Pulling off and throwing away the stringy pieces of a banana may be one of the first things you do after peeling the fruit. You may start rethinking that ritual, however, when you learn more about the nature of these strands.
And it’s hard to believe that bananas have only been part of the American diet since the late 19th century. They first appeared at a market in Jersey City after Captain Lorenzo Baker brought them from Jamaica in 1870.
Since that fateful day, the yellow fruit has remained one of America’s favorites. Indeed, the U.S. population is said to eat more bananas than oranges and apples put together. Bananas have even now reached fourth place on the list of crops with the highest monetary value in the world.
And while bananas are arguably well-loved because of their great taste, the fact that they also pack a nutritional punch probably doesn’t harm their popularity, either. For one thing, they’re a good source of potassium, which can help reduce blood pressure by easing the dilation and relaxation of blood vessels.
Furthermore, bananas provide us with fiber to keep the digestive system running smoothly. But that’s not all: the fruit is also thought to help ward off health conditions as varied as cancer, diabetes, asthma and heart disease as well as high blood pressure.
Yet while all of these benefits are said to come from the fruit itself, that doesn’t mean that the stringy parts of a banana are useless. Indeed, these strands – scientifically known as phloem bundles – serve a very particular purpose when it comes to the fruit’s growth.
Phloem isn’t a feature that’s specific to bananas, though; in fact, it’s a tissue that’s part of all vascular plants. It might not be as obvious – or as bothersome – in other types of vegetation, however.
And, in particular, phloem facilitates the movement of nutrients, according to New York University School of Medicine clinical coordinator Rebecca Lee. She told Reader’s Digest, “Phloem bundles allow for food products and sugar to get to all different parts of the plant.”
The strands perform that same function within the peel of the banana. They trace the length of the fruit, acting as arteries that transport nourishment to different areas of the banana. And, as a result, this process helps the plants to grow to their full, nutritious potential.
But while phloem bundles carry the nutrients around, they still end up holding onto some of that nourishment once the banana is picked, sold and placed in your shopping cart. As a result, the strings are chock-full of potassium and fiber as well as vitamins A and B6.
And that’s why you should be wary of throwing these strands away: simply put, they’re good for you. Dr. Elizabeth Trattner explained to Reader’s Digest, “[Phloem bundles are] not gross or disgusting, they just help the banana grow and become delicious.”
Trattner, who is a doctor of Chinese and integrative medicine, added, “[Phloem] is fine to eat and although its structure is a little different than the inside, it can be consumed.” All we have to do, then, is to make sure the phloem bundles – not to mention the banana itself – are ripe and ready.
You can even use the strings to tell if your banana is ready to eat – phloem bundles and all. In short, if there are still nutrients to be distributed, the strands won’t peel away from the banana so easily. This means that your fruit isn’t ripe, and so you should wait until they’re easy to remove instead.
Once your banana appears to be ripe, you might even consider snacking on more than just the phloem and the fruit itself. Indeed, in some cultures the peel is as much a part of the gastronomical experience as the rest of the banana.
What’s more, the peel has its fair share of nutrition, too. Along with the trademark potassium and fiber that you’ll find in the fruit itself, the casing contains tryptophan, which boosts the presence of serotonin in your body. This effect in turn helps your brain to level out emotions and moods.
In fact, consuming a pair of banana skins each day can boost the amount of serotonin in your body by as much as 16 percent. The peel also contains lutein, which fortifies your eyes against the sun’s UV radiation.
But because banana peel is exposed to the elements – and, potentially, to sprays used to stoke or protect their growth – make sure you wash it before consuming. And as the peel has a bitter taste when raw, boil it instead for about ten minutes before digging in.
Plus, bananas aren’t the only fruits with parts that we throw away to our nutritional detriment. Take, for example, the kiwi. Within its rough, brown exterior skin, you’ll find a sweet green fleshy fruit full of tiny seeds.
Don’t give in to your instincts to cut off the skin, though: it’ll triple the amount of fiber you’d get from eating just the green flesh. Plus, if you slice the brown exterior away, the kiwi will lose some of the vitamin C contained within it.
Most importantly, though, make sure you’re incorporating enough fresh produce into your diet, as 75 percent of Americans don’t eat enough vegetables. For reference, a person who consumes 2,000 calories per day – the recommended intake for a woman – should be eating two and a half cups of veggies as well as two cups of fruit.