(NaturalNews) Whether as a quick snack, cut up and tossed in the blender for a fruit smoothie, or used to make quick bread or pancakes, most people enjoy bananas. Bananas are such a staple on produce shelves that most of us don't stop to think about their tropical origins or their many nutritional benefits. Next time you enjoy a banana, consider some of these facts:
1. Hands and Fingers
Bananas do not grow on trees. The banana plant is classified as an arborescent (tree-like) perennial herb and the banana itself is actually considered a berry. The correct name for bunch of bananas is a hand of bananas; a single banana is a finger.
2. Heart Health
One banana contains 467mg of potassium, providing powerful protection to the cardiovascular system. Regular consumption of the potassium-packed fruit helps guard against high blood pressure, atherosclerosis and stroke.
Although bananas do not contain high amounts of calcium, they do supply the body with an abundance of fructooligosaccharide, a prebiotic substance (one which encourages probiotics, the friendly bacteria in the digestive system). As fructooligosaccharides ferment in the digestive tract, they enhance the body's ability to absorb calcium.
4. Energy and Mood Balancing
Another benefit to bananas high potassium content derives from that mineral's role as an energy-supplying electrolyte. Since bananas also contain tryptophan, serotonin and norepinephrine, they help prevent depression while encouraging feelings of well-being and relaxation. In addition, the vitamin B6 in bananas helps protect against sleeplessness, mood swings and irritability.
Bananas, combined with the African herb orinol, have been used to treat cataracts in Nigeria. They also share with other fruits the ability to prevent macular degeneration, the leading cause of vision loss in adults. According to a study published in the Archives of Opthmalogy in 2004, people who eat 3 servings of fruit per day are statistically unlike to develop the vision-diminishing disease.
6. Better Digestion
Bananas suppress acid in the digestive tract, alleviating heartburn and helping guard against ulcers. Since bananas contain pectin, a soluble fiber, they aid in the elimination process, helping prevent constipation.
7. Baby Food
Since they are easily digested, bananas are a perfect food for babies just beginning to move to solid foods.
8. HIV Protection
The Journal of Biological Chemistry in March 2010 published a study which revealed the healing potential of BanLec, a lectin protein in bananas. Researchers found that this protein which binds to sugars can also bind to HIV-infected cells, enveloping them and preventing their replication and transmission.
Due to modern shipping practices, this tropical yellow berry born of a herb seems so ubiquitous that most consumers take it for granted. However, the banana's constant availability could end soon. Nearly all the bananas sold in stores are cloned from just one variety, the Cavendish banana plant, originally native to Southeast Asia. This means disease could potentially wipe out the cloned plants in one fell swoop. Next time you peel and eat a banana, take the time to savor its flavor and texture, so if this fruit disappears, you can tell future generations about the healthy snack encased in yellow flesh.
That potential disappearance does not derive from science fiction speculation. Botanists say it is likely to happen in the next 20 years and in fact it already has happened. At the beginning of the last century, the dominant banana species was the Gros Michel, also a cloned species, which was wiped out by fungus. The Gros Michel was preferred over the Cavendish because it was larger and had a longer shelf life, and, according to old-timer recollections, better-tasting. The Cavendish replaced the Gros Michel after the latter species decimation because, of the over 1,000 varieties of bananas in the world, most do not have an appealing taste. There are the less sweet plantains, and also a variety called Goldfinger which has an apple-like taste.
9. Save the peels
Even the peels of this fruit are useful. Apply the inside of a banana peel to pimples to naturally dry out these skin blemishes. Also, banana peels make a wonderful fertilizer, particularly for roses.