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Don’t eat bananas until you read this

by Mary C. Weaver, CSCS on July 1, 2013

bananas make you fat

Women are always talking about food in moral terms. There’s “good food,” the stuff we feel virtuous about eating. You know—broccoli and chicken breast and fat-free yogurt. Or tofu and green smoothies and chia seeds.

Then on the devil’s side of the equation we find “bad food.” The kind of stuff we love ever so much and then feel guilty about enjoying.

Of all the idiotic diet mindsets around, this one irks me in a special way.

What we eat simply isn’t a matter of salvation or damnation, OK?

We have nutritional needs, and we have a limited calorie budget to spend. So yes, of course we can make more or less nutritious choices with that budget.

But it just isn’t a moral issue.

As I tell my customers, if they feel like having pizza and beer and going over their calorie budget on occasion, more power to them. Enjoy every bite.

Just don’t make blowing the budget a daily habit.

Do bananas make you fat?

bigstock-Cute-cartoon-angel-evil-and-good-duc-25633280Today the banana inspired me to write.

Since it’s a piece of fruit, you probably see it as a “good food.”

Weight Watchers certainly does, having declared several years ago that all fruit now has zero “points” in its universe.

Points, if you didn’t know, are basically a calorie-counting scheme, and in the old WW regime, everything you eat was assigned a point value. Each point was worth around 50 to 60 calories, depending on the fat content of the food.

(Higher-fat foods “cost” slightly more points even if their calorie value was the same as lower-fat foods. I know—it’s weird.)

All that changed with the PointsPlus system (which I’ve written about before). Now a banana—or a pear, an apple, a plum, a nectarine, and so on—costs you precisely zero points, even though, of course, it does not have precisely zero calories.

So a banana must be good. After all, it’s a zero-point piece of fruit.

bigstock-Cute-cartoon-devil-evil-and-good-duc-25633280But wait: this week I watched a short video in which a self-proclaimed weight-loss expert listed bananas as one of the five foods you should NEVER EAT if you want to get slim.

Yikes!

I thought we’d just established that bananas fall clearly on the side of the angels!

But no.

Bananas are full of sugar (wow—what a surprise for fruit, huh?), including sucrose (otherwise known as “table sugar”). And you know that *has* to be evil.

Well, that’s what the man on the video wants you to believe.

He says that foods high in sugar automatically make you gain weight and prevent you from losing it.

So what’s the truth? Is the banana an angel or a devil?

Back to basics

Let’s go back to square one for a sec.

There is no food that automatically has the power to “make you fat” unless you eat too many calories of it. There is no food that automatically has the power to “make you fat” unless you eat too many calories of it.

As I’ve said before, if your body needs 2000 calories a day and you eat precisely 2000 calories of day of . . . anything . . . you will maintain your weight.

The nutritional quality of your diet might be horrendous, in which case you won’t feel or look good, and you could develop numerous nutritional deficiencies.

But even if all you ate were demonic bananas—or cheese or pork rinds or gummy bears or name your poison—you will not gain fat without excess calories.

Having said that, let me add a couple of important caveats:

  • If you’re not getting enough protein, you will lose muscle mass, which will slow your metabolism and have other unfortunate effects
  • Some foods stimulate appetite (see Dr. David Kessler’s book The End of Overeating for a fascinating explanation), so our choices can make a big difference in how easy or tough it is to stick to a calorie budget.

But the bottom line is always calories in and calories out.

So . . . should you eat bananas?

Hell yes, if you enjoy them.

No, of course you can’t eat as many as you want without repercussions, as Weight Watchers’ zero-points designation would suggest.

But no (sigh of relief), they won’t automatically make you fat because they’re laden with sugar.

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Mary C. Weaver, CSCS
I'm Mary Weaver, your weight-loss and body-transformation coach. My specialty is helping women get in the best shape of their lives with satisfying diet plans, effective fat-burning exercise, and loads of encouragement and motivation. Check me out on Google+, Facebook, Pinterest, and Twitter!
Mary C. Weaver, CSCS
Mary C. Weaver, CSCS
Mary C. Weaver, CSCS
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{ 28 comments… read them below or add one }

Sarah Arrow July 1, 2013 at 12:09 pm

Love this Mary, and I don’t mind a banana. Over here we have the three day milk and banana diet. You are only allowed to do it for three days and you get all the nutrients you need from the milk and the bananas… too many bananas gives you poisoning and makes you ill and think that’s how most people lose weight, they carry on for a 4th day…

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Mary C. Weaver, CSCS July 1, 2013 at 12:49 pm

Blech! Sounds about as wacky as the diets we have over here. At one point the “cabbage soup” diet was big, and you can imagine the, um, digestive blowback that occurred after a few days of eating nothing but cabbage soup.

