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Snacking on a banana is…bad for me?

Many people have a banana as a morning snack, assuming it’s a healthy choice; hoping it will hold them over ‘til lunch once the post-breakfast rumbles set in. This is NOT the type of snack I would recommend to anyone who is looking to feel energetic, lose weight and/or keep sugar and carb cravings at bay. The problem with eating a banana by itself (or any carbohydrate alone), is that because all carbohydrates—be it pasta, rice, cookies, crackers, even vegetables and fruits like the banana—turn into sugar the second they enter your bloodstream. This sets your body up for cravings, irritability, lack of focus and weight gain if you ride the blood sugar roller coaster long enough.

The blood sugar roller coaster? Huh?

I’m referring to the vicious cycle of spikes and drops in blood sugar levels that happens when following the Standard American Diet (SAD), an eating regimen consisting of high intake of carbohydrates with minimal healthy fats, and sporadic protein. Feeling great, having consistent energy levels, ability to focus, maintaining stable moods, feeling no cravings and even having a handle on weight maintenance and loss comes down to blood sugar regulation.

The more carbs we eat and in short intervals of time, give our blood sugar rollercoaster the greatest highs and lows. You may be familiar with common side effects of riding this unhealthy blood sugar rollercoaster: finding it difficult to focus, hearing the vending machine calling your name, feeling light-headed and weak, and having intense cravings for sugar or carbohydrates.

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Carbohydrates? What are those?

Carbohydrates are one of the three macronutrients (fat and protein are the other two). All carbohydrates are metabolized as sugar in your body. That means when you eat a carbohydrate, regardless of the source (bread, pasta, rice, cookies, candy, soda and even vegetables and fruits), it turns into sugar the moment it hits your bloodstream. Your blood sugar levels spike, which is alarming to your body, so it triggers your pancreas to quickly secrete your fat-storing hormone called insulin.

Now, you can use that sugar in your bloodstream for energy. Carbs are the first macronutrient to be used for energy, which is why you may be familiar with athletes who practice “carboloading” before endurance events, where they consume massive amounts of carbohydrates to sustain their energy. If you’re active shortly after consuming it, you’ll burn it off. The problem is so often we’re consuming more sugar than we need, and most of us have desk jobs. We aren’t running marathons all day long, and I wouldn’t recommend it. When insulin takes that sugar to your cell, the sugar is turned into fat and stored since it’s not needed. What happens next? You eat again, which means you don’t tap into your fat stores. So you continue to store fat instead of burning it, all day and all night long. I repeat: your body stores that sugar as fat. Carbohydrates, bananas included, the very foods we’ve been told are healthy, have been packing on your pounds.

So, what’s wrong with that banana?

You already know that all carbohydrates, the banana included, turn into sugar in your body. Fruits and vegetables are what I consider to be the most nutrient-dense sources of carbohydrates, with grains, rice, pasta and sugary treats ranking last. I’m a big fan of fruits and vegetables — I really am. It’s just that not all are created equal. Some fruits don’t have as great an effect on blood sugar levels as other fruits. These low-sugar fruits consist of blueberries, blackberries, raspberries and citrus fruits like oranges and grapefruit. The high-sugar fruits that spike our blood sugar levels the most include bananas, apples, peaches, pineapple and pears. Vegetables can also be broken into two categories: the “starchy” ones that have a greater effect on blood sugar levels and the “non-starchy” ones that don’t. Starchy vegetables like peas, corn, beets and sweet potatoes raise your blood sugars the most. The “non-starchy’ ones that don’t impact blood sugar levels nearly as much are your salad vegetables like spinach, kale, cucumbers, peppers, broccoli and cauliflower. For more on the types of carbohydrates, refer to this post.

Also, when we eat carbs, we do not receive a message to stop eating until our stomachs are physically stretched and full. When we eat fats (and proteins too), they help slow the digestion of carbs in addition to sending our brain a hormonal message (cholecystokinin) telling you to stop eating. That’s why when you eat a banana by itself it doesn’t fill you up, and an hour or so later, you may even be hungrier than you were before you ate it.

So, can I still eat the banana?

Any time you eat a carbohydrate by itself, you are going to get a spike in your blood sugar levels. So, you can still have your banana, but I always recommend consuming a protein and a fat source with it. You can remember this with the mantra, “PFC!” At the bare minimum, try to have a protein or fat source with the carbohydrate to soften the effect the carbs have on your blood sugar levels. Basically, my rule is to never eat a carbohydrate alone. So, let’s modify that morning snack to make it more balanced, so that it won’t set you up for that early blood sugar spike. I would suggest having half of a banana with a couple tablespoons of peanut butter and a hard boiled egg. Your egg is the P (Protein,) your peanut butter is the F (Fat,) and your banana is the C (Carbohydrate.) Another easy option with that banana is to have half of it with a handful of almonds (Fat) and a couple ounces of grilled chicken (Protein.) Better yet, ditch the banana for a low-sugar fruit choice, and have some raspberries (Carb) with your grilled chicken (Protein) topped with sliced avocado (Fat.). A favorite snack option for several of my clients is what I call a “Pickle Roll-up.” It’s a piece of meat with cream cheese spread over it, wrapped around a pickle. Can you point out the PFC? In this case, the meat is your protein, the cream cheese is the fat, and the pickle your carbohydrate.

