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Bananas, a source of compounds with health properties
Article in Acta Horticulturae · June 2014
DOI: 10.17660/ActaHortic.2014.1040.9
3 authors, including:
Guylene Aurore
Université des Antilles
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Bananas, a Source of Compounds with Health Properties
L. Fahrasmane and B. Parfait
Domaine Duclos
Prise d’eau F-97170 Petit-Bourg
G. Aurore
Université des Antilles et de la Guyane
F-97110 Pointe-à-Pitre
Keywords: banana, health, catechin, gallic acid, dopamine, gallocatechin, leucocyanidin,
carotenoid, starch
Banana has an important place in human nutrition all over the world. It is
interesting to analyse banana health preservation potentialities. The medicinal
properties of banana are part of the folk medicine of all tropical countries. Bananas
are used in special diets where ease of digestibility, low fat, minerals and vitamins
are required. These special diets are used for babies, the elderly and patients with
stomach problems, gout, and arthritis. Anti-ulcerogenic properties of banana are
reported. Green banana has antidiarrheal properties; it is traditionally used to cure
dyspepsia. Flavonoids, carotenoids and polysaccharides from banana are recognized
having health benefits for humans, acting in the digestive tract and in other organs,
through antioxidant activities. Nowadays, it is important to elaborate new
knowledge about bananas health effects, in order to improve their consumption.
Cross-cultural epidemiological studies carried out over the last two decades have
shown, at the populations level, that fruit and vegetable consumption has an inverse
relation with incidence of some pathologies. Scientists have been searching to identify the
specific ingredients in fruits and vegetables that account for these health-promoting
benefits. Banana is not among the richer fruits in total antioxidant content. Yet, because
of its relative high consumption level, despite its comparative low total antioxidant
content, banana could contribute significantly to health benefits for consumers. To
promote the presence of bananas, and tropical fruits and vegetables, in the modern
consumer’s shopping basket, we need to develop knowledge to promote the emergence of
niche markets based on an objective, qualitative basis, in phase with the wellness
motivations of today’s consumers.
Place of Dessert Banana Today
Dessert banana is globally the first fruit and the 15th item in the top 20 food and
agricultural commodities production in quantity, for 2007, and the 20th in value (FAO,
2009). The dessert banana (Musa spp.) is a fruit of global importance. There are nearly
100 banana producing countries. Worlwide, 89 million tonnes of dessert banana were
produced in 2007 making of banana the first fruit produced globally before grapes,
oranges and apples. Fruit yields may reach 50-70 t/ha when cultivated in industrial singlecropping. Shoppers spent more than 11 billion € in 2007 to buy bananas globally.
Bananas are the third most valuable products sold in UK supermarkets. Only petrol and
lottery tickets out-sell them (Fairtrade foundation, 2009). 17 million t of bananas were
exported in 2007, according to the FAO’s statistics database. So, banana is the fifth most
important agricultural crop in world trade, after coffee, cereals, sugar and cacao. North
America, Europe and Japan are the main importers (Piraux, 2006).
Bananas high carbohydrate content makes them a staple calorie source for over
500 million inhabitants of tropical countries.
Proc. IIIrd IS on Human Health Effects of Fruits and Vegetables
Eds.: B. Patil et al.
Acta Hort. 1040, ISHS 2014
Physiology of Cultivated Bananas and Harvest
Banana plants are stenothermic plants grown under the humid tropical lowlands
(15-38°C, optimum 27°C). They are the world’s largest herbaceous plant, bearing fruits
all year round. There are approximately 1200 seedless fleshy fruit cultivars in collection.
The Cavendish subgroup is now the most common group of cultivars cultivated for
exportation (Gibert et al., 2009). Banana plant cultivation for local consumption harnesses
a multitude of cultivars suited to different farming situations and uses with a high degree
of acceptability. A century of genetic improvement programs have been mainly oriented
toward the development of disease and pest resistant cultivars.
The fruit stalk or bunch is the organ of interest. There are 8 to 13 months between
planting the banana tree and harvesting bunch, which can contain 100-400 fruits. Bunches
can be harvested mature-green, i.e., well developed but still green.
1. For Export. The harvesting time and postharvest conditions need to be managed
(temperature, controlled atmosphere chamber), so as to maintain a fairly long “green life”,
which can extend up to 60 days for Cavendish bananas (Bugaud et al., 2007). During
transport by ship, which may be for several days or 2-3 weeks, fruit is maintained at
14°C, the physiological temperature threshold below which fruit growth and change will
cease (Lassoudière, 2007).
