The banana is perhaps the oldest recorded fruit in the world as well as the most consumed. But some dieters avoid bananas like a slippery peel. Are bananas unhealthy? Or have some carb-phobic dieters gone bananas? Here are some banana nutrition facts...

Considered a healthy staple for thousands of years, the banana is now shunned by some low-carb dieters because of its sugar content.

Most dieticians and nutritionists would caution diabetics and those with blood sugar and metabolic deficiencies to be careful with banana intake, especially over-ripe bananas.

Diabetics—and those who burn up carbohydrates very quickly—would be better off opting for green-tipped bananas. Eating some protein and natural fat along with a banana can also help manage blood sugar levels.

So how much sugar is in a banana? And are bananas healthy for most of us?

One medium-sized banana (approximately 7 inches long) contains 14 grams of sugar. Is 14 grams a lot? It depends what kind of sugar comprises the 14 grams and how quickly those sugars spike blood sugar levels.

Blood sugar spike from eating bananas

According to the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, an all-yellow ripe American banana has a glycemic load (GL) of only 13 on a scale of 100. But an average banana’s glycemic index (GI) is approximately 50. What is the difference between GL and GI? The glycemic load is generally regarded as a more accurate indicator of a carbohydrate’s effect on blood sugar levels.

A banana’s glycemic load is considered medium (11-19 is medium; low = 10 or less; high = 20 or more), which supports the theory that those with blood-sugar sensitivities should be at least slightly cautious with banana consumption, especially overly ripe ones.

Bananas’ many health benefits

Athletes love bananas for the quick and sustained burst of energy provided. But even professional couch potatoes enjoy many benefits of eating bananas, including:

  • Battling depression: bananas contain the amino acid tryptophan, which converts into serotonin, the body’s natural mood-enhancing chemical.
  • Keeping the pipes flowing: high in fiber (3 grams), bananas can stimulate the bowels, reversing constipation.
  • Stress management: a single banana contains about 12 percent of your daily potassium needs. Stress reduces potassium levels. Fatigued? Irritable? Have high blood pressure? Eat bananas.
  • Helping heartburn: bananas, for most people, are a natural antacid.
High vitamin and mineral content

Low-fat dieters also love bananas as they contain virtually no fat. Bananas do have a gram or two of protein, but where a banana really shines nutritiously is in its vitamin content. A banana is high in the following:

  • Vitamin C: 17 percent of recommended daily value in one banana
  • Vitamin B6 (22 percent; good for the nervous system)
  • Folate (6 percent; good for cell repair)
Bananas are also high in the mineral manganese (good for bone health), supplying 16 percent of the recommended daily value. Are you susceptible to cramping? Magnesium can help prevent cramps and bananas contain 8 percent recommended daily value.

Conclusion: bananas are part of a healthy diet

Although a banana is 93 percent carbohydrate, dieters who are leery of carbs should not, by and large, exclude bananas from their diet. Bananas are not a perfect, complete food, as they do not contain all the essential amino acids. For those who crash a couple hours after eating lunch, a banana could be part of a smart, healthy snack, though it would be best combined with a higher protein snack like cheese.

A healthy diet should include several servings of fruit and vegetables each day, and a banana or two a day, for most people, should be part of that game plan.

Judd Handler is a health coach and writer in Encinitas, California.

More nutrition facts on MNN: