Are Bananas a Useful Nutrient During Exercise?

Bananas are a rich source of nutrients, most notably carbohydrate and potassium. The carbohydrate content of the banana can vary depending on the ripeness, as the starch in unripe bananas slowly turns to glucose as the ripening process proceeds. Studies have investigated the effects of bananas on exercise performance to see how they compare to other forms of nutrition. For example, in one study, researchers administered bananas (0.2 g power kg of bodyweight carbohydrate) or a carbohydrate drink providing the same amount of carbohydrate as the banana group. The cyclist then consumed these during a 75 km cycle ride. The results of the study showed that there was no difference between the groups given bananas or a carbohydrate drink. The performance for both groups was similar, suggesting that bananas are as good a source of carbohydrate during exercise compared to a carbohydrate drink. That bananas also have other beneficial nutrients in them suggests that overall, bananas are superior as an exercise fuel. 

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Nieman, D. C., Gillitt, N. D., Henson, D. A., Sha, W., Shanely, R. A., Knab, A. M., Clandella-Kam, L. and Jin, F. 2012. Bananas as an energy source during exercise: a metabolomics approach. PLoS One. 7(5): e37479
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Not All Tea is Created Equally

Tea is generally evidenced to be a healthy drink. Tea is thought to confer beneficial health effects on those who consume it regularly because of the phytochemicals it contains, and this includes a range of antioxidants including catechins and tannins, caffeine, and the amino acid L-theanine. These nutrients appear to work synergistically to provide significant therapeutic effects. However, not all tea is the same. As well as the obvious difference between black and green tea, the quality and variety of these teas can also differ depending on a myriad of factors including growing conditions and the processing stages employed. High quality teas tend to be grown under special conditions, often with specific harvesting times and more care may be taken through the processing steps. This may provide a significant improvement in taste or a significant increase in the phytochemicals present. Often such speciality teas are more expensive, and so as with everything, you often get what you pay for with tea. 

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Banana as a Traditional Medicine

Banana is the common name for the fruit of a plant belonging to the Genus Musa. Bananas are cultivated in tropical climates and are an important economic crop in a number of countries. Although the fruit is considered a food, other parts of the plant are known to have medicinal effects and banana plants therefore have a wide application in traditional medicine. The flowers of the banana tree have traditionally been used in cases of bronchitis, dysentery and ulcers and cooking the flower may confer anti-daibetic effects. The sap of the plant has been used in traditional medicine to treat hysteria, epilepsy, leprosy, fevers, hemorrhages, acute dysentery and diarrhea, and can be applied to haemorrhoids, insect bites and stings to provide relief. The leaves of the plant can be used as poultices to treat burns and other skin afflictions and the peel and pulp may have antimicrobial effects. The roots of the plant may be useful in the treatment of a number of digestive disorders. These benefits may be due to the anti-inflammatory effects of the plant. 

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Kumar, K. S., Bhowmik, D., Duraivel, S. and Umadevi, M. 2012. Traditional and medicinal uses of banana. Journal of Pharmacognosy and Phytochemistry. 1(3): 51-63
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Does Good Nutrition Have to be Expensive?

One argument often trotted out as an excuse to healthy eating, is that healthy food costs more to buy than unhealthy food. This can be the case, but really depends on the food under consideration. Some health foods are expensive, and in particular health foods bought from a health food shop can be niche products and it might be expected that you pay a premium for these. However, fruits and vegetables should be considered the staple of any healthy diet and in general are relatively cheap. This is particularly the case for vegetables which can be very cheap. A 1 kg bag of carrots, a rich source of carotenoid antioxidants can cost as little as 50 p in the United Kingdom. Vegetables such as potatoes, turnips, parsnips and other root vegetables are also very cheap and can form the basis of stews and casseroles and provide significant health effects. Herbs and spices are also extremely high in antioxidants and are relatively cheap and can be added liberally to food to increase the nutritional value and beneficial effects. 

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Two Effective Anti-Inflammatory Foods: Ginger and Pineapple

Chronic inflammation is a serious cause of disease. Many of the diseases associated with the Western diet and Western lifestyle are initially caused by activation of inflammatory pathways, and these remain activated and this causes biochemical aberrations. Obesity may also be caused by activation of inflammation which in turn causes changes to the insulin receptor. Reducing chronic inflammation is therefore important to health and diet is one tool that can be used to achieve this. Two foods that have consistently been shown to decrease levels of inflammation are ginger and pineapple. Ginger contains a number of anti-inflammatory compounds that are thought to include the phytochemical gingerol. Pineapple is also a strong anti-inflammatory and this may relate to the presence of a number of proteases in the tissues called bromelain. Both ginger and pineapple may work through different mechanisms to control inflammation, and so combining the two together may provide significant synergistic effects. 