2. For Local Market. The bunch harvest can be much later than for exported bananas,
and ripening can begin even before the harvest. Banana is a climacteric fruit made up of
peel counting easily for 30% of the total fresh weight of the fruit, and edible pulp that has
a high nutritional value. Edible bananas are vegetatively parthenocarpic berries; i.e., they
develop without pollination. Ripening determines the essential appearance and taste
qualities of dessert bananas when consumed fresh (bright yellow-coloured skin, flavours,
consistency of pulp and starch-sugar transition). The great biodiversity of banana plants
provides potential for varietal creation, for the purpose of promoting characteristics
compatible with health concern.
Banana as Foodstuff
Banana is consumed and used under various ways:
- raw at a full stage of maturity. Unripe, mature green, it is cooked prior to consumption
and represents an important part of basic alimentation for significant population groups
in producer countries.
- as a raw material in the making of a variety of household and regional products. Very
few are found in the occidental mass-market type (Aurore et al., 2009).
- as an energy source for athletes, with energizing drinks and dried banana bars. In
combination with vitamins and minerals they prevent muscular contractions (Roubert,
- unpeeled green bananas, mainly culls, are used as an animal feed, especially for pigs.
On the eve of 2000, industrial processing of the dessert banana only involved one
thousandth of the bananas produced worldwide (Espiard, 2002).
Banana as Source of Nutrients
Banana pulp is firm when the fruit is not ripe, but softens during maturation, so
that a puree may be obtained simply by mashing with a fork. The pulp, comprising 75%
water, is among the most calorie-rich (with 90 kcal/100 g) of non-oil fresh fruits. It
contains approximately 20 g of carbohydrates in total per 100 g of fresh pulp, out of
which fibre 2 g per 100 g fresh weight is useful for regulation of intestinal transit. In
general, bananas are a good source of K, Mg, Cu, and Mn in the diet, but do not supply
much vitamin C or vitamin A, relative to other fruits (Wall, 2006).
Bananas are identified as relatively rich in pyridoxine (vit. B6) (Leklem, 1999).
There is some evidence that pyridoxine protects against cancer of the oesophagus (World
Cancer Research Fund International, 2007). Pulp of bananas contains free phenolic
compounds, mainly catechin and gallic acid (Verde Mendez et al., 2003). Phenolic
compounds are present in greater quantity in the skin than in the pulp. So, dopamine a
powerful antioxidant is found at higher concentration in the pulp of coloured bananas
(Musa acuminata; Musa sapientum var. baracoa) than in Cavendish banana (Tramil,
1999; Crozier et al., 2006; Kulma and Szopa, 2007). Bananas contain carotenoids: lutein,
α- and β-carotene (van den Berg et al., 2000; Englberger, 2003).
Total Phenolics Consumption from Banana in the US: Case of an Importation
Banana does not have high total phenolic content (TPC) and acid ascorbic content
(AAC) values comparatively to some fruits less available like: cranberry, strawberry,
pomegranate, blackberry, blueberry (Lim et al., 2007; Wolfe et al., 2008). The
contribution of total phenolics from fruits in the US diet was estimated for 25 fruits
commonly consumed. The percent contribution of banana was the sixth with 4.3%,
because of its high consumption despite its comparatively low total phenolic content:
54.8±1.3 mg of gallic acid equivalent/100 g, equivalent to orange content (Wolfe et al.,
2008). This ranking of phenolic contribution from fruits differed greatly from that
published by Vinson et al. (2001), who placed banana at the top of a 1997 per capita
consumption of fruit phenol antioxidants in the US. The differences in rankings can be
explained by:
- juice consumption data were included in the Wolfe et al. (2008) study;
- phenolics were measured using a catechin standard curve in the study by Vinson et al.
(2001), instead of the gallic acid standard curve used by Wolfe et al. (2008);
- consumption patterns may have changed.
The medicinal properties of bananas are part of the folk medicine of all tropical
countries. Bananas is useful for a number of medicinal applications, but poorly
Banana to Cure Intestinal Disorders and Anti-Ulcerogenic Properties
1. Special Diets. Bananas are used in special diets where ease of digestibility, low fat,
minerals and vitamin content are required. These special diets are used for babies, the
elderly and patients with stomach problems, gout, and arthritis (Nakasone and Paull,
2. Antidiarheal. Green banana possesses antidiarrheal effects (Rabbani et al., 2004); it is
traditionally used to cure dyspepsia (Aurora and Sharma, 1990).