So, yes! You CAN still have your banana! It’s just a matter of balancing it out with the two other important macronutrients. Besides, when you start eating the combination of PFC (Protein, Fat and Carbs) in place of just carbs, you WILL notice a difference. You’ll feel so good that you won’t even want to go back to eating that darn, single banana. 🙂

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Leave a Comment
  • Larry

    Very good advice for people trying to lose weight. However, I’ve been stable now and following a Primal/Paleo lifestyle for over 3 years now and I do eat fruit some times on their own without a problem. I am almost never hungry so I can tell if I’ve had too many carbs if I get hungry about an hour or more after eating. After eating like this for a while, your body will tell you when you’ve had something you shouldn’t. Before changing to this lifestyle, I could never tell because I was always hungry. I know that I will never go back to eating the standard American diet and I hope that someday a Primal/Paleo lifestyle can be called the standard American diet. I wish that more dietitians would get on-board and I thank you for your efforts. It is so reassuring.

    • Tiff

      Larry,
      I completely agree with you. I am eating the Primal/Paleo lifestyle as well. I don’t call it a diet, because that word makes people think of something they have to do to lose weight. I am never hungry either. I am astonished at how little it takes for me to get full and stay full. It has liberated me from that miserable roller coaster ride of carb consumption and constant hunger every few hours. I agree that the standard American diet needs to be abandoned due to its unhealthy nature.

  • David

    Hey Cassie! Thank you for all that you do in pointing people in the right direction.

    Do you know of any studies that looked at eating carbs alone vs PFC and the respective rises in blood sugar? I know some people who won’t be convinced without seeing some actual data… 🙂

    • I tell those people to try it themselves 🙂 You can read all the research studies, but what matters most is how you feel and how it works for you. I’ve never had a single client who HASN’T felt better doing PFC vs. just C. I’ve never had anyone choose to go back to the SAD (Standard American Diet.)

  • Lisabee

    1/2 banana, 1 tbsp all natural peanut butter, 1 toasted English muffin (100% whole wheat) – BaM – my favorite breakfast.

    • Primal Joe

      Not enough fat, no protein… WAAAY too much carbs.

  • Tiff

    I do, and I give the other 1/2 to my hound mix.

    • Celia Dias

      I do too.

  • Steph

    It’s been 24 days since this post… How’s the PFC breakfast plan going?!

    • Linnie

      yes, I’d like to know, also! Advise.

  • Marlena

    Is it okay to eat just a banana before a workout or should I still pair it with a good “P” and “F”?

    • Depends on your tolerance and goals! It works for some and not for others.

  • That smoothie sounds like it would be full of sugar, especially with the vanilla yogurt. I’d suggest using half a banana instead of a whole, use plain greek yogurt and add some fat (half an avocado or maybe 1/4 cup coconut milk) to make it PFC balanced!

  • Canteev

    Although I have cut fruits out of my diet, when I was eating fruits, I used banana as a sweetener for my plain greek yogurt. Now though, I have cut fruit out of my diet because the ones I like(banana, pineapple and grapes) are just too sweet. The food I eat that contains a lot of sugar are protein bars but they are so high in protein that it negates any effect of the sugar they have.

  • mgfrederic

    no wonder I felt lousy this morning…I had a banana with a chocolate Nutrament shake.

  • chawk

    Cassie, You are the first and only dietitian I have seen thus far who seems to have a good grasp on the biochemistry of how food works in your body! As a clinician typically have to do my own counseling for patients because sending them to dietitians make things worse – filling their heads with pyramids, nonsense about “complex” carbs that your body needs (specially grains) and calorie counting. No wonder people are confused! We should stop the diets and eat balanced meals instead, preferably several times a day with plenty of water. I call it the whole food diet. Bread, rice and grains are not a large part of it as the body does ‘need’ them any more than it needs to eat paper! They can be eaten of course, just in moderation. nnnOh, and half a banana…I do too, in fact sometimes just a quarter depending on what I am using it for, then freeze the rest for my shakes.

  • Like anything, it depends on your goals! That said, I also don’t recommend counting grams of anything. That’s totally not my approach. But if it works for you, then stick with what works!

  • Shannon Paine

    I have my eggs,oatmeal & banana at the same time. Seems to work great for me.