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The Effects of Light on the Accumulation of Phytochemicals in Vegetables

Vegetables are an important source of a number of nutrients. Broadly these can be divided into macronutrients including protein, carbohydrate and fat, vitamins and minerals, as well as plant metabolites. The latter category include a large number of plant synthesised chemicals, many of which are bioactive in humans and which may confer specific health effects. Many of the phytochemicals in plants show antioxidant effects and this relates to the way the plant uses these chemicals to protect itself from environmental conditions. Many such chemicals protect the plants from excessive sunlight. Changing the light intensity directed at the plant can significantly increase many of these chemicals, thus improving the potential therapeutic effects of the plants. Gardeners that grow their own vegetables can therefore use this fact to manipulate the chemical content of their plants and thus gardening may indirectly have an influence on the health of the individual concerned through provision of higher quality produce. 

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Bian, Z. H., Yang, Q. C. and Liu, W. K. 2015. Effects of light quality on the accumulation of phytochemicals in vegetables produced in controlled environments: a review. Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture. 95(5): 869-877
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Fruit versus Vegetables

Fruit and vegetables are considered healthy foods because they have been evidenced to protect from a number of diseases. Comparing fruit with vegetables is perhaps a little unfair because each category contains a range of varieties that can offer considerable different health effects. However, there are a few generalities that can be made in comparison. Generally, fruit contains more carbohydrates than vegetables. In particular, the simple sugar content of fruit is much higher than vegetables. Vegetables that do contain carbohydrates in high amounts are mainly the root vegetables such as carrots, potatoes, parsnips and turnips. But the carbohydrate content of these vegetables is mainly starch. The fibre content of both fruit and vegetables is high, but the fibre type can be different. Vegetables tend to contain a lot of cellulose based fibre, whereas fruit can also contain pectins. The phytochemical content of fruits and vegetables can vary considerably, but both contain high amounts of carotenoids and polyphenol antioxidants. 

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Caffeine: A drug With Two Sides

Caffeine is a readily available drug because it is a component of food. Most people consume caffeine in varying amounts, with good sources being coffee, cacao and tea. The presence of caffeine in cacao means that it is present in cola and chocolate. Caffeine is a drug and therefore has drug-like effects in humans and animals. These include the ability to act on adenosine receptors to reduce tiredness through a process of inhibiting the normal downstream effects of the receptor. Caffeine can also speed the metabolism through direct and indirect mechanisms which may explain the weight loss effects from consuming caffeine. Caffeine is also able to stimulate the brain, and can improve cognitions and reduce the risk of mental degenerative disorders such as dementia. Certain sensitive individuals may not be able to tolerate caffeine in high doses, and for these individuals caffeine can lead to anxiety and insomnia. High intakes of caffeine can also lead to a diuretic effect which can be mistaken for genuine weight loss. 

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Bananas as a Sleep Supplement

Bananas like most fruits are considered a healthy food. Bananas do differ from other fruits in that they contain higher amounts of sugar when ripe, but this can be a benefit in a number of ways including as a post-exercise supplement for increased energy and carbohydrate needs. The higher carbohydrate content of bananas is also beneficial before bedtime as a small amount of relatively simple carbohydrate can induce sleep through a mechanism that involves insulin release increasing the uptake of the amino acid L-tryptophan to the brain. In the brain the L-tryptophan is converted to serotonin and then melatonin, and this can help to induce sleep. Bananas are also high in the amino acid L-tryptophan, which makes their use as a pre-bedtime snack even more effective. Consuming a ripe banana with a glass of hot milk may be an effective way of inducing sleep and adding cacao to the hot milk can create a warming drink that is pleasant to drink and psychologically beneficial during the winter months when it is cold outside.  

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Cutting Cow’s Milk from The Diet

Cow’s milk is a frequently consumed food in the Western nations and makes up a considerable amount of energy in the typical Western diet. However, this is not the norm, as most of the rest of the world’s population are intolerant of lactose and therefore cannot consume cow’s milk into adulthood. There is perhaps a growing consensus amongst nutritionists in the West that cow’s milk may have certain allergenic properties in adult humans and that these allergenic properties may be causing chronic intolerances to drinking cow’s milk over time. This situation is not clear, and certain individuals are not affected. In addition, cow’s milk, if whole, has a large amount of energy associated with it. Because cow’s milk is often eaten with foods, such as breakfast cereals, that may be considered fattening, cutting it from the diet may hold advantages. The choice to abstain from milk is therefore a personal one and would be based on the individual concerned, but certainly some individuals do better health wise, without cow’s milk in their diet. 

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