Go Bananas!

Once an exotic and very expensive delicacy in the United States, the familiar banana turns up just about everywhere today. You’ll find it not just at grocery stores but in restaurant salad bars, ice cream parlors and truck stops. Convenience stores often have a big basket of ripe bananas next to the checkout for an impulse buy. If you’re on the go and can’t stop for a meal, bananas are one of the simplest, healthiest and cheapest snacks around.

Bananas are routinely touted for having a high fiber content, which keeps you regular, and for being a great source of potassium. Potassium is one of the most important elements. It’s vital to blood circulation, heart and kidney action, and to maintaining healthy blood pressure. Many people do not get enough potassium, and bananas are a great way to get it.

Mashed bananas are a perfect first food for babies. They are also included in the medicinal BRAT diet — Bananas, Rice (or rice cereal), Apple-sauce, Toast — to relieve gastro-intestinal distress in both children and adults. Today many doctors no longer recommend BRAT by itself but suggest adding it to the patient’s usual diet along with yogurt, green tea and coconut water, a natural electrolyte replacer.

Bananas also have lots of vitamins B, C and A, along with iron and phosphorus. They contain a small amount of L-tryptophan, an amino acid that some people find helpful as an antidepressant and sleep aid. Women can eat bananas to relieve PMS symptoms and menstrual cramps. If you are taking diuretics for water retention or high blood pressure, a banana or two per day can help replace the lost potassium. A few scientific studies indicate that bananas may reduce the risk of breast cancer, colo-rectal cancer and renal cell carcinoma.

Bananas are a common cooking ingredient all over the world. They can be steamed or deep fried. You can substitute bananas for butter or other cooking oils when making pancakes, brownies or bread. If you’ve spent much time among hippies, artists and other people who love natural food, you’ve probably eaten plenty of good banana bread. Fans of India cuisine know that traditional meals in Southern India are served on a large banana leaf. The leaves can also substitute for aluminum foil in grilling.

You can’t really get high by smoking banana peel scrapings, as people used to joke about doing in the 1960s, but banana peels are useful in a number of ways. You can rub the insides of a banana peel on mosquito bites to relieve itching. They can also be used in homemade cosmetics since they’re a great natural moisturizer. If you have a garden, you can fertilize it with banana peels. Put them in your organic composter.

Banana growing industries in South America are notorious for cutting down the rain forests and using potentially harmful pesticides. Some banana farms are now attempting to become more “green”. Look for eco-friendly bananas such as Pacific Coast brand in your natural grocery.

Bananas have a number of surprising practical uses outside the kitchen. In Japan, fiber from the stems and leaves has been used for many centuries to make everything from curtains to kimonos. The outer layer is durable, while the inner layer is soft and silky. Banana fabric is becoming very popular with people seeking out “green” fashions. Knitters can try banana yarn, which is actually banana fiber combined with threads of recycled silk. Journals and notebooks made with banana paper have been available for years. Today they’re even sold in mainstream office supply and variety stores.

Diabetics can usually eat bananas, but should check with a doctor first. Bananas are a source of three types of natural sugars. For a non-diabetic this makes them great for quick energy. But the high sugar and starch content means a higher glycemic index. People who are allergic to latex sometimes also have a reaction to bananas.

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