Medically Reviewed by
Dr. Carla Montrond Correia ND, CNS
7 min read
Bananas are a popular, easy-to-eat fruit that naturally come in their own user-friendly wrapping. Just peel and eat! But maybe the taste of bananas doesn't make you crave the yellow fruit. That’s okay, because there are an array of other healthy fruits and vegetables that supply similar benefits to bananas.
Bananas pack many health benefits inside their peels. They provide a good source of prebiotics, helping to support the body’s microbiome. They are also an excellent source of potassium, which helps muscles maintain proper function. One banana can provide around a quarter of the daily recommended allowance of potassium.
In addition to being a good source of potassium, bananas also assist the body in retaining calcium, nitrogen, and phosphorus, essential elements for maintaining healthy tissue. Did you know that banana leaves can even be a therapeutic compress for minor burns? Bananas have been used throughout history to support various systems of the body, from kidneys to digestion, and as an energy boosting ingredient.
Bananas are not only an easy-to-eat snack on their own, but they’re also found in a number of health foods. Bananas in smoothies are a popular option, but they can also be sliced into cereal, yogurt, or oatmeal. Did you know that the peel of a banana is actually edible? There are many vitamins and fiber found in the peel, which can be mashed into a smoothie or baked for about ten minutes to soften the texture.
Bananas are a natural source of antioxidants, carotenoids, phenolics, and amine compounds and can be incorporated into most any meal of the day. They retain their nutritional benefits when cooked and can even make a good dessert, baked with a dash of cinnamon. Green (unripe) bananas can have more resistant starch and insoluble fiber. That starch converts to sugar the more ripe a banana gets. Higher antioxidant values can be found in yellow and brown bananas. So, which is best? A good mix is best, but flavor preferences should also be factored in.
Bananas can be a good source of potassium for people who take medications that cause their potassium levels to be lowered. However, if you are on a medication that increases the potassium in your body, it’s best to review your diet with your healthcare provider, so you don’t consume too much potassium.
Shelf-stable banana supplements can provide another way to get the vitamins and benefits of bananas. Banana powder, which typically will have the same taste and smell as a fresh banana, has the added convenience of not becoming rotten in a short period of time. Then there is banana flour, which boasts concentrated levels of resistant starch and fiber. Finally, there are fruit supplements that act as a multivitamin and contain banana pulp and peel as an ingredient.
Allergies to bananas are quite rare, but they do exist. So whether due to an allergy, an intolerance, or a taste preference, you may be looking for other ways to get the benefits of the nutrients found in bananas. Here are some options:
Unsweetened applesauce can be a good source of vitamin C and be a good substitute for bananas in a recipe that calls for bananas. In baking, 1/2 cup of applesauce can be used for one banana.This can be particularly helpful for those who need a low-potassium diet. On the other hand, hummus, which uses pureed chickpeas, is a good source of potassium, along with manganese, copper, and folate. Chickpea flour can also serve as a useful gluten-free baking ingredient.
At first glance, plantains can look nearly identical to bananas. But these nutritious, complex carbohydrates are typically cooked before being eaten. While higher in calories per servings, plantains also pack a higher nutrition profile, with more potassium, magnesium, and vitamin C than bananas. Deep frying plantains, a popular way to prepare them, doesn’t take away their nutritional value, but can add unhealthy fat, salt, and sugar to the fruit. Just like with bananas, the plantain peel can provide untapped nutrients; it’s high in fiber and can make a healthy cookie ingredient.
Egg whites have a natural emulsifying ability, similar to bananas. They are heat stable and can provide gelation (the thickening effect used in custards). In addition, they are a good source of protein and vitamin B. Whole eggs have the added benefits of choline, lutein, vitamin A, and selenium. Many recipes suggest swapping out egg for banana when eggs are not available, so the two ingredients can provide similar properties. Choose pasture-raised eggs for an added boost of omega-3s. And for a plant-based egg alternative, flax egg can provide close to double the dose of potassium than what’s found in a single banana.
Avocados are a good source of multiple vitamins including C, E, K, and B-complex, along with folate, magnesium, and potassium. They also provide lutein, beta carotene, and omega-3 fatty acids. Because they have a silky texture similar to mashed banana, they can be added to recipes that would typically use a banana, such as in fruit or protein smoothies. Avocados may be especially helpful in aiding the body in accessing the bioavailability of nutrients in other foods, making them a good choice for pairing with other fresh fruits and vegetables.
With their mild, naturally sweet flavor, sweet potatoes are an appealing tuber to add regularly to your dishes. They can be mashed, baked, boiled or roasted and make a great substitute in baking dishes for bananas or white potatoes. Like bananas, sweet potatoes are a good source of vitamin C, calcium, magnesium, potassium, and zinc. They are also high in beta carotene and fiber.
Much like mashed bananas, chia seeds can be mixed with water and ground to create a gelatinous binding agent. Like bananas, chia seeds can be used as a plant-based egg alternative in cooking and baking. They provide antioxidants as well as being a rich source of omega-3 fatty acid.
Oatmeal, like bananas, is an excellent source of both soluble and insoluble fiber. Oatmeal can also support healthy cholesterol and blood pressure levels, while providing satiety and digestive benefits. Like bananas, oatmeal can be used to thicken smoothies or in baking.
Coconut cream is shelf-stable product typically found in cans or cartons. It is thicker than coconut milk and makes an excellent substitute in smoothies. It is rich in potassium, although it has less than a typical banana. Coconut cream also contains antioxidants and is a good source of magnesium, folate, and choline. It should be noted that while coconut cream can help support many parts of the body, it is high in both calories and saturated fat.
Pumpkin puree can be a great alternative to mashed banana when baking breads and in other recipes. Pumpkin is high in beta carotene, which the body can use to make vitamin A. Pumpkin is also a good source of potassium and fiber.
Greek yogurt has a similar consistency to mashed banana, but with lower sugar content. This makes it a good alternative if you are trying to limit your sugar intake. A general rule of thumb ratio for swapping greek yogurt for banana is one half cup of yogurt for every one banana needed. Yogurt is high in both protein and calcium and can provide the body with probiotics to enhance the microbiome. Just be sure to check the label for sugar content. For example, plain yogurt has less sugar than strawberry-flavored yogurt.
Bananas contain fiber and a variety of essential vitamins. Bananas are known for their high level of potassium, making them a good source for this micronutrient, which is important for nerve function, proper muscle contraction, water regulation, and maintaining healthy blood pressure levels.
Some medications can cause the body to have high potassium levels, so it’s important not to eat foods that are high in potassium while taking such medications.
When you either can’t or don’t want to eat bananas, there are other nutritious alternatives that can be consumed to access the same nutrition profile that bananas contain. These foods include sweet potatoes, chia seeds, and eggs, as well as many others. With any food, it’s important to be mindful of the sugar, salt, and fat you add to any recipe.