hands of yellow, red, and green bananas

The Benefits of Red Banana vs. Yellow Are Unexpected

[toc]Are red bananas real? Yes. Over 99% of the bananas consumed in North America are the yellow Cavendish but elsewhere, particularly Central America and South East Asia, a different cultivar from the same species is more popular. It produces smaller bananas that are reddish or purple in color.

The scientific name for the red is Musa acuminata (AAA Group) cv. ‘Red’.

That’s actually the same name as the yellow; Musa acuminata (AAA Group). They both come from the same species. To specify the red kind, the ‘cv’ at the end stands for ‘cultivar’ and the name given to it is ‘Red’ [obviously] and or ‘Red Dacca’. Another name for them is Cuban Red and less commonly, Jamaican Red, both of which are the same thing.

Because it is such a rare sighting in U.S. supermarkets, many people here have never seen one in-person. It’s understandable why they ask if they’re real or fake.

Or if they’re genetically modified?

The good news is that red bananas are non-GMO and one could even argue they are more natural than yellow bananas. That’s because the latter has been carefully cultivated to be more uniform in color and texture, both inside and out.

Red vs. yellow banana

sliced red banana with peel on plate

Even though they both come from the same species, they are distinctly different in appearance, taste, and nutrition. Yellow bananas can sometimes exceed 9” in length, while the red are typically 7” or less and have a maroon or purple peel. The flesh is cream or light pink. Its softer and tastes sweeter than yellow Cavendish.

What does a red banana taste like?

It has a hint of mango. Some say the flavor is a cross between the regular yellow banana and red raspberries. What’s agreed upon is that the red banana is creamier and sweeter than yellow. That’s when ripe. If not, it has less sugar.

Ultimately, the flavor is not that different. It’s interesting that the other fruits people compare them to are coincidentally red in color. One has to wonder if the placebo effect has something to do with that, because when you hide the peel and let someone try it, often they say it tastes the same!

Nutrition facts compared

How many calories there are in a red banana is the same as yellow, when you adjust for equal weights of each – about 90 calories. The amount of sugars (sucrose, fructose, and glucose) is nearly the same for each, too.

You may see bloggers who claim otherwise, saying they’re higher in calories and sugar content, without any hard data to back up it up.

Well, here are the actual measurements for both.

Nutrition Facts

Amounts are per 100g (3.5 oz) serving, which is a banana 6″ to 6-7/8″ long
Nutrient Red Banana
(Red Dacca)
Yellow Banana
Calories 90 89
Sugar 19.50 g 17.87 g
Starch 58.13 g 57.31 g
Amylose (starch slow/resistant to digestion) 10.18 g 9.67 g
Amylopectin (starch that’s easily digested) 47.95 g 47.64 g
Amylose/amylopectin ratio 0.23 0.20
Glycemic Index (GI) Value 44.95 45.49
Total Phenol Content 1.07 mg GAE/g 0.94 mg GAE/g
DPPH (measurement of antioxidant activity) 18.09 mg/mL 21.84 mg/mL
Vitamin C (ascorbic acid) 8.2 mg estimate, see footnote* 8.7 mg
Vitamin A (β-carotene equivalents) 367 134
Lutein 80 µg 42 µg
*Vitamin C content for red bananas has been reported as 0.95 mg per gram of edible fruit, compared to 1.01 mg per gram for yellow. Those samples were measured locally after harvest and do not reflect “real world” values after they have been exported and arrive at your grocery store. Significant degradation of vitamin C occurs, which is why only 0.087 mg per gram (8.7 mg per 100 g) is in the yellow, according to the USDA National Nutrient Database. They do not provide a value for red, nor does any other source when it comes to measurements taken after export/transit time.
Sources: (1) (2) (3)

The sugar content in a red banana is only 1.6 grams more than yellow, with the former having 19.5g and the latter having 17.9g per 3.5 oz serving (6 to 7 inch banana). This is a trivial difference and natural variances between crops would exceed that amount.

How many carbs the red banana has will be comparable to the yellow banana, at around 23 grams per 3.5 oz serving. That’s 7% of your daily value.

Claims being made about the Red Dacca/Red Cuban banana having higher vitamin C content are false. At time of harvest, the yellow actually has 6% more. How much of that degrades during transit is unknown, but it is significant. The following chart compares fresh vs. frozen blueberries to give you an idea of how rapidly ascorbic acid degrades.

vitamin C in fresh vs. frozen blueberries

Freezing preserves it well, while fresh produce of any kind uses up vitamin C through the act of respiration, which are the cells trying to stay alive.

