The trusty banana has become the centre of much debate regarding the subject of constipation. Some people believe they act as a trigger, whilst others swear by them to help relieve it. Here I aim to explore the reasons why confusion rages on over bananas, and to discuss why they might be a cause or cure.
Are bananas a trigger for constipation or a remedy for constipation? Confused? We aim to clear up the confusion!
Bananas - constipation trigger?
Bananas are a high starch fruit, so as a result, if you suffer from constipation it is key that you always ensure that bananas are nice and ripe when you eat them. If a banana is unripe it will have green skin with high levels of starch. This high starch content may be a trigger for constipation. Keep bananas in your fruit bowl until the skin turns a lovely yellow with plenty of brown speckles.
Green bananas contain high levels of starch
High sugar content
Due to their high starch content, bananas are deliciously sweet, and as a result contain large quantities of simple carbohydrates, in the form of glucose, fructose and maltose. We know that sugar (a simple carbohydrate) can cause constipation as it has the ability to slow down transit time through the large intestine. You can read more about carbohydrates causing constipation here.
Rich in pectin
Bananas are rich in a compound known as pectin. Pectin has a strong binding ability (it is the key ingredient in fruit jams, helping them to solidify). Some people are more sensitive to pectin than others, and as it has a binding effect on the stool, eating too much pectin in the form of too many bananas may cause constipation. The upper limit on banana intake varies from person to person, and if you feel you are sensitive to pectin, act cautiously and try to note whether they are starting to have a negative impact on your digestion.
It is common belief by many natural health practitioners that bananas are a mucus forming food. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, bananas are regarded as a cold and damp food, which can produce excess mucus. As a result they may contribute to constipation, and it may also be helpful to avoid eating bananas when you are suffering from a cold, cough or hayfever to help reduce mucus and phlegm production.
Bananas - remedy for constipation?
Good source of fibre
A medium sized banana provides a generous dose of dietary fibre, as much as 3g. This is around 10% of our recommended daily intake of fibre - and can therefore be a useful addition to your daily diet, helping to keep your bowels healthy and regular. It is important to ensure you drink plenty of water in addition to eating fibrous foods, as the fibre has the effect of bulking up the stool, and it requires fluid to help its transit through the large intestine.
Bananas are a rich source of the mineral potassium, known as an electrolyte. Electrolytes are important in maintaining the balance of fluid in our cells. We know that it is important to ensure we are properly hydrated in order to support bowel function, and as a result the potassium in bananas may be helpful in contributing to our optimal hydration. This will help to keep our digestion moving and bowel functioning as it should. However, if we eat too many bananas, this may upset the balance of electrolytes, causing things to slow down, therefore leading to constipation. As mentioned previously, always ensure drinking plenty of water alongside your banana intake.
Source of FOS
Bananas are a rich source of Fructooligosaccharides (FOS); a type of prebiotic, and a unique compound not broken down by enzymes in our digestive tract. As a result, FOS provides a food source for our gut's friendly bacteria, which are important for maintaining good digestive health and reducing constipation. Interestingly, one study involving female participants eating 2 bananas a day each for 2 months led to a significant increase in the bacteria type Bifidobacteria. These participants experienced fewer digestive problems and more regular bowel function than the women in the study taking the placebo, therefore demonstrating that bananas can be an effective remedy for helping relieve constipation. If you would like to read more about the benefits of probiotic bacteria for reducing constipation click here.
For those with ongoing digestive problems, you may be familiar with the FODMAPs diet, in which case you will be pleased to learn that bananas are a low FODMAP food. Whilst a FODMAPs diet does not address the root cause of digestive problems such as constipation, it is reported to be effective at reducing symptoms. Please do note however that a green, unripe banana is considered a high FODMAP food so is certainly best avoided (you can read more here).
A healthy toddler snack?
As many parents know, bananas are a particular favourite with toddlers. They are easy to transport due to their own protective skin, so are a practical snack for mums and dads to carry should the need for a snack arise. They are naturally sweet with a lovely soft texture, perfect for little ones, especially as their new teeth are forming. Speaking from personal experience, there appears to be no limit to the number of bananas a toddler can eat in one day(!) - but the question that needs to be asked is whether bananas could possibly be contributing to constipation in babies and children? If bananas are consumed in moderation, at a maxiumum of 2 per day, and are given to childen when ripe and yellow, this should not be the case. Young children often suffer from constipation and there are a number of potential triggers - you can read more here.
Bananas are a healthy food for toddlers but do they trigger constipation?
Unfortunately there is no clear cut answer, but hopefully I have helped to explain the reasons why bananas may trigger constipation in some, but may also act as a remedy for in others. At the end of the day, it is good to question all of your food sources, but it is unlikely that bananas alone are the sole cause. Read naturopath & herbalist Megan's article on the causes of constipation.
Overall, in terms of research it seems there is a bit more supporting bananas as a remedy as opposed to a cause. However, we are all different and, as explained above, the pectin and other ingredients may create problems for some. Two major factors to consider are the number of bananas you eat, and how ripe they are. It is also important to be aware that we are all individuals with unique digestion, and what is suitable for one person may not be for the next. If you believe bananas are a trigger I would recommend reducing them to a minimum in your diet, perhaps just eating them 1-2 times a week. If however they are helpful in keeping you moving, enjoy this lovely bendy fruit!
Miller KC. Plasma potassium concentration and content changes after banana ingestion in exercised men. J Athl Train 2012;47:648-54
Mitsou EK, Kougia E, Nomikos T, et al. Effect of banana consumption on faecal microbiota: a randomized, controlled trial. Anaerobe 2011;17:384-7.