool you down during a fever or on a hot day. The high levels of B-vitamins as well as potassium and magnesium can also help mitigate withdrawal symptoms when attempting to quit smoking.

Caution For Those With Latex Allergies

If you are allergic to latex, you may also be sensitive to bananas. Like avocados and chestnuts, bananas and plantain contain chitinases that are associated with the latex-fruit allergy syndrome.

Culinary Use

“Cuadrados” a variety common in Guanacaste, Costa Rica, typically eaten cooked when ripe.

When the sweet seedless bananas were first imported from the Caribbean to New Orleans, Boston, and New York, they were treated as exotic desserts and were eaten on a plate using a knife and fork. Bananas are now most commonly eaten raw by itself as a snack, but they are also popular in desserts, smoothies, and as a topping for ice cream, cereal or oatmeal. Do not refrigerate unripe bananas as it will stop the ripening process enough that it will not ripen properly even after taking them out of the refrigerator. Ripe bananas that will not be consumed for a few days can be stored in the refrigerator. While their peel may darken, the flesh will not be affected. For the maximum flavor, remove them from the refrigerator and allow them to come back to room temperature before eating. Bananas can also be kept in the freezer for up to two months. Just remove the peel and put them in an airtight freezer container or bag. If you want to use the frozen banana in smoothies or to make ice cream, use a sharp knife to slice the frozen bananas before putting them in the blender (they will slice through like butter). If you freeze them in a plastic bag, you can loosen or separate the frozen bananas by hand or use a knife to nudge the bananas apart. Our kids enjoy eating the frozen bananas as is since they taste similar to vanilla ice cream popsicle.

The Perfect Baby Food

Since bananas are so easy to digest, bananas make the perfect food for babies just beginning solid foods. Do a keyword search for “banana recipes” on the Internet to find all kinds of recipes that use bananas.

Probiotic-Rich & Delicious Banana Vinegar

Ripe bananas can also be used to make delicious and probiotic-rich banana vinegar. Simply peel a bunch of ripe bananas, mash them, and put them in a gallon size glass jar filled up to about 60% full. Put an airtight lid on it and cover the jar with a towel or put in a dark place for about 8 weeks for the very first batch. Then just strain out the vinegar into another glass jar and use for salad dressings, lemonades, soups, or just drink straight as probiotic or medicinal shots (e.g., when you have diarrhea). Add more mashed ripe bananas to the jar to fill it back up to 60% and then wait 4 weeks to make more banana vinegar. Repeat indefinitely for an infinite supply of banana vinegar.

Banana Leaves Wrap

Banana leaves are commonly used to wrap food (e.g., Costa Rican tamales, Vietnamese pork meatloaf, Vietnamese desserts, etc.) and used as disposable/compostable plates. When food is cooked (i.e., steamed or baked) wrapped in banana leaves, the flavors are enhanced and some of the polyphenols (antioxidant micronutrients) seep into the food.

Banana Tree/Stem

In Southern India, the more tender inner core of the banana tree trunk is chopped into small bits and soaked in buttermilk or diluted yogurt for a half hour before cooking and then eaten with rice as a vegetable. The banana stem or trunk core is rich in potassium and vitamin B6 which helps in the production of insulin and hemoglobin. Just eating banana stem once a week can help keep high blood pressure under control. The banana stem also helps maintain bodily fluids, is a diuretic, helps detoxify the body, and is good for dissolving and removing kidney stones.

Banana Flower

The banana flower that grows at the end of a bunch of bananas is a leafy maroon colored cone with cream colored florets layered inside. These florets are cleaned well before they are cooked as a vegetable, or marinated before putting in salads. They have a crunchy texture and a slightly bitter flavor which blends well with the other flavors in a dish. The banana flower is rich in vitamins, flavonoids and proteins. The flower has been used in traditional Ayurvedic medicine to treat bronchitis, constipation, ulcers, and menstrual cramps. Banana flower extracts have antioxidant properties that prevent free radicals and control cell and tissue damage.

Cultivation

“Guineos” in Costa Rica, commonly eaten as a cooking banana when both green and ripe.

Banana trees are great for putting potassium back into the soil since potassium is a very common deficiency in depleted soils and the entire plant is rich in potassium (roots, trunk/stem, leaves, flowers, fruit). Bananas require at least a constant humidity of 50% or higher. Daytime temperatures should be around 26-30 degrees Celsius (78–86ºF) with temperatures at night no lower than 20 degrees Celsius (67ºF). It takes about a year for a newly planted banana sapling to mature and produce fruit. Bananas require 12 hours of direct sunlight every day so they must be planted in a sunny spot.

Bananas require lots of water but also need good drainage. Other plants must be kept 4.5 meters away although other banana plants can be grown close by with beneficial results because they help to maintain a good humidity as long as there is about 2-3m of space between each one. New bananas are grown by taking and re-planting the small shoots that grow at the base of existing banana trees.

Harvesting

Red bananas tastes like a mixtures of bananas and berries.

Birds, monkeys, and elephants love bananas, too, so when at least one starts to turn yellow, it is time to cut the entire tree down and harvest the banana bunch before they get to them (unless you do not mind sharing some of the bounty with them). Birds, for example, are known to attack the banana the moment they turn slightly yellow. Each banana tree (or trunk) only fruits once in its life so it is better to cut the entire tree down to harvest the banana bunch so that all of the plant’s resources can be redirected to growing the new budding shoots.

Sustainable Energy & Bioplastic

Banana briquettes which can be burned on a stove.

Since we have so many banana trees already, we have plans to make our own bio-ethanol from fermented banana, plantain, and pineapple peels to fuel our gasoline cars. We would also like to experiment with making banana briquettes as an alternative to firewood and to reduce the need for deforestation. According to scientists, for every one ton of bananas, there are an estimated 10 tons of waste, made up of skins, leaves and stems which can all be turned into an efficient source of fuel using a very low-tech approach (basically blending the banana waste together, shaping them into bricks, and letting them dry).

In addition, a 16-year girl in Turkey invented a durable bioplastic made from banana peels that we would also like to see if we can replicate. We hope the banana peel plastic will be as durable as hemp plastic. Banana peels also make a wonderful fertilizer, especially for roses.

References

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