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Daphne Bousquet July 1, 2013 at 1:59 pm

Evil bananas! LOL! Don’t you love how some people make everything black and white. Good food and bad food… No wonder everybody is confused on how to lose weight and buys in on those crazy diets. Thanks for being a voice of reason!

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Mary C. Weaver, CSCS July 1, 2013 at 8:57 pm

Thanks! And yeah, I am constantly amazed at what people will do to stir up controversy and thus sales.

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idahorner July 1, 2013 at 2:50 pm

Phew! That is a relief as I eat 1 banana a day most days and I love them. I can go as far as saying bananas are a staple for me.The confusion about food that exists out there is mind boggling and jsut as well we have someone like you to help us make sense of it

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Mary C. Weaver, CSCS July 1, 2013 at 8:57 pm

Thanks for commenting, Ida! Enjoy your bananas, and don’t let the crazy people get your down. :-)

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Cotnemplative Fitness July 1, 2013 at 5:50 pm

Good/bad, healthy/unhealthy isn’t the question. Bottom line: Bananas are or mushy, not all that flavorful, and generally suck unless covered with ice cream and toppings.

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Mary C. Weaver, CSCS July 1, 2013 at 8:59 pm

You make me laugh. :-)

I am not a big banana fan because there is such a small window between under-ripe and over-ripe. But yeah—throw some chocolate sauce and ice cream on it, and any banana is perfect.

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Kay Miller July 5, 2013 at 1:22 pm

I think I saw that same “expert” video this weekend! The person said “Never eat bananas” — PHOOEY I say! (excuse my French, LOL.) I think anyone who says that is, well, BANANAS. Yes, I know they’re high in sugar BUT I always eat them with something….like peanut butter or string cheese. The protein and fat balance the sugar and slow the absorption (as I understand). I think they’re yummy. As for the short “window” of ripeness – when they get to that borderline of ripe, I peel ‘em, throw ‘em in the freezer, and then add them to smoothies. Along with bananas, I add things like yogurt, protein powder, spinach and even avocado. So the sugar is balanced out. I heart bananas…I eat them all the time. And btw my BMI is 21.3…. :)

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Mary C. Weaver, CSCS July 6, 2013 at 12:28 pm

I’m sure we saw the same video, which is making the rounds. Ridiculous, right?

Enjoy those bananas!

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Neil Butterfield July 10, 2013 at 5:32 am

I’d love to have read this post, but your pop up is in the way anand I cannot remove it.

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Mary C. Weaver, CSCS July 11, 2013 at 11:14 am

Neil—so sorry it caused trouble! If you click the X in the upper-right corner, it disappears.

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Mary C. Weaver, CSCS July 27, 2013 at 9:11 am

Neil—thank you for the feedback! The popup was conflicting with another plugin, and the problem is now solved. I appreciate your letting me know!

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Rachel July 27, 2013 at 6:10 am

To eat or not too eat? A little bit of what you like does you good!

If you like them eat them, if you don’t don’t..

If we listened to all the advice out there we wouldn’t breathe, eat or drink. As you say you enjoy them, eat them, 0 calories or not.

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Mary C. Weaver, CSCS July 27, 2013 at 9:10 am

Thanks for commenting!

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Neil Butterfield July 29, 2013 at 3:31 am

Thanks for sorting out the problem Mary:-). Bottom line? It’s all about balance. A little bit of everything is okay as long as it’s less calories than you expend.

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Mary C. Weaver, CSCS July 29, 2013 at 12:34 pm

I completely agree! We succeed by making the most of our daily food budget. No forbidden foods—all things in moderation. :-)

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Matteo September 8, 2013 at 1:10 pm

I don’t really know about bananas, but I do know that different foods have different effects once inside the body, irregardless of their calorie count. High carbohydrate foods stimulate insulin production which in turn will message the body to store the extra calories as fat. Is it really true that a calorie is a calorie? So far, I’m not buying it.

