Monthly Archives: March 2016
Last year, a zoo in the U.K. attracted international attention when it banned bananas from its primates cages. According to-a-zoo spokesperson, they’re too sugary for monkeys, too caloric, and they could give rise to health problems like type 2 of diabetes.
So should we humans eschew bananas, too? All five of our experts say no.
Bananas are known for their high potassium content. A medium fruit has 422 mg potassium, 12% of the daily total recommended by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). “Most Americans do not get enough dietary potassium,” says Sylvia Wassertheil-Smoller, distinguished university professor emerita at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York who researches such things. “Those who consume more potassium have a lower risk of stroke,” she says.
A medium banana has 102 calories, 17% of recommended daily vitamin C and 3 grams of fiber. It also has 27 grams of carbohydrates (and 14 grams of sugar). “Many of my patients are fearful of this fruit due to its high carbohydrate content,” says Kristin Kirkpatrick, registered dietitian and manager of Wellness Nutrition Services at Cleveland Clinic’s Wellness Institute. Her advice: slice a banana in half and pair it with a fat, like peanut or almond butter, to lessen its effects on blood sugar and insulin.
The coolest thing a banana can do, if you ask David Nieman, is to refuel your body as effectively as Gatorade for far less money (and food dye). In 2012, Nieman, professor of health science and director of the Appalachian State University Human Performance Laboratory at the North Carolina Research Campus, published a study in PLOS One testing bananas against Gatorade in athletes. (The study was sponsored by Dole Foods; Nieman says he receives no compensation from the company. “All I care about is the scientific truth,” he says.)
In the study, 14 male athletes cycled a 75-km road race, during which they refueled with either half a banana plus water, or a cup of Gatorade, about every 15 minutes. Three weeks later, the athletes repeated the experiment but switched what they ate during the race. Their performance times and body physiology were the same. But the researchers also discovered that the bananas contained serotonin and dopamine, which seemed to improve the body’s antioxidant capacity and help with oxidative stress.
“The banana, we think, is like this wonderful athletic package where you get the sugars you need, you get the vitamins and electrolytes that the body likes during exercise, and this very unique molecule dopamine that can help with the oxidative stress, all at one third the cost of Gatorade,” Nieman says.
It has other perks, too. “Bananas are one of the most versatile and important world foods,” says professor James Dale from Australia’s Queensland University of Technology. It’s some of the hardiest, producing fruit year-round in good conditions and resilient for long periods when rains don’t come. To help combat vitamin A deficiencies in poor children around the world, Dale is part of a team, backed by millions from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, that’s genetically engineered a banana to deliver alpha- and beta-carotene, which turns into vitamin A in the body.
Bananas’ popularity have a problem worth considering. There’s just one variety in the world that’s widely grown: the Cavendish, says DanKoeppel, author of Banana: The Fate of the Fruit That Changed the World. “The monoculture turns forests into factories, and means that bananas are very susceptible to disease, requiring lots of damaging pesticides to sustain the crop,” he says. “At the same time, bananas are the cheapest fruit in the supermarket. Maintaining these prices often means paying workers very little, which has led to violent suppression of attempts to expand worker benefits.”
That makes bananas a problematic fruit, Koeppel says, but he still recommends eating them as a healthy alternative to candy and salty snacks. Ideally, customers should demand more varieties to break the monoculture, he says. But buying fair-trade bananas where some of the profits go to workers and the protection of the environment is a good place to start.
Hangovers are rough. And when it comes to speeding up your post-binge recovery, there are about as many purported cures : greasy food, A hot sauna, Chugging Pedialyte.
But what actually works? It helps to understand exactly what’s causing you to feel so junky in the first place.
“I like to think of a hangover as a mini withdrawal syndrome,” says George Koob, director of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. When you drink, your brain experiences an uptick in feel-good neurotransmitters, Koob explains. Swallow enough booze, and the resulting comedown from that massive surge of intoxicating chemicals may switch on pro-stress and pro-inflammation responses that cause or contribute to your feelings of queasiness, headache and other “flu-like symptoms,” Koob says. As you age, these responses may become more pronounced, he adds.
Other factors that contribute to your hangover are the additives or ingredients in your drink. Koob uses the term “congeners” to refer to any substances other than water and alcohol produced during the fermentation of your adult beverage. A drink’s congener content may exacerbate some of the pro-inflammatory or withdrawal-like responses he mentioned above.
In general, more flavorful liquors—think bourbon or cognac—tend to have more congeners than clear, mild liquors like vodka. Also, “organic wine generally has less congeners added to it compared to standard wine,” says Chris Alford, an associate professor of psychology at University of the West of England who has performed several studies on hangovers. As for beer, some unfiltered craft beers may have higher congener contents than lighter, less-flavorful brews, though that’s not always the case.
“Everyone has different sensitivities to congeners,” Koob says. While a few bourbons or a particular beer may leave you feeling like garbage, your pal may be able to drink the same amount and type of booze without much of a hangover. Still, avoiding lots of congeners may be a good way to dodge a hangover, Koob says.
That’s helpful if you’re aware enough to plan ahead. But can anything actually speed your recovery once you’re mired in a nasty hangover?
Rehydrating is a good start. “Alcohol is a diuretic,” Koob says. So the more your drink, the more water you lose in the form of urine. That means drinking water and electrolyte-infused beverages like Gatorade may help you bounce back from some hangover symptoms, Koob says.
While it sounds painful, going for a run or workout should also help clear your head and quell your symptoms. Exercise helps “kick start your metabolism,” which increases blood flow and hurries your body’s clearance of alcohol-related toxins from your bloodstream and body tissues, Alford says.
“Getting a good meal down and getting a shower, or really any active things, will speed blood flow and the removal of accumulated alcohol byproducts,” Koob adds, “which will help you when you’re feeling lousy.”
A daylong movie marathon on your couch may sound a lot more appealing. But the longer you laze around doing nothing, the longer it will take your system to jettison the stuff that’s making you feel so bad.