Eat right, live well: Bananas full of a-peeling health benefits

If you believe what you have seen in cartoons and slapstick comedies over your lifetime you might think this month's featured food is dangerous to have around. But, while a head-over-heels tumble after slipping on a peel is probably unrealistic, the benefits to your health and your budget from bananas are completely real.

Most likely, you and bananas need no introduction. Mashed banana was probably one of the very first solid foods you ever tried, and bunches of these curved fruits can be found on your counter throughout the year. The average American eats an astounding 25 pounds of bananas every year, but at a cost of only about 3 for $1 bananas are friendly to most food budgets in spite of this high demand.

Bananas can play a key role in helping us reach recommended nutrition goals, too. According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics' 2011 consumer survey on nutrition needs, only 32 percent of consumers eat at least two servings of fruit and vegetables each day, and only 14 percent get the recommended five daily servings. Bananas's availability and affordability makes them a practical choice for filling part of this daily dietary shortfall, and the fruit's nutrition profile makes it a high quality choice as well.

One medium-sized banana, at only about 110 calories, gives you some very important nutrients for optimal health. One banana provides 10 percent of your daily fiber recommendation, almost 15 percent of blood pressure-friendly potassium, 17 percent of the antioxidant vitamin C, and an amazing 22 percent of your daily requirement for vitamin B6, which helps carry oxygen throughout your body and in other important body function roles.

Bananas can be eaten right out of their slippery container, sliced into cereal or salads, blended in smoothies, grilled, or mashed to spread on nut butter sandwiches or wraps. And, when those bright yellow peels turn black, bananas are perfect for baking, as a replacement for fat, eggs and sugar.

Using bananas in your baking may require some experimentation. Experts suggest you start by using half as much pureed banana to replace the oil, butter or shortening for light cakes and baked goods. To substitute banana for cooking oil in dense cakes and quick breads, use three-fourths as much banana as oil. One quarter cup of mashed banana can also replace one egg in baked goods. Since bananas are naturally sweet, adding bananas allows bakers to back off on sugar.

Low-gluten flours (whole wheat pastry or oat flour) work best when replacing oil with banana while adding 50 percent more baking powder will keep recipes lighter when replacing eggs; reducing the oven temperature by 25 degrees will preserve moistness.

The National Safety Council reports that accidental falls accounted for almost 9 million emergency room visits in 2011 - bananas are never cited as a cause, or even mentioned in the Council's "Fall Prevention Tips" fact sheet. It's clear you can embrace the incredible benefits of bananas without reservation.

Try this recipe: Banana Bread can be a special treat for Mother's Day. The whole family will enjoy banana bread served with brunch or as a snack.

• Toby Smithson, a registered dietitian, is the author of "Diabetes Meal Planning and Nutrition for Dummies" and is a national spokeswoman for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

Banana Bread

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