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Mary C. Weaver, CSCS September 8, 2013 at 1:48 pm

Hey, Matteo–

Thanks for commenting. I respectfully disagree because . . .

You’re assuming the body can magically store calories as fat when there is no calorie surplus. It can’t.

You’re assuming insulin is a “bad” hormone. It isn’t.

And you’re assuming high-carbohydrate foods are in some way inherently harmful. They’re not.

Quick example: the best, most beneficial post-workout drink includes not merely protein but also sugar.

My point is that even high-sugar foods like, well, table sugar and bananas can play a role in a healthy diet.

There’s no getting around the “calories in, calories out” equation when it comes to fat loss. But of course, it’s smart for us to spend our calories nutritiously.

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Matteo September 8, 2013 at 2:07 pm

Thanks for the response. I tend to agree with your “all foods in moderation” approach. I just think the calorie-is-a-calorie mindset in many people can be used to dismiss the incredible range of nutrition that different foods have to offer.

But as far as this calorie surplus theory goes, when does the body do the math? Is it when we go to bed, or at midnight, or at the end of the week? When does the body decide, I have taken in more calories than I’ve expended?

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Mary C. Weaver, CSCS September 8, 2013 at 2:22 pm

Ha! Good damned question!
:-)

Fortunately, our bodies are pretty clever at figuring out on a moment-by-moment basis whether they’re getting the energy they need *and* figuring out what to do about it.

“Need calories. What’s available? Let’s see . . . here’s some glycogen . . . here are some fatty acids . . . guess I’ll consume them.”

As you seem to be hinting, our state of being in deficit or surplus can change all day long.

But the body is just a machine, right, albeit the most highly sophisticated one imaginable?

Pick whatever period of time you like, and your body will do the math. If the sum of the deficits is greater than the sum of the surpluses, you’re going to be in energy deficit.

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Matteo September 8, 2013 at 2:35 pm

I find this stuff interesting, and I’m also interested in weight-loss from a personal standpoint, so thanks for putting up with me.

My research has led me to believe that certain foods are more responsible for my weight gain than others. I can eat all I want when I’m eating the “right” foods and my weight is very stable, but when I’m not eating the foods which are optimal for my own personal chemistry, I can greatly restrict the amount of calories I eat, and still gain weight.

If I ate nothing but carbs for weeks and contrasted that with eating nothing but lean proteins and healthy fats, I can imagine there’d be a big difference in my waistline. It seems from my POV that if this were false there wouldn’t be such a movement in the areas of low-carb diets and the paleolithic approach?

Mary C. Weaver, CSCS September 8, 2013 at 4:28 pm

Hey, Matteo–

If time permitted, I could talk about this stuff all day. Too bad we can’t sit down over a beer!

In short, I try to avoid conflating healthy nutrition with fat loss. Of course, I believe people engaged in fat loss should eat as nutritiously as possible! My point is that healthy nutrition makes one healthy—it does not necessarily or automatically lead to fat loss.

Poor nutrition makes one unhealthy. It does not necessarily lead to fat gain.

But here’s another confounding factor: Too little protein causes loss of muscle mass, and that can happen even in a calorie surplus. So it is possible for overfed people to see negative changes in body composition.

A very well executed study was published a couple of years ago that examined this very point. It involved three groups of people overfed by 1,000 kcal per day. Of course, everybody gained fat. But those in the low-protein group actually lost muscle mass, and those in the higher protein groups added muscle.

The interesting bit is that changes in body composition alter our caloric need. People with more muscle need and burn more calories than people with less.

I am quite a maniac about protein consumption for this and other reasons. I do not, however, subscribe to a Paleo or low-carb world view. If it works for people and makes them feel good, so be it.

I don’t consider a low-carb diet adequate for athletes, and I don’t think you’ll find any reputable sports nutritionists arguing otherwise.

I can’t agree that the *popularity* of certain food-styles (e.g., Paleo, low carb) says *anything* about their validity. I’m in my mid-50s, and I’ve seen a sh*t load of food fads come and go. Raw food. Low carb. Low fat. Vegetarian. Vegan. Even low protein. Food combining. Detoxing. Fasting.

