Are Bananas Good for Us?

Sometimes I’m amazed by the things that people worried about a hundred years ago. For example, they worried about whether bananas were good for them. Here some excerpts from a hundred-year-old magazine article:

Consider the Banana

Perhaps no staple article of food is more the subject of strange fancies or more misunderstood – more overpraised for qualities which it does not posses and blamed for defects not its own – than that standby of the corner fruit stand, the banana. 

“Is it true that a banana contains as much nutritive value as a half-pound of steak?” “Is it true that a raw banana is as indigestible as a raw potato, and must be cooked before it is eaten?” “Is it true that the combination of bananas and milk is poisonous?” 

In spite of prejudice and misunderstanding, however, the majority of people accept its worth, for the consumption of bananas has increased by leaps and bounds. Less than fifty years ago the first bananas were brought to Boston. Today it is estimated that seven billion are consumed annually in the United States – an average of six dozen of this fruit for each man, woman, and child in the land. 

Do not chose bananas that look pretty rather than those that are ripe. The banana of a clear lemon-yellow color, which brings the best price in the market, is most certainly not yet a ripe fruit. The pulp of such a banana is composed very largely of starch, and while it is an exaggeration to say that it is as difficult to digest as the starch of a raw potato, it is greatly improved in this respect by permitting the ripening processes.

When the banana is perfectly ripe, the clear yellow peeling has changed to brown or black, and more of the starch in the pulp has been converted into sugar. Such bananas have a far better flavor and aroma than the unripe yellow fruit. 

Whatever bad reputation the fruit has acquired as regards to its indigestibility is due, undoubtedly to the fact that many people eat the unripe fruit. Then there is the tendency to eat the whole banana quickly without sufficient mastication. 

Nature has given us in the banana a sanitary, sealed package. The banana is cheap; when properly ripened it is easy to digest; moreover, it contains sufficient roughage and laxative properties to be free from the constipating tendency of which many highly concentrated modern foods are guilty. 

Its flavor is bland and characteristic, yet not sufficiently pronounced to become tiresome. 

Good Housekeeping (October, 1917)

39 thoughts on “Are Bananas Good for Us?

  1. And here I’ve been eating “unripe” bananas all my life! I’ll have to wait until they turn completely black, skip the banana bread, and just eat them then. lol

  2. Here all this time I thought the green bananas were the ones not ripe🤔. Lol, Never realized that bananas were considered to be unhealthy. As a child I loved them( except in my school lunch box for then everything tasted like banana) and still do.

    1. They don’t have very many calories, do they? If I had a choice between a banana and a large cookie, I’d guess that the banana had fewer calories.

  3. I didn’t realize that people in North America ate bananas regularly (or semi-regularly?) a hundred years ago.

    I can’t stand the texture of bananas when their peels get brown and mushy, though, so I’m not going to be taking this writer’s advice. Those kinds of bananas are only good for banana bread in my opinion. Haha!

    I have actually read a few modern articles that suggest that bananas aren’t good for you because of their high sugar and carbohydrate content. I don’t agree with them at all, but it’s interesting to see just how long people have been debating this topic for various reasons. 🙂

    1. I also was surprised that bananas were widely available in the US a hundred years ago. It’s interesting that some modern writers question whether bananas are good for us. I always thought that we were supposed to eat bananas because of their high potassium content.

  4. This brought to mind my Aunt Flo who use to make giant banana splits. A carton of ice cream was only good for about four of her splits, five if she was making small ones. Boy were they good.

  5. That was amusing. I’m the left-over banana person in our family. The others eat them only if they are green or light yellow. Anything beyond that is left to me to dispose of, which I do, using them in breads and desserts. For the sake of our health, I’m glad we usually eat them all before they degenerate into sweets.

    1. When I was a kid there was a running debate in our household about whether bananas that were still a little green, or ones with brown flecks, were better. My father preferred the less ripe ones, while my mother liked the very ripe ones.

  6. It’s amusing the lore that follows certain fruits. Thanks for sharing this, It’s interesting to read what they thought of bananas back then.

    1. I agree – The hundred-year-old article made it sound like bananas had recently shifted from being an exotic fruit to a more mainstream one.

    1. I wonder if more varieties of bananas were available back then. I vaguely remember reading somewhere recently that only a couple varieties of bananas are sold commercially – and that some of the sweetest, tastiest varieties are very rare.

      1. In New Zealand the bananas used to come from the Pacific Islands. I don’t know what the variety was but it was certainly sweet. My grandparents ripened the bananas by putting them in a paper bag in the warming cupboard.

        1. Most bananas in the U.S. come from Central America – and, in general, they all seem like they are the same variety. Occasionally, I’ll see a very small type of banana which is sweeter than the ones which are regular-sized.

  7. My father loved bananas! But late in life his potassium levels were too high and the doctor told him to stop eating them. He was very unhappy about that. My granddaughter is very fond of her mother’s banana bread.

  8. So strange to see the merits of a banana from the perspective of it being relatively new on the kitchen counter horizon. I love a very ripe banana, so it’s strange to see its taste described as “bland.” (I also loved to be given a raw potato to eat by my mom as a snack) 🙂

    1. Your comment made me smile. I can also remember eating raw potatoes occasionally when I was a child. Maybe it was a Pennsylvania thing. 🙂

  9. The perfect banana for me is one that’s just developing its little brown freckles. Once it gets too soft, it goes into a smoothie. But here’s an odd fact about me that I can’t explain: I can’t get in the car for a trip (day trip or otherwise) without having a stash of bananas. I suppose it’s because they’re easy to eat.

    Here’s another tidbit: sailors and other boaters believe having a banana on board is bad luck. There are some fishing guides and charter captains that won’t allow a banana on their boats. On the other hand, I learned how to calculate a boat’s speed through the water using a banana peel. Drop it off the bow, calculate how long it takes for the stern to pass it, and do the math. How cool is that?

    1. Your comment bring to mind those old math problems that we did in elementary school about a boat going X miles per hour against a current going Y miles per hour in the opposite direction.

  10. Black is how we ate them, but I think price had more to do with it. Over ripe bananas were usually on the clearance table for 10 cents/lb. Can’t eat then like that now, although my dad still does.

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