Metabolism Regulation and Bananas’ Role

  • Soumya Iyer International Baccalaureate, Natural Sciences, Global Schools Foundation

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Metabolism describes the various processes that happen within the body- from synthesizing molecules (anabolism) to breaking them down (catabolism). These processes need to be regulated to provide energy and for body development. Metabolic activities are regulated by hormones and diet. Bananas come in varieties like red bananas, green bananas and more. They all have different proportions of nutrients and minerals therefore it's important to add them to your diet regularly.

Nutritional composition of bananas

Macronutrient content

Carbohydrates 

Bananas are high in carbohydrates, with one medium banana having up to  28 grams of carbohydrates. They contain a high proportion of sucrose and glucose which can be digested easily to provide instantaneous energy. The ripeness of a banana also determines its ability to be free sugars; the riper the banana, the more free sugar it has.

Subsequently, they have a high amount of pectin (a type of carbohydrate found in fruits, also a type of fibre) which is a soluble fibre. This aids in better bowel movements and increases the feeling of satiety (i.e. the feeling of being full after eating). As a result, one doesn’t overeat and consume extra calories which could be beneficial in weight loss.

Vitamins 

Bananas are high in vitamins C and B6. Vitamin B6 is an essential nutrient that has been associated with many health benefits such as lowering the risk of gastrointestinal cancer and dementia. It is a water-soluble vitamin that can be easily lost from the body, meaning that it is important to replenish it regularly. On the other hand, Vitamin C is an antioxidant that helps neutralise free radicals. This is necessary to prevent accelerated ageing and eyesight loss. Just like Vitamin B6, it is also water-soluble therefore needs to be consumed regularly.

Minerals 

Bananas contain many minerals like potassium and magnesium that are essential for metabolic processes. Potassium is integral in regulating membrane transport in pumps like the sodium-potassium (pump for osmoregulation. Apart from this, potassium also promotes heart health by preventing arterial hardening that could eventually lead to plaques. They also have high amounts of magnesium that is required for nerve and muscle function. Another important process that magnesium helps in is blood sugar control. Despite its numerous benefits, it is important to consume it in a balanced amount as it could be hazardous to those with kidney issues.

Caloric value and portion sizes

A medium banana has around 110 calories which is one-twentieth  of the recommended caloric intake for an adult human. However, it does have high sugar and carbohydrate content making it important to consume it carefully. 

Regulation of blood sugar

Impact of banana  fibres  on glycaemic response

Glycaemic Index (GI) measures how quickly food can cause a spike in blood sugar. On the glycaemic index, bananas have an average score of 50 which is considered a medium glycaemic index. As the banana ripens, the glucose content increases making it more likely to spike blood sugar hence contributing to a high glycaemic index. The more unripe, the more resistant starch in the banana making it higher in fibres. These starches help maintain gut bacteria therefore improving blood sugar management. Additionally, fibres also relieve constipation which could be a symptom of hypothyroidism.

Potassium and blood pressure regulation

Potassium is known to aid in the relaxation of blood vessels as potassium pumps are involved  in the process of vasodilation. They also contribute to lower salt retention by promoting the activity of pumps in the kidneys. Through the removal of sodium chloride in the urine, there is a reduced chance of hypertension as it decreases systolic blood pressure.

Role in preventing insulin spikes

Bananas have a high proportion of fibre which plays an integral role in insulin regulation. Fibres tend to slow down digestion and absorption of sugars, which reduces random spikes in blood sugar levels. Bananas when consumed with other nutrient-dense foods can prevent sudden insulin spikes and improve blood sugar management.

Satiety and appetite control

The effect of banana  fibres  on weight management

As mentioned previously, the high fibre content in bananas aids in metabolic regulation. The heaviness of fibre leads to the feeling of fullness and fills one up faster. This reduces the chances of snacking and overeating. Despite this lowering the total amount of calories consumed, it is important to consume bananas in moderation due to their high sugar content. Therefore inculcating it in a balanced diet helps in reaping most of the health benefits that they offer.

Gut Health and microbiome

The prebiotic potential of banana  fibres 

Bananas have high amounts of inulin which feeds gut bacteria and helps in their growth and development. The variety of fibres helps feed different bacteria making it important to improve various functions like anti-inflammation and efficient digestion. Alongside these functions, gut bacteria also help improve nerve function and promote angiogenesis. Therefore, banana is a good prebiotic to improve gut health and metabolism.

Exercise and recovery

The role of bananas as a natural energy source for workouts

Since bananas are high in carbohydrates and can be digested easily, they are the perfect pre-workout snack. They are also versatile and hence can be consumed in the form of smoothies, sandwiches or just on their  own. Their high vitamin and mineral content also helps increase restoration  of any vitamins and minerals that might be lost during intense workout through sweating. 

