Broscience Debunk: Will Bananas Make Me Fat?Published on Thursday, June 08, 2023 by
Why all of this hate on bananas?
Browsing through social media, one encounters a lot of information, both good and bad. In addition, we might do a little harm to our mental health along the way – but that’s another issue, and if you’re reading this, thanks for the click!
At any rate - one puzzling “internet fact” that I have chanced upon several times is some strident anti-banana propaganda from health influencers. Specifically, I have seen several posts touting the claim that banana consumption makes you obese. And further, any diet including bananas will prevent you from losing weight (I have seen countless cartoon ads of bananas with the caveat that they are the #1 food to avoid for weight loss).
What is the basis for these (false) claims?
I don’t know everything, but I do credit myself with a fairly good BS detector. Anyone pointing the finger at the overconsumption of fresh fruit as a major cause of the modern obesity epidemic will have to show me a LOT of good evidence to support that claim.
Happily (disclosure – I love bananas), the anti-banana rationales given don’t hold up to scrutiny. Here they are.
Claim #1- Carbohydrates are bad.
Bananas have carbohydrates. So Bananas are bad. Bananas do contain a relatively high (~28g) amount of carbohydrates for fruit. In comparison, an apple contains about 19g. The influencers who follow this line of thought are often proponents of a ketogenic diet, which is a very restrictive way to eat and calls for a strict avoidance of most carbohydrates.
The consensus opinion of nutritional science is not so dogmatic, and the general recommendation is that most people should consume a diet in which most of their energy intake comes from carbohydrate sources, which could easily include bananas. Further, there is no clear link between carbohydrate intake and the development of obesity.
Claim #2 – Ethylene is bad.
Bananas are ripened with ethylene gas, which they naturally produce. That is why bananas will ripen faster if you put them in a paper bag -which traps the ethylene while letting in enough oxygen to speed the ripening. High levels of ethylene exposure can produce an inflammatory reaction in humans with noxious effects. So the leap the anti-banana crowd makes is that ethylene-laden bananas will trigger inflammation in your body, exacerbating conditions such as diabetes and heart disease.
However, the levels of ethylene required to produce these effects are only found in industrial exposure, encountered by workers in situations such as hospitals, factories, and farms where ethylene is used in such roles as a disinfectant, insect-killer, or industrial applications such as antifreeze and textiles. The bunch of bananas ripening in your fruit bowl will not harm you, as the amount of ethylene produced is negligible.
Bananas are good! They taste great, and they have some excellent nutritional benefits. Bananas contain such micronutrients as Vitamin C, Vitamin B6, Potassium, and Manganese. They have about 3 grams of fiber per banana, which is a small amount but still counts towards your daily need.
Can you over-consume bananas? Sure! You can over-consume anything – even water! But who would? I once encountered a bodybuilder on a mass-building diet who proudly claimed he had eaten a breakfast that included seven bananas! That incident was weird enough that I remember it 35 years later.
So relax and have a banana if you like!
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2022b, August 22). Ethylene oxide. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/niosh/topics/ethyleneoxide/default.html
- Kotagiri, R., & Kutti Sridharan, G. (2022, July 25). Primary Polydipsia. In StatPearls. Retrieved January, 2023, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK562251/
- Maduwanthi, S. D. T., & Marapana, R. A. U. J. (2019). Induced Ripening Agents and Their Effect on Fruit Quality of Banana. International journal of food science, 2019, 2520179. https://doi.org/10.1155/2019/2520179
- Manore M. M. (2005). Exercise and the Institute of Medicine recommendations for nutrition. Current sports medicine reports, 4(4), 193–198. https://doi.org/10.1097/01.csmr.0000306206.72186.00
- Tammi, R., Männistö, S., Harald, K., Maukonen, M., Eriksson, J. G., Jousilahti, P., Koskinen, S., & Kaartinen, N. E. (2023). Different carbohydrate exposures and weight gain-results from a pooled analysis of three population-based studies. International journal of obesity (2005), 10.1038/s41366-023-01323-3. Advance online publication. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41366-023-01323-3
- Zenone, M., Kenworthy, N., & Barbic, S. (2023). The Paradoxical Relationship Between Health Promotion and the Social Media Industry. Health promotion practice, 24(3), 571–574. https://doi.org/10.1177/15248399211064640
Alexander KochPhD, CSCS