Bananas are one of the most widely consumed fruits in the world, and for good reason. Harvested year round, they are an inexpensive super food that's readily available and loaded with healthy vitamins and minerals. Bananas are a staple not only throughout their native Southeast Asia and Africa, but Americans eat an average of 25 lbs. every year.
Bananas, like most fruit, are made up of about 25 percent dry, pulpy matter and 75 percent water. The oblong-shaped fruit is pale yellow and fleshy inside and is surrounded by a tough outer peel or skin. The fruit grows in groups, with up to 20 bananas joined together on one stem (or tier) and then with up to 20 of those tiers together to make up a complete bunch. This ability to grow so many bananas at the same time year-round makes banana farming a successful cash crop in many tropical regions. The plant the fruit grows on is very tall and tree-like, growing straight up to about 30 feet tall. Half of this height is the leaves, which can be up to 10 feet long and 2 feet wide. These leaves are waterproof and have many uses: as plates, to wrap foods for cooking or storing, as window shades, they are made into umbrellas, and also used for decorative purposes.
The banana is packed with vitamins and minerals, making it one of the most beneficial fruits you can eat. They are a leading source of potassium, which is necessary for healthy blood circulation, preventing muscle cramps (it affects muscle contraction) and lowering blood pressure. Daily potassium consumption is absolutely necessary with an active lifestyle; it supports a healthy heart and nervous system to help your body properly function and prevent risk of stroke. Bananas offer beneficial supplies of vitamin C, folate, fiber and electrolytes. They are a fat-free snack that supplies you with natural sugars and healthy calories. Bananas also satisfy about 25 percent of your daily requirement of vitamin B6, which your body uses to boost immunity and support your central nervous system. Bananas are a year-round food option, making them a smart choice for a well-balanced diet.
Banana plants are native to Southeast Asia but are now harvested in over 100 countries throughout the tropics. Although the plant is cultivated almost entirely for the production of fruit (the heart of the plant and the flowers are also edible), less than 15 percent of the fruit is exported. The majority of the crop is meant to be eaten locally, especially because of the quick spoilage rate--bananas must be shipped quickly, handled with extra care and refrigerated for successful import. Most Asian and African cultures cook the entire fruit and eat both the peel and its insides. In the United States and Europe, leading banana importers, traditionally only the inside of the banana is eaten raw, and the peel is discarded.
One or two bananas are recommended every day to supplement a healthy heart, proper nutrition and an active lifestyle. Bananas are most commonly eaten raw but have many other popular uses: banana bread, banana pudding, banana cream pie, in fruit salads, sandwiches, mashed into baby foods and more. The entire banana, peel and insides, can be eaten both raw and cooked, but preparation usually varies depending on where you are eating the fruit. Regardless of your banana preferences, you will still benefit from all the healthy nutrients.
There are several different types of bananas, but they are all within the same family. The more standard household "banana" refers to the soft, sweet dessert-type banana that is most commonly grown and most popular for export. Plantains are also fairly well known and are a firmer, more starchy type of banana. Some bananas are cultivated to grow miniature-sized and some to stay green for cooking purposes. Wild bananas sometimes have seeds and tend to be a little more firm than those farmed for mass consumption. The way people eat bananas also offers multiple variations to the fruit. The banana can be eaten raw, cooked, manipulated, dried into chips or even ground into a flour. All forms of the fruit offer the same healthy benefits as well as great taste.