Post-exercise muscle recovery and banana consumption

Due to it being easily digestible, bananas make a good post-workout food as well as they provide energy to cells after a workout. They are high in minerals and electrolytes and can help improve muscle recovery and growth. Consequently, they also help prevent cramping of muscles due to their high potassium content that helps regulate ion imbalance and reduces fatigue. Combining bananas with high-protein foods like Greek yoghurt helps replenish amino acids and build muscles.

Practical applications

Incorporating bananas into a balanced diet

There are many ways to incorporate bananas into one’s diet in order to fulfil daily dietary requirements. Due to its natural sweetness, it is used in baking goods like flapjacks to reduce the use of refined sugar and artificial flavourings. The softness also helps make it a good ingredient for smoothies and snacks for on-the-go food.

Red bananas are higher in vitamins and minerals than yellow ones hence are better alternatives to use in desserts like muffins and pancakes. They are mostly found in Southeast Asia where they are sometimes also paired with savoury dishes like curries and roti.

Plantains are also a variety of bananas that are usually green in colour. They are slightly harder in texture and higher in starch than sugars. They are used in Asian and African cuisines. Plantains can easily be used in sweet and savoury meals and one of the most popular uses  of them are as fried plantains, which  are simple yet rich in nutrients.

Combining bananas with other nutrient-dense foods

Due to their high sugar content, it is important to mix bananas with other nutrient-dense foods to counteract the unwanted effects of a high-sugar diet. Combining bananas with other vegetables and lean proteins improves the anti-oxidant quality of a meal. It also increases the amount of vitamins and minerals consumed which helps boost the metabolism. Subsequently, pairing bananas with other fibre-heavy foods help maintain blood sugar levels without sudden spiking. Adding on to the nutritional benefits, inculcating various foods with bananas also improves the taste and satiety provided by meals. As a result, the individual is left feeling full without wanting to overeat.

Portion control and moderation

Despite all its health benefits, bananas need to be eaten in proportion due to their high sugar content which can potentially lead to insulin resistance in high proportions. Too much fibre can lead to gastric discomfort and constipation. Alongside these side effects, highly ripe bananas have a high glycaemic index therefore individuals with a risk of diabetes or kidney disease need to be more vary in controlling the amount of banana they consume.

Summary

  • Bananas are useful in regulating metabolic activities as  they contain a wide range of nutrients
  • Bananas help prevent certain kinds of cancer, and dementia, and improve cognitive development
  • Bananas are high in calories, therefore, need to be consumed carefully, especially by kidney and diabetic  patients
  • They can be incorporated into solid and liquid diet as snacks, fruit slices and smoothies.
  • They are a healthy sweet alternative to artificial sweeteners
  • They can be consumed as pre and post-workout  snacks due to their varied nutrient content 
  • They improve nerve function, cognitive development and gut health.
  • The more ripe they are, the higher the sugar content (higher glycaemic index)

References

  • Metabolic regulation [Internet]. [cited 2023 Oct 10]. Available from: https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/medicine-and-dentistry/metabolic-regulation 
  • Hermansen K, Rasmussen O, Gregersen S, Larsen S. Influence of ripeness of banana on the blood glucose and insulin response in type 2 diabetic subjects. Diabetic Medicine. 1992;9(8):739–43. doi:10.1111/j.1464-5491.1992.tb01883.x 
  • Haddy FJ, Vanhoutte PM, Feletou M. Role of potassium in regulating blood flow and blood pressure. American Journal of Physiology-Regulatory, Integrative and Comparative Physiology. 2006;290(3). doi:10.1152/ajpregu.00491.2005 
  • Youssef’ [’Ghada Sayed. Salt and hypertension: Current views [Internet]. European Society of Cardiology; [cited 2023 Oct 13]. Available from: https://www.escardio.org/Journals/E-Journal-of-Cardiology-Practice/Volume-22/salt-and-hypertension-current-views#:~:text=Excessive%20intake%20of%20sodium%20(defined,systolic%20blood%20pressure%20%5B1%5D. 
  • Chelsea Rae Bourgeois M, Russin H. Glycemic index of bananas: Impact on your blood sugar levels: Signos [Internet]. Signos; 2023 [cited 2023 Oct 13]. Available from: https://www.signos.com/blog/glycemic-index-of-banana 

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This content is purely informational and isn’t medical guidance. It shouldn’t replace professional medical counsel. Always consult your physician regarding treatment risks and benefits. See our editorial standards for more details.

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Soumya Iyer

International Baccalaureate, Natural Sciences, Global Schools Foundation

Soumya is currently an undergraduate student pursuing BSc Biological and Biomedical Sciences (joint degree with National University of Singapore) at the University of Dundee, Scotland. As someone very passionate about scientific communication, she’s undertaken this internship following her previous experience in writing scientific reports.

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