3. Anti-Ulcerogenic. This property was first reported for banana by Elliot and Heward
(1976). Dessert banana is known to protect the gastric mucosa from aspirin-induced
injury (Best et al., 1984; Lewis et al., 1999).
4. Treat Constipation. Banana has among the highest percentage of bound phenolics
compounds (37.9%) (Sun et al., 2002). These bound phytochemicals may be able to
survive the stomach and small intestine digestion to reach the colon and be digested by
bacteria flora to release phytochemicals locally to have health benefits (Sun et al., 2002).
The therapeuctic effect of banana to treat constipation may be due to the higher
percentage of bound phytochemicals to reach the colon.
Antioxidant Activity
Someya et al. (2002) found 2.2 times stronger antioxidant activity in banana peel
extract (907 mg/100 g dry wt. eq. (+)-catechin) than in the pulp extract (232 mg). The
difference in the antioxidant activities between the peel extract and the pulp extract may
be attributed to their phenolic contents. The cellular antioxidant activity (CAA) assay
developped by Wolfe et al. (2008) to measure the antioxidant activity in cell cultures did
not place banana in the top 10 contributors of fruit cellular antioxidant activity. It is the
same for orange. A Bioactivity Index (BI) for dietary cancer prevention proposed by Sun
et al. (2002) to provide a new alternative biomarker in dietary cancer prevention placed
banana sixth on eleven common fruits. This index takes into account bound phenolics.
Total phenolics exist both in soluble free and bound forms in common fruits.
Compounds with Health Benefits Potential in Banana
Primary antioxidants scavenge radicals to inhibit chain initiation and break chain
propagation. Secondary antioxidant suppresses the formation of radicals and protects
against oxydative damage. Banana though weaker than orange as a primary antioxidant is,
however, a powerful secondary antioxidant (Lim et al., 2007).
1. Flavonoids. The most common polar secondary products present in banana pulp are
known to be various flavonoids. The major components of this group of polyphenolic
compounds are the flavan-3,4-diols, also known as leucoanthocyanidins. Analysis of an
acid-treated extract derived from unripe plantain banana powder by HPLC also confirmed
the presence of leucocyanidin. This flavonoid was present in smaller amounts in similar
samples of ripe dessert banana (Lewis et al., 1999). Flavonoids in fruits, vegetables and
drinks may be benificial to consumers because they interact with various biological
systems and show anti-inflammatory, antihepatotoxic, antiallergic, antiulcerogenic,
vasculoprotector, antiallergic and antioxidant activities (Ghedira, 2005).
Catecholamines. Dopamine, norepinephrine (noradrenaline) and epinephrine (adrenaline)
are neurotransmitters in mamals, acting in regulation of glycogen metabolism (Kulma and
Szopa, 2007). Dopamine had a faster radical-scavenging rate than catechin and was
similar to gallocatechin gallate. Dopamine is a powerful water-soluble antioxidant like
ascorbic acid (Kanazawa and Sakakibara, 2000). Dopamine has been found to protect
against intestinal mucosal injury by modulating eicosanoid synthesis (MacNaughton and
Wallace, 1989; Alanko et al., 1992). Banana may contribute to anti-inflammation.
Dopamine was identified in the banana Musa cavendishii. According to Kanazawa et
Sakakibara (2000) Cavendish banana contains dopamine at high levels in both the peel
and pulp. Dopamine levels range from 80-560 mg per 100 g in peel and 2.5-10 mg even
in pulp of ripened banana ready to eat. Kulma and Szopa (2007) found dopamine content
is 2.5-10 µg/g FW in the pulp and 100 µg/g FW in the peel. Banana is therefore one of the
best sources of antioxidants. Dopamine plays important roles as a neurotransmitter and
precursor for norepinephrine and epinephrine (Kanazawa and Sakakibara, 2000).
Gallocatechin. Someya et al. (2002) identified gallocatechin a flavane-3-ols class
favonoid, catechin and epicatechin in the banana peel extracts. The antioxidant effect of
gallocatechin is considered to be much stronger than those of catechin and epicatechin
(Nanjo et al., 1996), only gallocatechin content was quantified by Someya et al. (2002). It
was more abundant in peel (158 mg/100 g dry wt.) than in pulp (29.6 mg/100 g dry wt.).
The antioxidant capacity of the bananas may be attributed to their gallocatechin content.
Bananas (Cavendish) should be considered as a good source of natural antioxidants for
foods (Someya et al., 2002). Banana peel, which is usually discarded, should also be
considered to be a functional food source against cancer and heart disease, since the
banana peel is rich in gallocatechin.