No scientific literature has been published on the ORAC value of red, but based on the DPPH (another antioxidant test) and the vitamin C content, the evidence suggests that the total amount of antioxidants in red bananas is comparable to the yellow, which have an ORAC value of 795.

This is a low amount, though customary for a tropical fruit. That ORAC value is over 75% lower than that of common berries, such as blueberries, raspberries, and strawberries.

The most nutritious part of that, at least when it comes to antioxidant content, are the banana leaves. They are edible and research reports their DPPH values as much higher than the edible portion of the fruit. (4)

The maroon peels will also be higher than the flesh, though surprisingly, they have more antioxidants when they are NOT ripe. (5)

The amount of potassium, magnesium, phosphorus, iron, zinc, and calcium will be very similar between the yellow and red banana. Ultimately though, the exact amounts depend on the soil and environment they’re grown.

While this fruit is often touted as being an excellent source of potassium, it’s not really an exceptional amount; 358 mg per 100 grams. That’s 10% of your daily value. It’s nothing to sneeze at but it’s not even among the top 10 highest foods.

For example, portabella mushrooms provide more potassium for less calories, as does spinach and many other leafy greens. Even white potatoes provide more potassium on an equal-weight basis! (6) (7) (8)

The good news is that whether it’s potassium or another mineral, they will be 100% unaffected by heat, light, air, and age. Minerals are basic elements of the earth which will remain intact, no matter how fresh (or not) your fruit may be.

Good for diabetes and blood sugar?

Whether you’re a type 1 or type 2 diabetic, or a perfectly healthy person in pristine physical shape, stable blood sugar is always desirable.

High glycemic levels are linked to a number of other diseases too, including non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), acne, age-related eye diseases like macular degeneration, and so many others. A low glycemic diet = an anti-aging diet! (9) (10) (11)

Even though red bananas can taste sweeter, their glycemic index (GI) value is virtually identical to the yellow banana; 44.95 vs. 45.49. These values qualify as a low glycemic food.

Now those values are based on consuming a serving of 100g (3.5 oz) which is a very small banana. The problem is that the typical yellow is much larger. If you eat a big serving, it will become a moderate or high glycemic food.

The weight of the typical Red Dacca actually clocks in at around 100g.

whole red banana with peel

Here’s a photo of one from Dole. Grown in Ecuador and sold in California. Laying on a 7″ plate, this little guy is barely 5″ long.

Even though it looks like a dwarf, they come even smaller.

Red dwarf bananas can be as little as 3 to 4 inches in length and weight up to 30% less. Those tiny fruits are a perfect guilt-free size for diabetics and non-diabetics alike.

The reason red bananas can have slightly more sugar, with a slightly lower glycemic index, is because of their amylose/amylopectin ratio. That is the ratio of resistant starch to that which is easily digested. High amounts of amylose lead to a slower absorption of the sugars.

Medicinal benefits supported by science

Believe it or not, out of the nearly 30 million pieces of medical literature in PubMed, there is not a single human clinical study which uses this red fruit.

Therefore, any claims you read about them helping weight loss (or weight gain), “detoxing” the blood, sperm count, pregnancy, fertility, hair loss, and skin should be taken with a grain of salt.

While there is circumstantial evidence to support some of the medicinal benefits being claimed, there is not directly related scientific data to substantiate any.

With those caveats said…

Based on related research and anecdotal evidence, the medicinal benefits of red banana may include:

1. Daily consumption may help adolescent acne

In Nigeria, there was a cross-sectional study of teens (averaging 13.6 years of age) and what their diets consisted of. The scientists used that data to determine which foods correlate with better or worse acne.

It was found that those who ate bananas daily had lower rates of acne; 55.3% vs. 67.6% for those who didn’t. While red bananas are more popular in Nigeria, they did not differentiate between types. (12)

2. Contains nutrients which support eye health

female hazel green eyeWith nearly 175% more vitamin A and 100% more lutein than yellow bananas, red bananas contain important nutrients which support the health of eyes.

The peels of the red and purple bananas contain even higher amounts of these and other carotenoids. Yes, you can eat the peels. One easy way to do so is with banana tea.

3. Promotes regular bowel movements

With 2.6 grams per banana, these little red guys give you 10% of your daily value of fiber. Whether bananas cause constipation or make you poop depends on their ripeness and how much liquid you consume along with them.

4. Small servings may support sperm count

Red banana benefits for fertility among the Tamil culture of India, Sri Lanka, and Malaysia have long been purported. They claim that when men eat them, it will increase their sperm count.

Without any studies to substantiate this for any type of banana, it may just be a myth.

