In 2014, I asked Google many questions. “Does Benedict Cumberbatch have a girlfriend?” (He’s engaged.) “How much is membership to Club 33?” (Much more than I can afford.) “What song does that lady put on before she plays with Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s hair in Looper?” (“I Want to See the Bright Lights Tonight” by Richard and Linda Thompson.) One thing I didn’t use Google for, however, was to find out calorie counts. I especially didn’t use it to find out how many calories were in a banana.
In my opinion, the calorie count of a banana isn’t very valuable information. I tend to think that if you’re eating more plants than not, you’re doing a pretty good job. There are exceptions (poisonous plants), but if you are eating a thing that is considered by the general population to be either a “fruit” or “vegetable,” don't over-think it, you are probably on the right track, food consumption-wise.
And yet Google analytics indicate that a lot of people are very concerned with the calorie count of this potassium-rich yellow fruit. In fact “How many calories are in a banana?” was the most searched calorie count in 2014.
I blame the Banana Truthers.
A couple of years ago, I was at a wedding when some of Sean’s extended family started talking about diets and calories. I kind of zoned out, until one cousin began warning the table against the dangers of the banana. “They’re very fattening, like 70 calories per inch.” I perked up and inserted myself into the conversation -- because I am slightly insufferable -- and said something like “Uh… I think there are like 100 in the entire thing.”
“Oh. I thought there were more.”
And that was the end of that.
But this wasn't the last time I would hear someone spouting anti-banana propaganda. I had a personal trainer who was particularly bent on getting the word out on this nefarious berry. (Guys, the banana is botanically a berry! What a world!)
Once, during a particularly terrible leg day, I asked him if potassium would help stave off my impending cramps. He said yes, it would, but I should get it from a source other than bananas, because bananas were one of the worst things to eat for weight loss. Bananas were “a no benefit fruit” because “so much sugar” the “glycemic index” blah, blah, blah.
“You might as well eat a cookie,” he said.
Oh how I wish that were true. A world where cookies and bananas have the same nutritional value is a world I want to live in, but equating a cookie to a banana is ridiculous for reasons I’m pretty sure I don’t need to explain. (Or maybe I do, because why else would there be a need to write an article such as this?)
Besides being completely false (more on that in a minute) his attitude toward bananas was built on the assumption that they would -- horror of horrors -- impede weight loss. I understand that, as a trainer, his job is to help people lose weight, but this dude had just finished telling me about his weekend, which had included Jager, Jameson, and Chick-Fil-A but -- thank god -- no fattening bananas.
Bananas are not the problem. They’re not your problem and they’re not my problem. I am fully aware of my problems: beer, bourbon and gin, and the fact that I am the number one Oreo journalist of my generation. If I wanted to lose weight, I would know exactly what to cut out and it wouldn't be bananas.
But I hadn't asked about losing weight; I had asked about leg cramps, and when I got home I ate a banana. (I still got leg cramps, though.)
Where did these anti-banana lobbyists come from? What started these vicious rumors? The fruit isn't particularly high in calories. According to nutritionist Leslie Beck, a “medium banana has 105 calories and 27 grams of carbohydrate. Not much more than many other types of fruit: 1 medium pear (103 calories, 27 g carb), 1 medium apple (95 calories, 25 g carb), 1 cup pineapple (82 calories, 21 g carb) and 1 cup blueberries (84 calories, 21 g carb).” The whole “glycemic index” thing doesn't hold up either. Beck explains:
Or maybe bananas are maligned because they’re believed to have high glycemic index (GI), causing your blood sugar and insulin to spike quickly after eating one. False, again. Bananas are actually low on the GI scale, having a glycemic index value of 51. (Foods with a low GI cause your blood sugar to rise gradually, not quickly, after eating them. GI values less than 55 are considered low.)
And, of course, they are a fantastic source of potassium, with around 420 mg per serving.
So why the bad reputation? Why do some feel that bananas are a worthless, fattening fruit best utilized as a stand-in penis during condom demonstrations? Most of the criticism I could find centered around the claim that, while they are a fruit you could be eating, they are not the best fruit you could be eating. According to dietitian and nutrition blogger, Dietitian Cassie, bananas will set you up for “vicious cycle of spikes and drops in blood sugar levels.” Cassie isn't a huge fan of carbs in general:
The problem with eating a banana by itself, or any carbohydrate alone for that matter, is that because all carbohydrates turn to sugar once they reach the blood stream, they spike your blood sugar levels. This sets your body up for cravings, irritability, lack of focus and weight gain if you ride the blood sugar roller coaster long enough.
Full disclosure: The blood sugar roller coaster is my favorite ride at the fair.
Cassie suggests getting your fruit fix from lower-sugar fruits like raspberries, blueberries, and citrus fruits, but the whole thing seems a bit myopic. I get discouraging people from eating processed foods. I understand that cake has no nutritional value. Though I don’t like moralizing food choices with “good” and “bad,” I understand that the five alcoholic beverages I consume per week are not “good” for my physical well being.
But when people start labeling fruits and vegetables as “good” and “bad,” I really think they’re over-thinking it. Eating a banana is not going to "wreck your diet," and those who insist otherwise might need to chill out a bit. The funny thing is, every person who has warned me about bananas was either a drinker, smoker, or eater of fried food. In their cases, not eating bananas is kind of like clipping your dogs nails when he's on fire; it's not a detail that needs attention, given the current circumstances.
The healthiest dude I know (a very happy vegan triathlete -- basically the opposite of me) eats 5 bananas a day. He's very into them; he even has his own banana ripening station.
I’m not suggesting his banana-heavy diet, merely using it as an example of someone who eats “way too many bananas” and is totally fine. Better than fine, actually, because of all the triathlons.
Raspberries might be “better for you” than bananas, but discussing it at length feels kind of like discussing the nuances of Hendrick’s Gin versus Boodles. Each are great in their own right, though they have slightly different applications, and ultimately, they accomplish the same thing.
Actually, talking about bananas is nothing like that, because talking about bananas gets pretty boring pretty quickly. In fact, I can’t believe I've gone on this long.
Someone else settled this a while ago: