December 12 2020/ By Joo Shan Ooi, Dietetic Student at Rutgers University
Reviewed by Jinan Banna, PhD, RD
With the holiday season approaching during isolating times like these, your social media feeds may be filled with all kinds of banana bread recipes to make in the comfort of your home. Banana breads are always a favourite and a classic, as bananas are one of the most popular tropical fruits in the world and are easily integrated as a staple fruit in most households because of their convenience to store and the forgiving amount of time they take to ripen. Moreover, the riper your bananas are, the better tasting your banana bread will be! Question is, is banana bread healthy? Let’s go bananas and talk about the health benefits and why you should consider making it from scratch!
Nutritional Benefits of Bananas
Bananas fall in the fruit group, which is an essential element in supporting a healthy diet due to their abundance of vitamins, minerals, and dietary fiber. Bananas are a good source of potassium, as well as manganese, magnesium, vitamin C and vitamin B6.
Bananas are an excellent source of potassium. Potassium is a vital mineral that maintains healthy water balance in our cells and counters the imbalance of electrolytes, particularly high sodium levels. Therefore, bananas are important for hydration. As a result, bananas are a great option in alleviating high blood pressure from high sodium intake. This article shows the potassium content of bananas in comparison to other fruits and vegetables.
There is a wide range of dietary fiber found in ripe bananas such as pectin, hemicellulose, cellulose and lignin. Dietary fibers are known to aid the digestive system and facilitate regular bowel movements thereby alleviating constipation issues. As bananas are prebiotic sources, their fiber content maintains the health of our gut microbiome; thus, they are known as gut-friendly foods. This article highlights the types of dietary fiber and their importance to good health. The recommendation of sufficient dietary fiber intake has been long supported for its role in promoting good health while reducing the risk of many chronic diseases such as cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, certain gastrointestinal disorders, cancers and most heart-related diseases.
Since we’re going over the basics of nutrition with regards to bananas, it’s worth throwing in some banana-related trivia. Bananas fall into the berry category botanically. Berries in the botanical sense stem from one flower with one ovary and generally have several seeds.
Store Bought Banana Bread vs. Homemade Banana Bread
Homemade banana breads are a cut above store bought banana breads for many reasons. To start with, commercialised banana breads are often a classic type of recipe without the extra goodies like nuts, seeds, dried fruits and vegetables. This is because these ingredients are loaded with good fats and are perishable, which will speed up the time it goes bad. If you make it from scratch, you are in control to manipulate the recipe accordingly to your own liking.
There is so much more potential in creating a healthier and tastier homemade version with the addition of nuts, seeds and changing up the ingredients to suit your taste. Even better, these great options boost the nutritional profile of banana bread!
Tips for purchasing store bought banana breads:
Regardless, it is completely fine to consume store bought banana breads. Here are my 5 favourite considerations for purchasing store bought banana breads:
- Type of Oil used
Choose banana bread made using vegetable oil instead of butter or palm oil shortening. Butter and palm oil shortening contain high amounts of saturated fats, which are known to play a role in heart disease if consumed in excess. Vegetable oils contain higher amounts of unsaturated fats, which are known to be heart healthy and reduce the risk of cardiovascular diseases.
- Amount of Added Sugars
Most store bought banana breads contain high amounts of added sugar that are lacking in nutritional value. Sugar is a type of carbohydrate which will fuel us but does not offer nutritional value other than calories. Some sugars derived from natural sources such as honey, molasses, maple syrup may provide some limited additional nutritional benefit, but these should also be consumed sparingly.You can find out the amount of added sugar in grams from the nutritional facts label on the packaging of products.
Flour may contain a variety of essential nutrients, depending on what you choose. Most commercialised baked goods these days have enriched all purpose flour, which means that the vitamins and minerals lost in processing will be added back to bump up its nutritional profile. Choosing a banana bread made with whole wheat flour is a better option, as it offers more fiber and protein than enriched flour.
Most baked goods are made with flour derived from wheat components; thus, many store bought banana breads are not gluten free. Eggs, butter and nut toppings are also commonly found in most store bought banana breads. Therefore, if you have certain allergies or specific dietary restrictions (vegan, nut/egg allergy, lactose intolerance), be sure to look out for these key ingredients or look out for banana bread that does not contain these allergens, such as those that are vegan and gluten-free.
- Value-Added Ingredients
Due to the growing demand for functional foods in the market, the food industry has identified an abundance of value-added ingredients as a way to increase nutrient density of banana breads. Nuts, seeds, dried fruits are great sources of omega-3 fats and fiber that are heart healthy and contain a whole lot of other nutrients such as magnesium, calcium, iron, zinc and the list goes on. Be sure to find banana breads that are nutty; don’t forget, its crunchiness is a plus!
How Can We Make Banana Bread Healthy?
Homemade banana breads kick up the notch as you can swap ingredients to increase its nutritional value and play with different flavor profiles as well. Here are the listed ingredients to include in your banana bread recipes:
- Applesauce is a great alternative if you want to reduce the total fat of banana bread. As applesauce is high in water content, it can offer moistness to your banana bread. Applesauce is low in calories, fat and sodium and is a great source of antioxidants, which have the ability to protect us from free radicals. Applesauce is simply pureed whole apples, which is a plus to incorporate more fruit in your diet. This article shows the nutritional value of apples, noting that 1 medium apple contains 4 grams of dietary fiber equivalent to 22% of the daily value and a great amount of potassium as well.
- Greek Yogurt
- Greek Yogurt is another great ingredient to use for a lower fat content than traditional banana bread. Greek yogurt is a dairy product which is a greater source of calcium and protein than regular yogurt. Calcium and protein are important for maintaining bone health and muscle strength. Yogurt is also a fermented product that contains probiotics, a type of live bacterial culture that promotes gut health. Greek yogurt can provide a lot of moisture to your banana bread. Here, you can check out this blogpost by Kara Lydon, RD on the ways to use greek yogurt. This article points out the health benefits of dairy consumption, particularly calcium and its importance. It lists the vitamins and minerals found in yogurt.
- Whole Wheat Flour and Sourdough
- Whole wheat flour is a great flour option to use in banana bread because it provides nutritional value and its coarser texture and flavor adds some nuttyness that goes well with banana bread. Whole wheat flour is derived from the wheat kernel, whose germ and bran are still intact. Bran provides higher fiber content, B-vitamins and minerals, while the germ is a rich source of heart healthy fats, B-vitamins, trace minerals and antioxidants. This article describes the balance of macronutrients and micronutrients of wheat pertaining to a healthy diet. It shows how wheat contributes significantly to the daily value of protein, B-vitamins, and iron which are essential nutrients required in the body.
- Sourdough banana bread can be made with a sourdough starter consisting simply of flour and water that is fermented by the bacteria from the environment. The live cultures are said to slow down the digestibility of starch in sourdough, resulting in a lower glycemic response. Sourdough bread contains both pre- and probiotics, which have been known to aid digestion and improve gut health. Check out this blogpost that discusses all the nutritional aspects of sourdough bread.
- Vegetables are a fine choice to add to your banana bread for extra fiber and nutrients. Zucchini, yellow squash and carrots can be grated into your batter before baking. Squash and carrots are noted for their versatility due to the nutty yet mild flavor and are a rich source of β-carotene or vitamin A and also vitamin C, which promotes healthy reproduction for the skin and acts as an antioxidant. This article highlights the nutritional value of a variety of fruits and vegetables. It notes how fruits and vegetables affect satiety and the composition of the gut microbiome. Another article here mentions that the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010 indicate how potassium, dietary fiber and calcium are major nutrients of concern in the average American diet. If you’re looking for a recipe that incorporates vegetables, you can try this one, which calls for half a cup of carrots. I also love the fact that it doesn’t contain any added sugar except in the frosting, which is optional.
- Nuts and Seeds
- Nuts and seeds house polyunsaturated fats, known to reduce cholesterol levels and support cardiovascular health. The majority of them contain plenty of fiber which could boost the fiber content and provide some crunch to your banana bread. This article presents evidence on the importance of the type of fat consumed rather than the total fat intake resulting in a healthy diet and studies linking to how polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats have proven to reduce the risks of cardiovascular diseases.
Homemade Healthy Banana Bread Recipe:
Here is a foolproof banana bread recipe from scratch using the exemplary ingredients stated above. This recipe is low in saturated fat, high in fiber, and most of all, super delicious!
- 4 medium overripe bananas
- 2 large eggs
- ½ cup unsweetened applesauce
- ⅓ cup maple syrup
- ¼ cup light brown sugar
- 2 tbsp canola oil (any other vegetable oil)
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 2 tsp baking powder
- 1 tsp baking soda
- ¼ tsp salt
- 1 cup white whole wheat flour
- 1 ¼ cup enriched all purpose flour
- ½ cup chopped walnuts
- ¼ cup chia seeds
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line and grease a 9 x 5 inch loaf pan with parchment paper.
- In a large bowl, mash bananas with a fork or masher until no chunks are present. Add eggs, maple syrup, sugar, oil and vanilla and whisk to combine.
- In a separate bowl, combine flour with the baking powder, baking soda and salt.
- Add dry ingredients into the wet ingredients and fold gently to just enough to combine but do not overmix.
- Add walnuts and chia seeds into the bater and fold once more. Then, pour the batter into the prepared pan.
- Optional- add banana slices on top of the batter before baking.
- Bake for 60 mins/1 hour until the top is golden brown or until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean.
- Remove from the oven and allow to cool for 15 mins. Then transfer to a cooling rack to cool off completely before cutting.
Other Possible Recipes
If you’re looking for other creative ways to prepare banana bread, check out this banana coconut bread recipe. It’s a bit unconventional, as it calls for both coconut and olive oil.
Banana bread is, in fact, healthy because it provides a host of essential nutrients. While purchasing store bought banana breads is convenient, it is important to distinguish which banana breads offer the highest nutrient density to maximize the amount of nutrients you get in a serving. Therefore, making homemade banana breads from scratch is a great way to include as many ingredients as possible with health-promoting benefits. If you have any questions, be sure to comment in the comment section below. Hope you enjoy this banana bread recipe and let me know what you think if you have tried it!