The banana, one of the most consumed foods in the world, is the fruit of the banana tree from the Musa genus. The fruit is long and grows in bunches that can weigh up to 50kg. The outer peel is quite hard and is a yellow-green colour (this varies according to ripeness). The edible part of a banana is the pulp which is off-white and fairly sweet. Bananas contain a lot of sugar, are very nutritious and, since they are very satisfying, they can be used as a substitute for small meals or can be eaten as snacks. The first trace of bananas dates back to 500 B.C. and it is said that Alexander the Great was the first to try them then, successively, they arrived in Africa and America. These fruits are typically from tropical countries and can be eaten all year round since, when they are not in season, they are cultivated in greenhouses and then exported in huge refrigerators (at approximately 12°C). If bananas do not ripen naturally a special process is undergone: the temperature of their environment is increased and the fruits are treated with ethylene. By doing this the bananas can reach different levels of maturity, which is shown by the yellow colour becoming brighter, which in turn reduces tannins and turns the starch in the pulp into sugar. The most well known varieties are: Musa sapientium, Musa cavendishi (also known as Dwarf Cavendish) and Musa paradisiaca. This latter variety has the least amount of sugars and highest amount of starch, which is why it is often used in cooking or is dried in order to make a type of flour. Bananas have a standard size (200g) and each fruit provides around 200Kcal, which shows they are not hyper-calorific and thus are recommended by dieticians, in moderation, for those following low calorie diets. They should not, however, be eaten at the end a meal since, in this case, enough calories will have already been consumed.
Banana plant illnesses and parasites
Bananas, due to limited genetic diversity, are often subject to illnesses and parasites, made worse by the fact that inside the fruit, the seeds are very small/non-existent. The most common illness is cercospora¸ found mainly in North Italy and the Po Valley, which is characterised by small, necrotic marks on the peel that can multiply and later destroy the fruit if fertiliser is not used to treat it. It was believed that this illness came from the DNA of a virus integrated in the genome of the Mura balbisiana and was also named the illness of the ‘black stripes’. Another illness particularly feared by banana cultivators is the ‘Banana Bunchy Top Virus’ (BBTV), which is most destructive in Asia. There are two main ways to control it:
1) eradicating the infected plants;
2) controlling the carriers that spread the infection.
The make up of bananas
Thanks to the banana’s nutritious and energetic properties, this fruit is very good for those who carry out sport (it is best to eat a banana 45-50 minutes before playing sport). The presence of vasoactive substances, like thiamine, dopamine, noradrenaline and serotonin too, in addition to starch, sugars, vitamins B1, B2, C and E, minerals (phosphorus, magnesium, sodium, potassium, iron and zinc) and tannins also aid our bodies. A 100g banana contains 1.09g of protein, 0.33g of fat, 22.84g of carbohydrates, 2.6g if fibre, 89Kcal and 74.91g of water.
Vitamins in a banana
Amongst the B vitamins present in bananas, B2 is important as it encourages the removal of toxins, keeps the hair and nails healthy and restores brightness to the skin. Vitamins PP and B6 are also very important for the skin’s health and for regulating sexual hormones. Vitamin B, in particular, acts very well when combined with 2 other substances that are present in bananas: tryptophan and magnesium, which together stimulate the body in to producing serotonin, which is essential for a good mental equilibrium, our mood and for sleeping well.
Medicinal properties of bananas
According to a study carried out by Mind (a company that gives business advice) bananas are very good for those who suffer from depression. This is due to a particular substance found in them (tryptophan) that the body turns in to serotonin, improving the mood and mental balance. These two factors are also helped by the large number of B vitamins in bananas, which have a calming power over us. A study carried out at the Institute of Psychology in Austria demonstrated (in contrast to what seemed to be the case to many dieticians) how much the banana positively affects stressed, overweight people: by analysing 5,000 hospitalised patients, the researchers discovered that obese people are most prone to getting stressed at work but consuming bananas every day helps them to feel less pressed by their work and more satisfied, stopping them from turning to huge meals. The research concluded that, in order to avoid insatiable appetites brought on by stress, it is necessary to control one’s blood sugar levels, by eating foods that are rich in carbohydrates every 2 hours, stabilising these levels. Regarding blood pressure, bananas work very well to bring this down, thanks to the high concentration of potassium contained in them: the Food and Drug Administration, in America, has even allowed banana sellers to declare the ability that bananas have to reduce health risks and strokes, caused by high blood pressure. Another study, carried out in Twickenham, gave 200 students bananas twice a day (breakfast and lunch) with the aim of boosting the capability of their brains. The result was that, after the ‘treatment’, the students were more receptive and attentive. The intestines also benefit from this fruit as, being rich in fibre, it helps the digestion system to carry out its ‘work’ properly, overcoming problems like constipation and thus avoiding the use of laxatives. Furthermore, not everyone knows but, a very good way to get rid of a hangover is to make a banana frappe with some added honey. This is because banana calms down the stomach, which also means you can eat it when suffering from heartburn, as it has an anti-acid effect, and the honey balances out the blood levels, which are altered by alcohol. Lastly (strange but true!), bananas are very good for those who want to stop smoking as vitamins B6 and B12 together with potassium and magnesium help the body to deal with nicotine withdrawal symptoms.
Bananas and cosmetics
Bananas can also be used for face masks thanks to their high concentration of potassium, beta-carotene and B vitamins. Potassium is a very strong diuretic and therefore it is useful for helping with water retention and puffiness under the eyes, which can be seen when we wake up. Beta-carotene, on the other hand and which the body turns into vitamin A, hinders the actions of free radicals, thus maintaining the body’s youth and making the skin soft and smooth.