When you’ve been so familiar with a piece of fruit, it might be a hard task to shift your beliefs on it.
After all, you’ve probably eaten the humble banana since infancy. Easy to peel and simple to eat, the flesh of this curved fruit has proven itself to be a faithful and tasty snack over the years. Once you learned to cook, the flesh of your old banana friend even became useful in the kitchen and has since featured in much-loved baking recipes.
But what if you’ve been consuming the yellow household favourite wrong this whole time?
“There are nutritional benefits to be had if you want to incorporate banana skins into your health and cooking routines.”
According to Accredited Practising Dietitian, Susie Burrell, we need to relearn how to eat bananas – skin and all. That may sound weird, after all, why would you eat a banana peel? But Burrell assures us that eating the skin of your banana can be a healthy way to reduce food waste and boost the nutritional benefits of the banana.
“In Australia, we are very quick to throw edible parts of our food away,” Burrell tells SBS. “But we actually need to start to look at our food, the sum of its parts, differently.
“The fact is you don’t have to throw your banana skins away. There are nutritional benefits to be had if you want to incorporate banana skins into your health and cooking routines.”
Burrell says that banana skins contain resistant starch, a dietary starch that 'resists' digestion in the small intestine.
The CSIRO explains this type of starch is important in supporting a healthy gut microbiome. “Starch escaping the small bowel acts as a source of food for the 'good bacteria' in the large bowel, fuelling their growth and activity, leading to favourable changes within the large bowel,” the CSIRO says online.
“Resistant starch also offers health benefits beyond those in the gut, such as helping to reduce your risk of type 2 diabetes by increasing the body’s sensitivity to insulin.”
Burrell adds that banana peels are a rich source of vitamin B6 and C, potassium and magnesium. As banana skins are so dense, they are also great for managing your appetite. “When you add them to things like smoothies and banana bread, they act as a bulking agent and can prove very satisfying.
To use the skin in cooking, Burrell recommends boiling the peel of a ripe banana first. “But if you ever freeze old bananas, you’ll notice that the skin may be black and already be soft enough to incorporate into your cake batter.”
“The fact is you don’t have to throw your banana skins away."
But seriously... do people really eat or cook with the peel?
Although the concept of eating the whole banana, skin and all, maybe new to you, it's been explored internationally for some years.
A study from The University of the Philippines Los Baños, published in International Food Research Journal in 2015, also suggests that banana skins may be used as a thickening agent in the kitchen.
Researchers looked at the saba banana, a banana variety originating from the Philippines that’s popular in Filipino cuisine, to determine how pectin could be extracted from the peel for use in cooking. Pectin, a substance found naturally in fruits, is used to thicken jams and jellies.
The study found that the pectin present in banana skins was comparable to the pectin used in strawberry jams and commercial citrus pectin. As there wasn’t a significant difference in the colour, flavour, cloudiness, consistency and mouth feel of the three products, banana skins could be considered a valuable ingredient when making jam.
A 2017 review into a banana variety common in South East Asia demonstrated that all parts of the banana – including the peel – have been used as a traditional remedy. It describes the traditional belief that banana peel can produce antioxidant and antimicrobial activity, although these statements are more folkloric than evidence-based.
Meanwhile, a Taiwanese study published a decade earlier, concluded that banana peel – which is rich in serotonin – may relieve depressive symptoms.
The researchers state that by boiling the peel and drinking the water as a tea or putting your banana skins in a juicer and consuming the juice at least a few times a week could help boost your serotonin levels and balance your mood.
“To start using banana skins, you may need to shift your behaviour and thinking," Burrell says. "But over time, I believe that as more people become aware that they can consume banana peel, more people will start doing it."
Words of caution
More research needs to be conducted before the scientific community can conclusively say that the peels of all kinds of bananas can be used to benefit your health in many different ways. Until then, it's really up to you whether or not you're keen enough to try boiling a banana skin or use banana peel as a thickening agent in a cake.
Either way, if you are banana-bent on using the peel, it's advised that you wash and scrub all peels to rid them of any pesticides or chemicals that may be present before consuming or cooking.
It's also important to note that there is no single food or food byproduct that can do all. Bananas - with and without the skin- should always be consumed as part of a balanced diet. If you have a major illness, it's recommended that you first see a doctor to discuss an medical regime to suit you rather than looking for alternative measures.
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