Each fad has its diehard supporters. The number of supporters has nothing to do with the validity or healthfulness of the method. Nor does the fact that some people on each method swear it’s the best thing that ever happened to them mean the method is healthful, beneficial, etc.

I rely on science. If the scientific consensus leads n a particular direction, I pay attention. I see no such consensus for Paleo or low carb.

No question that people can lose weight on either. As I like to say, you can lose weight on an all-turnip or an all-Twinkie diet. You’d look and feel like hell, but you *could* lose weight.

It’s hard for me to comment on your belief that you can gain fat in calorie deficit. I’d have to put you in a metabolic lab for a month or so, restrict your exercise, control all your calorie intake to put you in deficit, *and* see you gain fat to believe it. :-)

Go enjoy the rest of your Sunday—and thanks again for the discussion!

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Tony September 23, 2013 at 9:03 pm

I’m no expert but I’m not convinced anybody truly is when it comes to what foods do what to whom with so many different body types, genetics, makeups, etc. Yes the calorie deficit part is correct obviously but only one piece of the puzzle. But there is no doubt as I have literally experienced it first hand that different foods effect people in different ways in regards to fat loss and/or weight gain. Especially when it comes to sugars. There’s a reason why many sugary foods are considered evil. Moral or not may depend on one’s personal views. If you know a specific food causes nothing but problems for you including weight gain and ongoing cravings where you just want more and more then you certainly should stay away from it. Many health experts (again if there truly are any) state that sugar is more addictive than cocaine to a lot of people. Also many people including myself get ongoing unbearable cravings for sweets just from having a few chocolate chip cookies or even a banana depending on the person. Wish it was all as simple as you lay it out to be but it certainly is not…

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Tony September 23, 2013 at 10:00 pm

Also, I get the exact same results as Matteo when he stated

“I can eat all I want when I’m eating the “right” foods and my weight is very stable, but when I’m not eating the foods which are optimal for my own personal chemistry, I can greatly restrict the amount of calories I eat, and still gain weight.”

I can eat peanut butter or almond butter until it’s coming out of my ears and not gain a pound. But if I switch to processed cereals when I have a sweet tooth instead of eating all of these nut fats I INSTANTLY start puffing out like the pillsbury doughboy and can gain as much as 5 pounds in a couple of days without blinking. And that’s with all the meals in between staying the same…

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Nate Silvers November 2, 2013 at 11:31 am

Bananas are you friend. Gorrlias eat tons of em. I’m on the 30 bananas a day diet and I got 100 of them for only £11. That’s 17kg of food for £11. I’m a powerlifter and the bananas give me tons of gains.

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Joey Bell November 9, 2013 at 12:05 am

I sometimes eat up to 6 bananas in a day! Never can say I gained an ounce plus I’m not diabetic or sensitive to sugar so it suits me just fine much better than beer and pizza that’s for sure certain types of pizza have more than 400 calories per slice!

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Aida Lott-Daley December 7, 2013 at 10:59 am

As a 63 year old, I have battled weight issues all my life. I have always had three wardrobes in my closet— chubby, fat, and morbidly obese. There are a lot of foods that contributed to my obesity, but I can assure you bananas are NOT one of them. Next to a super size bag of Snickers washed down with a quart of egg nog, or half a cheesecake smothered with fudge ganache and brandied raspberries, or a pile of fried onion rings with a double Swiss cheese and bacon burger, or 2 pints of Ben and Jerry’s “Chunky Monkey”, or a pint of general Tso’s chicken with fried rice, spring rolls, and barbecued ribs on the side, I’d say the banana is looking a little healthier, isn’t it?

Food addiction is no different than alcohol or drug abuse except that its victims carry the effects around with them and can’t hide the effects like other addicts can.

By the grace of God, my addiction is under control for today, and I will celebrate with a healthy breakfast of almond butter on protein toast with a small banana. Without my daily banana for sanity and my daily walk, I could not have lost 138 pounds at my age with hypothyroidism.

Everyone must identify their individual trigger foods. If you can honestly say that bananas are your big problem, then by all means, refrain. We each have to follow the weight loss goals and strategies that work best for us personally.

I wish the greatest success to ALL!!!

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