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Bananas don’t get the love they deserve. Sure, their white flesh means they don’t get a spot on the nutrient color wheel, and the lack of fiber in ripe bananas can make them a mashable mess. But they are delicious, and let’s take a moment to appreciate their potassium.

A medium banana delivers 422 mg of potassium. An underappreciated workhorse, potassium maintains acid–base balance, helps build proteins, and even regulates the heartbeat.

Each of the body’s trillions of cells relies on potassium to manage fluid balance. Yet most American diets lack the mineral, prompting the U.S. Departments of Health and Human Services and Agriculture to label it a “nutrient of public health concern.”

Potassium isn’t all bananas have to offer. People with type 1 or type 2 diabetes or prediabetes may feel compelled to swear off bananas, but in their earliest stage of ripeness, tinged with green, they pose little threat to blood-glucose levels thanks to their resistant starch.

Resistant starch is a carbohydrate tough enough to survive the digestive juices of the small intestine. Because it doesn’t break down there, it does not raise blood-sugar levels. Instead, it travels to the large intestine, where it becomes brunch for your microbiome.

A diet with plenty of resistant starch increases feelings of fullness, prevents constipation, and lowers cholesterol. Recently, an animal study suggested resistant starch from green bananas can protect against NAFLD and help reinforce the gut lining, soothing conditions like inflammatory bowel disease. “I always eat my bananas at the green-turning-yellow stage,” says functional-medicine physician Susan Blum, MD, MPH. (For more on resistant starch, see “Resistant Starch for a Healthy Gut.”)

Nutritional Highlights and Protein Pairing

In Defense of Fruit

In the race to embrace low-carb eating, many health-conscious people have been eschewing fruit, pointing to the carbohydrates and their implication in the onset of many chronic diseases. But a lot of experts consider the backlash against fruit misguided. Learn more at “Why Eating Fruit Is Still Good for You,” from which this article was excerpted.

Catherine Guthrie

Catherine Guthrie is an Experience Life contributing editor.

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