Bananas are a multitasking super food. They can be a great snack when you need that extra bit of energy. It also helps that they are fat and cholesterol free. Thanks to their balanced levels of potassium and sodium (they’re high in potassium but low in sodium), bananas can help keep blood pressure under control and protect the heart.1
Ever been told to eat a banana to settle a queasy tummy? There’s a reason for this household wisdom. Bananas stimulate mucus formation in the stomach lining. This mucus acts as a barrier between acidic gastric substances and the lining of our stomach, protecting us from heartburn and a stomach upset.2 The fiber in bananas can also help restore normal bowel activity, that is, they can be useful in treating both diarrhea and constipation. There’s a key difference, though – ripe bananas usually help with constipation while unripe ones can tackle diarrhea.3
Diarrhea is a pretty common stomach problem, with adults in the United States having an episode of acute diarrhea at least once a year and children getting it a couple of times a year on average. Bacteria, viruses, and parasites can all give you the runs; or you could get it because you are lactose intolerant, or have irritable bowel syndrome or Crohn’s disease. Diarrhea can lead to dehydration, which can be dangerous especially for children, elderly people, and those who have a weak immune system.4
So how can bananas help if you have tummy trouble? Green or unripe bananas have been traditionally used in many communities for diarrhea – and scientific evidence confirms its effectiveness. For instance, one study found that babies with diarrhea, when given cooked raw banana, started showing improvements about 24 hours after treatment began. By the fifth day, almost all the children who were given raw bananas had completely recovered while those in the control group who did not have raw banana in their diet continued to suffer from diarrhea for up to 10 days.5 Another study found that tube-fed critically ill patients prone to diarrhea responded better to treatment with banana flakes than with antidiarrheal medication – at the end of the study, 57% of the banana flake group recovered from diarrhea as against 24% recovery in the medical treatment group.6
Banana Power In Action
Green or unripe bananas have a high content of resistant starch (pectin). This is not digested in the small intestine and, on reaching the colon, is fermented by bacteria into short chain fatty acids. These short chain fatty acids stimulate the absorption of salt and water in the colon, making the stool firmer. They also stimulate the production of mucus in the colon and small bowel.
The pectic substances present in green bananas are converted into soluble sugars during the ripening process so ripe bananas may not be helpful in treating diarrhea. Research shows that an improvement in stool consistency is noticed about 24 hours after you start consuming green bananas. This probably reflects the time taken by the starch to reach the colon.7
Bananas are also high in potassium, a critical mineral (important for muscle function and even heart health) which is often lost during diarrhea. So your body is able to replenish its potassium levels when you chow down on bananas.
How Should You Take It?
So how do you get some raw banana into your diet? A couple of unripe bananas can be cooked in boiling water with their skin on for 7 to 10 minutes. Remove the skin, mash up the bananas, and have this twice a day. About 180–200 g of cooked green bananas (about one and a half banana) per day seems to be effective for children.8 You could also try dry banana flakes – about one or two tablespoons of dried banana flakes, with 6.25 gm of carbohydrates and .5 gm of fiber per tablespoon, every 8 hours has been found to work for adults.9
|↑1||Wollenberg, Olivia. Livia’s Kitchen: Naturally Sweet and Indulgent Treats. Random House, 2016.|
|↑2||Bananas and nausea, National Institutes of Health.|
|↑3||Kumar, KP Sampath, and Debjit Bhowmik. “Traditional and medicinal uses of banana.” Journal of Pharmacognosy and Phytochemistry 1, no. 3 (2012).|
|↑4||Diarrhea, National Institutes of Health. 2016|
|↑5, ↑7, ↑8||Fuchs. “Clinical studies in persistent diarrhea: dietary management with green banana or pectin in Bangladeshi children.” Gastroenterology 121, no. 3 (2001): 554-560.|
|↑6, ↑9||Emery, Elizabeth A., Syed Ahmad, John D. Koethe, Annalynn Skipper, Shelley Perlmutter, and David L. Paskin. “Banana flakes control diarrhea in enterally fed patients.” Nutrition in clinical practice 12, no. 2 (1997): 72-75.|