In rats, there is preliminary evidence that the closely related plantain (Musa paradisiaca) may boost sperm, though only when consumed in small amounts. In higher dosages, they may actually have an adverse effect!

chart of sperm count and health with plantain consumption

This chart shows what happened to the rats when they were given no plantain flour (blue bar), a low dosage (red bar), or a high dosage (green bar).

With the banana powder consumed at a dosage of 500 mg per kg of body weight daily, there was a slight improvement in sperm quality, with an increase in total count, motility, and the life death ratio. When the amount of banana was doubled, it had the opposite effect and lowered sperm count and the amount of normal, healthy sperm detected (morphology). (13)

The nutritional content of plantains is comparable to red bananas when it comes to most parameters such as sugars, starches, vitamin C, and mineral content. It is preliminary to know, but probable to hypothesize, that similar results would be observed if the Red Dacca was used in this study. Remember though, this is only animal research.

5. May offer limited advantages when pregnant

seated pregnant womanAmong the Tamil people, some say it’s their equivalent of what we call a pregnancy superfood here in America. Red banana benefits during pregnancy are limited to early on, when women experience morning sickness. Those feelings of nausea and vomiting usually begin around the 6th week and can last until the 14th week (3rd or 4th month) after a woman first becomes pregnant.

It is true that eating simple carbohydrates, ice chips, a popsicle, or drinking a cold beverage prior to getting out of bed in the morning may help minimize morning sickness symptoms. A red banana, particularly if refrigerated, can be a useful morning snack. It also supports electrolyte levels, which can be another influencing factor. (14)

Aside from that, there is no evidence that they promote reproduction in other ways, like fertility and getting pregnant.

Vitamin A and potassium are both essential nutrients and even more so when pregnant, however this fruit is not an exceptionally high source for other essential vitamins and minerals. It is very low in the B vitamin folic acid, which is vital during pregnancy for the prevention of birth defects (neural tube defects). (15)

Side effects

Red bananas are generally well tolerated but don’t settle right with everyone, especially in large servings.

  • Stomach aches
  • Diarrhea or loose stools
  • Constipation
  • High blood sugar
  • Fatigue or sleepiness
  • Migraine headache trigger
  • Allergy risk
  • Contains a mannose-binding lectin

Dole bananas reds PLU #4236 imported from EcuadorMost of the adverse reactions related to digestion have to do with the fiber content; approximately 1 gram of soluble and 2 grams of insoluble. The latter adds to the mass of stools and that can cause constipation without adequate water/liquid intake.

The soluble fiber is the same active ingredient in Metamucil. It promotes bowel movements but because it swells up in the digestive tract, if there’s not enough water, a blockage can result.

If you feel sleepy after eating a banana, it may be due to the magnesium content. There’s also the amino acid tryptophan, which your body converts to the neurotransmitter serotonin, and that can induce sleepiness. These are actually the reasons why people use banana tea as a sleep remedy.

You can be allergic to yellow and red bananas, however it is uncommon. If you have an allergy to natural rubber latex, there is a 30-50% likelihood you are allergic to bananas, kiwis, avocados, peaches, chestnuts, potatoes, bell peppers, and/or peaches. This is known as the latex-fruit syndrome. (16) (17)

All living organisms contain lectins and while most do not cause symptoms in humans, some do. Both red and yellow bananas contain the lectin called BanLec-I. It is a mannose-binding lectin, which means it binds to carbohydrates found on the surfaces of many pathogens such as bacteria, viruses, and yeasts. (18)

Summary of red banana benefits

  • More vitamin A and lutein than yellow bananas
  • Low glycemic value of 45 for a 100g portion
  • Healthy weight loss snack at only 90 calories per fruit
  • Fiber content promotes regularity
  • Moderate amounts of potassium and magnesium
  • Source of vitamin B6 and C
  • Fat-free
  • Gluten free
  • Low allergy risk

The evidence suggests that red bananas are good for you and may even be better for you than yellow. Given the fact that they have the same amount of calories and sugar, the differentiator is the extra vitamin A, lutein, and other carotenoids you get with the red.

Where to buy

hand of red bananas for sale at Whole Foods in Los Angeles

In Westernized societies such as the United States, Canada, and Europe, red bananas are less popular and difficult to find for sale. Major cities like Los Angeles and London will certainly have vendors offering them, but you may be out of luck in small cities and the towns in the middle of nowhere.

You will have the best luck finding them at Latino supermarkets and in metropolitan areas with a high Latino population. Although less common at traditional retailers like Walmart and Kroger, the higher-end grocery stores like Whole Foods often sell them. Dole is the most frequent brand offered and they are typically non-organic.