Susie Burrell

‘your food, your body, your life’

Are bananas just sugar?

This is a sponsored post, brought to you by Australian Bananas.

A headline recently graced the front page of several websites claiming that eating a banana was the equivalent of consuming 6 teaspoons of pure sugar. It was stated by experts commenting on this story that consuming such high sugar foods was dangerous for those with Type 2 diabetes and as such high sugar foods should be avoided. So, is there any truth behind this? Is a banana the equivalent of 6 teaspoons of sugar, and if it is, should we be avoiding them?

All carbohydrate-based foods including bread, rice, cereal, pasta, legumes, starchy veges, fruits and sugars including honey and sugar itself are broken down into glucose molecules as part of the digestive process. Here the glucose is then taken by the hormone insulin to the muscles for energy to fuel the liver and the brain.

One of the issues in modern life is that as we have become far less active, and eat a whole lot more high carbohydrate, processed foods including cakes, biscuits, pastries, white rice, white bread and snack food it has become more common for individuals to have issues processing the amount of glucose they consume from processed carbohydrates efficiently. Over time, the hormone that helps to process glucose, insulin does not work as efficiently which can result in glucose levels increasing over time and Type 2 diabetes developing long term.

When the claim has been made that bananas are a significant source of carbohydrate or sugar (20-30g depending on the size of the banana), it is assuming that all types of carbohydrate are equal. It is assuming that a teaspoon of sugar is the same as the equivalent amount of carbohydrate in a banana, as is in a potato as is in a biscuit, which is simply not the case. Rather the way the carbohydrates are processed is impacted by whether the carbohydrate comes from a whole food, what other nutrients are found in the food and also by what other foods the carbohydrate rich food is eaten with.

For example, as bananas contains a good amount of dietary fibre (2-3g per banana), this nutrient slows down the digestion of the carbohydrates in the banana, reducing the insulin required to digest this food. If you compare this to a lolly, or 6 teaspoons of sugar, the overall lack of nutrients in these more processed foods results in a much more rapid release of glucose into the bloodstream, potentially causing issues long term with insulin regulation.  

When it comes to different carbohydrate rich foods, not only is it an unfair comparison between food groups, i.e. you cannot compare a grain to a fruit, nor is it reasonable to compare a whole food such as a banana to a processed form of carbohydrate. In the case of comparing food groups, different food groups offer different nutrients while there is no comparison to be had between processed and natural whole foods. It is like comparing chalk and cheese.

Bananas like all fruits are composed largely of carbohydrates, and the natural sugar fructose. While there have been much media attention addressing the issue of a high fructose intake and insulin resistance, much of this is based on the use of high fructose corn syrup that is used widely to sweeten foods in the US. This is not the case here, and naturally occurring fructose is very different to high fructose corn syrup.

It is safe to say that no person ever got Type 2 diabetes from eating too many bananas. Rather people get Type 2 diabetes when they have a genetic predisposition, they over consume calories in general and consume excessive fats and processed carbs and are far less active than they need to be.

It is recommended that Aussie adults consume 2 pieces of fruit each day to get the natural carbohydrates and nutrients fresh fruit offers. It is true that bananas are a concentrated source of carbohydrate, but this is why they are also known as nature’s energy food. And they are a much better, natural source of fuel than the processed carbs such as white rice, white bread, processed snack foods and sugary drinks many of us still eat far too much off. This is the main issue with our diets, not the humble banana.

Susie is currently a brand ambassador for Australian Bananas.