We're Bananas for Bananas

by in Healthy Tips, June 9, 2009

Okay, okay, it’s a cheesy title, but it’s the truth. In my house, bananas are a go-to snack of choice. My 4-year-old daughter, Ellena, always asks for one after ballet class — and, of course, my 2 year old cries for one, too. Beyond snacks, they’re a healthy addition to smoothies, fruit salad and simple banana bread.

Banana Basics
Originally from Southeast Asia and India, bananas are cultivated in more than 170 countries these days — especially warm, humid areas. Unlike most other fruit, bananas ripen better off the bush (yes, they come from a bush, not a tree), so they’re picked and shipped while still green. You’ve probably seen banana bunches at the grocery store — that’s exactly how they grow. Although there are hundreds of banana types, the most popular U.S. variety is the bright yellow Cavendish. Some other varieties include red, dwarf (or finger), manzano (apple-flavored) and orinoco (with a hint of strawberry). You’ll have to look a lot harder to find those.

Nutrition Info
One medium yellow banana has 109 calories and is an excellent source of vitamin B6 and a good source of potassium, fiber and vitamin C — all nutrients associated with a healthy heart. Research has linked the soluble fiber in bananas (4 grams each) to lowering your “bad” cholesterol (LDL). Other studies show that vitamin B6 is good for your heart because it helps reduce homocysteine, an amino acid that, at high levels, can lead to blocked arteries.

Cooking with Bananas
Bananas add great flavor to desserts — one classic, beloved dish is banana bread. Unfortunately, even with a fruit in the name, it’s not always the lightest treat. It took a while, but I did find a healthy banana bread that uses applesauce in place of the butter or oil. Instead of about 1 cup of oil or butter, use 3/4 cups of applesauce (1 cup of butter is equal to about 2 sticks).

One of my other favorite — and simple — desserts is baked bananas with cinnamon and honey. I also love rolling sliced fresh bananas in cocoa powder and shaved coconut — delicious! Ellie Krieger has some really great frozen, chocolate-covered banana pops. The kids will love you if you serve those on a hot day.

If you’ve overstocked on bananas, freeze them! Some people pop the whole fruit in the freezer, but it’s best to peel and slice them first and place in an airtight container or plastic bag. Frozen banana pieces go great in smoothies. I like to mix 6 ounces of non-fat Greek yogurt, a bit of skim milk, a frozen banana and whatever berries I have lying around.

Bananas are perfect for fruit salads, too — or try combining with kiwi and serving over fish like halibut or mahi-mahi.

Keep Them from Turning Black
When ripe, you can keep your bananas in the refrigerator (I prefer mine cold), but the peel turns black pretty quickly. The trick? Brush your bananas with lemon juice before placing them in the fridge. But don’t douse them in lemon juice; they may over ripen before you have time to eat them. You can store your bananas at room temperature, too — it just depends on your preference.

Shopping Tip: Choose bananas that are evenly colored with tiny brown specks (indicating ripeness). Bananas that are green at the tips still need time to ripen and should be kept uncovered at room temperature (around 70ºF). To speed up ripening, put a banana in a brown paper bag.

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