Pick of the bunch

Bananas are a super fruit.
Bananas are a super fruit.

Stand near the start line or transition area of a long-distance sports event, like a cycle race or triathlon and you'll see the athletes storing curved fruit on themselves like jungle animals.

Trampers gearing to tackle the summit of Mt Taranaki or a trek on the Abel Tasman track can't go wrong by refuelling themselves with the slither-of-a-moon- shaped fruit.

That's because this naturally packaged fruit is one of the most versatile, health-giving foods on the planet.

Not only do bananas provide easy-to-digest potassium-packed energy snacks during endurance outings, a small banana coupled with protein is helpful half an hour after a normal workout to refuel bodies and repair muscles.

But this fruit has many other health-giving properties, say scientists worldwide.

Researchers at the Queen's Medical Centre in Hawaii have found that eating bananas regularly could reduce the risk of having a stroke by up to 40 per cent.

That's because the tropical fruit is high in potassium but low in sodium, doctors say.

The study of nearly 6000 people aged over 65 suggested that those with the lowest intake of the mineral were 50 per cent more likely to suffer a stroke.

This was especially so for those people taking diuretics, which may prevent potassium from the diet being absorbed by the body.

Researcher Deborah Green, who led the study, suggests patients who have to take diuretics for valid medical reasons may benefit from extra potassium in their diets.

Eating bananas is one of the simplest ways to get the mineral because every 100 grams of the raw fruit contains 358mg of potassium.

It also helps keep blood pressure down.

A team of researchers from Taiwan has found that banana peel extract can ease depression and also protect eyesight.

After a two-year study, scientists at Taichung's Chung Shan Medical University found that banana peel is rich in the neurotransmitter serotonin, believed to regulate moods.

A low level of serotonin has been linked to depression, and a whole class of anti-depressant drugs have been developed to increase concentrations of the neurotransmitter in the brain.

The Taiwanese researchers recommend boiling banana peel and drinking the water, or drinking banana peel juice extracted by a domestic fruit juicing machine.

Doing so once each day or several times a week can help beat the blues, they say.

If you do this you'll get a double whammy.

The scientists say banana peel contains lutein, an antioxidant from the carotenoid family, which provides nutritional support to the eyes.

They did clinical trials on two groups of retina cells - one soaked in a solution of banana peel and the other a control group.

Each group was exposed to strong light six hours a day for two days. The results were startling.

All the cells in the control group died, but the banana- steeped cells suffered no damage and in fact regenerated.

The Archives of Ophthalmology magazine has published similar research which shows that eating three servings of fruit each day can reduce the risk of developing age-related macular degeneration. This eye disease is the main cause of vision loss in elderly people.

This study showed that oranges and bananas were the most helpful, with bananas being the most effective.

Bananas are also high in vitamin B6 to soothe nerves, a good source of iron to help people beat anaemia and also contain the ever-touted vitamin C, which is great for fighting infections.

Sportspeople swear by bananas as an immediate and sustained source of energy. Because the non-seasonal fruit contains three natural sugars, fructose, sucrose and glucose, along with dietary fibre, they are instant pick-me-ups.

Not only are they tops with athletes, bananas are a great brain food, according to a British study of 200 students fed the fruit for breakfast.

Findings show they aid students in their learning by keeping them alert. They are also perfect study snacks.

For those of you eaten by mosquitoes lately, salve your bites with the inside of a banana skin. Apparently this is a highly successful treatment for reducing the swelling and irritation of those angry red lumps.

Bananas are also deemed great for treating both constipation (high in fibre) and the electrolyte-draining effects of diarrhoea (there's that much- needed potassium again). They help ease indigestion, morning sickness, hangovers, are good for the bones and help ward off kidney cancer.

While there are bunches of ups, there is a downside to bananas - especially for the purists

Most of the world's commercial banana crop is a hybrid variety called cavendish, which is sterile. The tiny seeds in the fruit we eat are useless, so banana plants have to be propagated through removing and transplanting part of the underground stem, called a corm.

While the banana isn't in danger of extinction, the cavendish is vulnerable to diseases that could threaten its commercial cultivation. This happened to its forerunner, the gros michel, which used to be the most popular variety up until 1960. It was wiped out by Panama disease.

A virulent form of this disease has already wiped out the cavendish in some parts of Southeast Asia.

So the moral of this story is - go bananas over bananas while you can.

Or, even better, try growing your own.

The Links:

http://bananas .bioversityinternational.org/

http://www.popsci.com/scitech/ article/2008-06/can-fruit-be-saved

http://www.naturalhub.com/grow –fruit–type–banana–new– zealand.htm

http://www.chiquitabananas.com/ Worlds-Favorite-Fruit/index- banana-nutrition-facts.aspx

http://www.whfoods.com/ genpage.php?tname=foodspice&dbid=7

Taranaki Daily News