Leucocyanidin. It is a flavane-3,4-diol class flavonoid. It is more important in plantain
banana than in Cavendish bananas. Leucocyanidin is an active anti-ulcerogenic ingredient
of unripe plantain banana. Ripe dessert banana was shown to contain somewhat less
leucocyanidin than the unripe plantain banana. This flavonoid was present in smaller
amounts in similar samples of ripe dessert banana. The banana powder is only active if
the fresh pulp is dried at 40°C or lower (Lewis et al., 1999). Those authors suggest that
flavonoids in general and leucocyanidin analogues in particular may have considerable
therapeutic potential in the treatment of gastric diseases. Banana preparations
administered by the oral route did not present signs of toxicity when used as an anti-ulcer
2. Carotenoids. In ripe banana the major carotenoids are lutein, α-carotene, and
β-carotene (Wall, 2006). A deep yellow or orange color associated with carotenoids.
β-carotene is the provitamin A carotenoid contributing the most to vitamin A status. Five
Micronesian cooking banana cultivars had β-carotene levels greater than 525 μg/100 g,
more than 25 times the β-carotene level found in Cavendish bananas (Holden et al., 1999;
Englberger, 2003). Maturity affects carotenoid content, i.e., green bananas contain very
little. Banana peels are a rich source of bioactive compounds, such as carotenoids
(β-carotene), antioxydative enzymes and carbohydrates. Banana peels conveniently
processed could furnish useful products. There is a scope for the isolation of these active
ingredients and also the use of banana peels as an ingredient in processed food products
(Arora et al., 2008). Bugaud et al. (2007) showed that during banana bunch growth, daily
temperature and cumulated rainfall have the greatest impact on ripe banana
(M. cavendish) texture and colour. The different climatic conditions in highland areas are
responsible for the unique features of bananas produced there, thus warranting the
creation of a “mountain banana” label. In ripe bananas, a decreasing correlation was also
noted between the mean daily temperature and the fruit yellowness. This interaction could
be responsible for the yellower colour of mountain banana pulp and of bananas harvested
during the coolest seasons. The differences in fruits yellow pulp colour were probably
associated with variations in fruit carotenoid contents (Medlicott et al., 1992).
3. Polysaccharidic Compounds: Starch. Green banana pulp contains up to 70-80%
starch on a dry weight basis. Native raw banana starch is known to be resistant to the
attack of α-amylase and glucoamylase, with in vivo results showing that 75-84% of the
starch granules ingested reached the terminal ileum (Englyst and Cummings, 1986;
Faisant et al., 1995). Other studies showed that the “easily hydrolysable starch” fraction
of cooked banana starch was as low as 47%. The value of slowly digestible and lowglycemic-index starch is embodied in the current diet craze of “low carb” foods. Faisant
et al. (1995a,b) studied the digestion of freeze-dried green banana flour. 84% of ingested
α-glucans reached the terminal ileum, but were then almost totally fermented in the colon
by the microflora, a potentially positive result relating to colonic health. Banana starch
has potential, both from its digestion properties and functional properties, to have
application in processed foods and become a commercially viable starch product (Zhang
et al., 2005).
Innovative treatment and molecule extraction technologies, as well as increasingly
efficient analytical tools, offer a real possibility of better understanding of fruit and
vegetable contents, including bananas, in terms of useful microconstituents, and how they
change in the course of crop development and postharvest life. The physiological impact
of fruits and vegetables on the consumer is huge, because it concerns functions as diverse
as digestive, hepatic, circulatory, renal and ocular systems. An inventory of traditional
uses demonstrates that bananas have positive effects on certain physiological functions.
Maximum preservation of nutritional and functional properties in manufactured
products, by treating raw materials with soft technologies such as: very high pressures,
light flashes, pulsed electric fields (Haxaire, 2001; Bimbenet and Trystram, 2005;
Fernandes and Rodrigues, 2007). The use of ultrasound as a pre-treatment for drying of
fruit increases the water diffusivity in the fruit leading to faster and easier drying
(Fernandes and Rodrigues, 2007). The impacts of fruit development and ripening in
storage opposed to leaving the fruit ripen on the plant is of importance on secondary
metabolites synthesis and delivery to the consumer. To promote the presence of bananas
in the modern consumer’s shopping basket, we need to develop improved knowledge to
enable the emergence of crops and products in phase with the changing motivations of
today’s consumers. The research approach should preferably be integrative, taking into
consideration the great biodiversity of resources, functional genomics, the agropedoclimatic production conditions, development and maturation physiology, and
postharvest evolution of useful compounds under different technological and/or culinary
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