I'm currently doing a yoga therapist course at Atmivikasa Yoga Shala in Mysore, India. As part of the course we have been asked to write weekly essays, and this week the subject assigned to us is 'bananas'. This is because the teachers of the course Archarya Venkatesh and Archarya Hema are mad about bananas, and rightly so!
After morning practice and pranayama class we are instructed to drink a litre of water in one go which is then followed by a nutrition break where we must eat at least 4 big bananas or 10 small ones (they must have brown spots), and if we're still hungry, a few more bananas, raisins, dates, and nuts. These delicious morsels must be eaten in silence, and the combination of the quiet and the pure goodness of what we are consuming has made this one of my favourite parts of the day.
Now you may be thinking, 'that can't be good for you, what about your blood sugar levels?'. Well bananas contain a lot of good fibre so the sugars in bananas are more slowly digested and absorbed and thus prevent blood sugar spikes. Some studies have even suggested blood sugar levels could be regulated by increased intake of bananas.
Bananas also improve the quality of our bowel movements. This is because they packed with a good source of fibre which is beneficial to our gut bacteria and thus facilitate the absorbance of certain dietary components, including calcium.
Vitamin B6 is found in large amounts in bananas and it is thought, amongst other things, to support eye health and relieve the symptoms of dry eyes.
Something else you may have already heard, is that bananas can combat depression and anxiety. This is because they are rich in serotonin, the neurotransmitter responsible for regulating mood. So before we hit the pharmacy perhaps we could try increasing our banana consumption.
It is also thought that some forms of cancer are combated from an increased intake in bananas. One study showed liver cancer cells growth rate decreasing 40% after exposure to bananas.
I could list dozens of benefits of the humble banana backed up by dozens of scientific studies. However, I'm not a huge fan of deciding what I eat based purely on the outcomes of scientific studies and their interpretations. Just like textual authority, such studies I believe only to be useful to compare ones experience to, and to see if they matchup. If one’s experience is contrary to the empirical or documental evidence then I would trust my own gut first and foremost. As we know, and as we are undoubtably growing tired of, the nutritional advice we receive through various media which is based on such evidence changes every day and often contradicts the “cutting edge” information of yesterday. If one is in touch with one's body and listens to what it is telling them, then whether something we eat is good for us or not is easily decipherable. This is one of the greatest benefits of yoga, it gives us the body awareness to sense into what is best for our body.
My own personal story is that after six years of bad digestion, daily nausea, and chronic fatigue symptoms, I changed my diet to one made up of fruits and vegetables only. After three weeks of being bloated and going to the toilet too many times to mention I almost gave up. However my intuition was telling me to continue, and the great book 80/10/10 by Dr Douglas Graham reaffirmed my decision. Then suddenly after about three weeks of eating only fruit and salad my body started to get its pre-illness levels of energy back and all the symptoms of sickness I had been living with for the past 6 years vanished. I continued eating in this way for about four or five months after-which my body was completely repaired and my energy levels restored. I distinctly remember my girlfriend at the time telling me that I looked 10 years younger, and I definitely felt it. Though I still eat a lot of fruits and vegetables now, I am also eating other foods such as grains and pulses as I'm traveling all the time which I find makes it difficult to sustain such eating habits and I enjoy my food to be honest. However, if I ever find myself seriously unwell again I will most certainly return to this way of eating.
This experience led me to complete a certification in plant based nutrition with Dr Colin Campbell at Cornell university. Once again my experience was confirmed by this well respected University. The moral of the story is if you want to do your best to avoid illness and experience full health, eat lots of fruits (especially bananas) and vegetables. No surprise there then:)