  • BENNY R BROWN JR

    WOW this article is definitely an eye opener for me, I was puzzled asn to why I was always super hungry after my morning banana but now it alln makes sense. The symptoms of eating just the Banana by itself are nexactly the ones I experienced, now that I am educated on this subject In can make necessary changes to my eating habits, thanks!!

  • Tim

    So apples are bad? Sweet potatoes too? I thought they were healthy. I swear I dont know what to eat besides chicken breast and broccoli every day. Even whole carbs like brown rice, quinoa, kasha are high in calories. If you’re having an apple or banana with peanut butter, I guess it’s better. I guess those lite Greek yogurts are bad too even though only 80-100 calories. They have 12g protein but I guess the 8-9g sugar negates that? (is that more sugar than fruit?). I can’t stomach the plain & figure it’s better than ice cream or pie… I thought it would be better than sugar free pudding that has no nutritional value but guess I should live on the above and no carb protein drinks and bars

  • Albert

    Thanks for the info. You made it clear.

  • Argus Dune

    Id be a Tasmanian Devil if I tried to cut out carbs. And here I thought apples were good for your.

    “An apple a day keeps the doctor away, and makes you fat”

    • I don’t recommend cutting out carbs. I recommend balancing them with protein and fat to keep blood sugar levels stable. Cutting out carbs doesn’t accomplish this any better than eating a ton of carbs.

  • Hi Alyssa! Great question. When I discuss starchy veggies I’m talking about beets, corn, peas, pumpkin, squash, yams, etc. and non-starchy are the ones that don’t affect blood sugars as much like broccoli, kale, asparagus, cauliflower, spinach, etc.
    Whether a person “needs” fruit or not depends on their goals. If your body “goes into shock” when cutting out fruit then you probably aren’t getting the carbohydrates that you need. That sounds like a scary case of super low blood sugars and we don’t recommend that either! It’s all about finding the right balance for you, based on numerous things (hormones, goals, health history, activity level, etc.).
    Myself or one of my other coaches would LOVE to help you and your questions are exactly why we offer coaching! If you’d like to set up a coaching appointment (available in 10 minute increments) or even just for more information on this, please contact my team at [email protected]!

  • I put your blog in my favorites, I love your advices.

  • Mary

    According to my nutritionist and the American Diabetes Association, foods that are low on the glycemic index cause less of a rise in blood sugar levels than foods that are higher on the glycemic index. A banana that is a bit green is lower on the glycemic index than a riper banana. If you eat a banana, which is a medium glycemic index food, eat it along with foods that are low on the glycemic index or with foods that contain little or no carbohydrate, as this will help keep your blood sugar from spiking.

    • I still stand by pairing that banana with a healthy fat and protein source to make it PFC balanced and reduce the effect it has on raising blood sugars!

  • Kevin Harris

    I just wanted to know about a banana, and now I have all of this info. Thanks!

  • Alan Ege

    Man was made to eat meat. Our digestive system and teeth are there for that purpose. Paleo is not based on just eating meat. If you did research you would know that. It’s the healthiest lifestyle you can choose. It’s based on eat as many natural foods as possible. Vegetables, Fruits, and Meats. No dairy and no processed foods.

    • Scott Stevens

      so, a person on a paleo diet and eating meat digests food easier than a person on a plant based diet, could you please explain that?

  • Alan Ege

    Also people you are talking about generally have low muscle volume compared to people who intake more protein from meat. As far as I am concerned a lower carb lifestyle works much better for me. My body fat drops much more and I don’t lose my muscle. I lose the weight I need to. I have lost over 60 pounds eating this way. And it was healthy weight I lost

  • Robert

    Cool, What about apes though?
    They eat like 20 bananas a day and they make up 98% of our DNA. They seem pretty healthy.
    And we are worrying about one banana?

    hmm, I dun no….

  • queen

    Oh jezzz I need help then! Being leaving on Bananas, being thinking I was eating healthy ..know wonder am so super active…and not losing any weight…Gosh?
    PLEASE Dietician Cassie I need help fast with a plan on what to eat daily …am so confused on this eating way….

    • Would love to help you! Let’s get you set up with an appointment as soon as you’d like 🙂 [email protected]

      • queen

        Yh I would love that pls…how can we get started pls…u hv my email

  • Depends what your goals are—that is pretty much all carbs (sugar). I’d suggest adding a healthy fat (half an avocado? spoonful of nut butter?) and a scoop of a quality protein powder to make it more PFC balanced! This one is my favorite: https://rfvitamins.com/products/ultimate-natural-whey-protein/

  • Ryan Orellana

    Everyone should eat a banana for breakfast, healthiest choice possible

  • Henry

    You can still eat banana. Just do intermmitent fasting

    • We’ve found that IF doesn’t work for everyone, and has actually done a lot of our clients more harm than good. To each his own, though!

  • Jane Smith

    I eat them either 3 or 5 at a time!

  • laura

    Half a banana?? I normally eat like 7