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Going bananas

When lunch is long over but it's not time yet for supper, what do you reach for: a chocolate bar, chips, or a doughnut and coffee?

When lunch is long over but it’s not time yet for supper, what do you reach for: a chocolate bar, chips, or a doughnut and coffee?

You probably don’t, not every time, if you are a bit concerned about staying healthy. But if you often crave something sweet, why not pack a bunch of sweet self-packaged treats, like bananas? This finger food is economical, tasty and nutritious. Most importantly, they are available in every grocery store.

Did you know that bananas are actually berries, since the fruit contains tiny seeds? Or, that a banana ‘tree’ is actually a plant – the world’s largest herb that can grow up to 15 metres?

At 110 calories each and with no fat or cholesterol, bananas are an excellent snack choice, rich in Vitamin A, all the B vitamins (thiamine, riboflavin, niacin, B6 and folic acid), and Vitamin C, as well as minerals: calcium, magnesium, phosphorous, manganese, potassium, bananas are quite appealing. Add their dietary fiber, and other nutrients and you’ve got a snack that can help keep you healthy and feeling good.

For instance, if you’re stressed, eat a banana. Bananas contain tryptophan, an amino acid that your body converts into serotonin, a relaxant. They also have Vitamin B, which helps reduce depression and calm the nervous system.

If you have certain digestive problems, bananas may help. They contain pectin, a soluble fiber (a hydrocolloid).

Being high in fiber, bananas are natural internal lubricants, good for treating constipation, hemorrhoids and diarrhea. One medium-sized banana has 16% of the daily-recommended dietary fiber intake for a normal adult.

Bananas are an exceptionally rich source of a brebiotic (fructooligosaccharide) which feeds the probiotic bacteria in the colon. These beneficial bacteria improve your ability to absorb nutrients, and also produce compounds that protect you against unfriendly micro-organisms. They help your body absorb calcium while reducing the time food is held in your bowel, decreasing your risk of colon cancer.

When your stomach bothers you, eating a banana can relieve heartburn and protect against stomach ulcers and ulcer damage. Studies have shown that a mixture of banana and milk considerably suppresses the amount of acid secreted by the stomach. Bananas affect the stomach in these two ways: first, they trigger the cells that line the stomach to become thicker, creating a thicker mucous barrier against stomach acids; secondly, their protease inhibitors help eliminate bacteria (primary cause of ulcers) in the stomach.

Additionally, the high potassium level in bananas, 467 mg, makes the banana especially beneficial.

Since potassium is essential for proper muscle contraction, it plays an important role in muscle-influenced activities like: the normal rhythmic beating of the heart; digestion; and other muscular movements. Potassium also helps to build muscles by stimulating nerve impulses that produce muscle contractions.

As a result, bananas are good for the heart. They can help normalize your blood pressure. Another ingredient, their pectin, lowers cholesterol levels by preventing the absorption of fat, reducing your chance of having a stroke. Their high level of iron also helps fight anemia and their Vitamin B6 helps your body produce hemoglobin.

Also, the potassium in bananas can minimize your risk of getting kidney stones since it suppresses calcium excretion through the urine. This, in turn, can keep your bones stronger, reducing your risk of osteoporosis.

Bananas provide quick energy, being rich in three natural sugars: sucrose; fructose; and glucose.  Complimenting your exercise, they are easy to digest (high in digestible carbohydrates) and their natural sugars provide an instant boost of sustained energy.

Interestingly with this snack, even the packaging is useful. Banana skin contains esterified fatty acids, which when rubbed on your skin can relieve skin problems like psoriasis and the irritation from mosquito bites.

When choosing bananas, pick any size you want. Still, they should be firm, but not too hard; bright-coloured in appearance; without bruises or other blemishes; and with stems and tips intact.

As you know, fragile bananas should be handled with care. Don’t put unripe bananas in the refrigerator; they won’t ripen properly even after you take them out. Although the outside may appear fine, the fruit is probably rotting from the inside out. However, you can ripen bananas at room temperature; just don’t expose them to extreme hot or cold temperatures. To ripen them more quickly, place them in a paper bag or wrap them in newspaper along with an apple.

Once a banana is ripe, you can store it in the fridge for a few days. Although its peel may darken, the inside flesh will be fine. For the best flavour, wait until it comes back to room temperature before eating.

Whether sliced over a bowl of cereal, partnered with peanut butter in a sandwich, or just peeled and eaten, a banana is a great fruit choice, no monkeying around!

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