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Don't believe the hype against bananas

January is the month to declare we are going to eat healthier and get in better shape. As you cruise the internet to find more ways to eat fruits and vegetables, you may began doubting bananas.

Internet pop-up ads have made the banana into a food villain. It's listed as one of the five worst foods you can eat. Weight-loss clinics condemn the banana. The banana is claimed to have a high glycemic index, be packed with carbohydrates (sugars) and too high in calories.

Dietitians like me rally against this nonsense. We know the banana is an easy, healthy snack that's readily available even at gas stations and convenience stores.

A medium banana (7 to 8 inches) has about 105 calories, 27 grams of carbohydrates, 3 grams of fiber and more than 400 milligrams of potassium. This compares to a medium apple with 95 calories, 25 grams of carbohydrates and 150 milligrams of potassium or one cup of blueberries with 85 calories, 21 grams of carbohydrates and 115 milligrams of potassium.

The banana is one of the foods highest in potassium, and most Americans are not getting enough potassium in our diet. That's because we usually don't get the four to five cups of fruits and/or vegetables recommended each day. We need potassium for normal function of our muscles, nerves and brain. It is also very important for our hearts to beat correctly, to maintain good blood pressure control, to build strong muscles and avoid muscle cramping. Adults should get at least 4,700 milligrams of potassium a day. In addition to potassium, the banana is also high in vitamin B6, vitamin C and manganese.

Bananas actually have a low glycemic index. The average glycemic index of a banana is 51 with a slightly green banana being lower. Low glycemic index foods are rated at 55 or lower.

Unripe or bananas with some green on them also contain resistant starch, a type of carbohydrate that your body cannot digest so it contributes fewer carbohydrates and calories and acts as a prebiotic. Prebiotics help boost the amount of probiotics or beneficial bacteria in your stomach and intestines. The resistant starch can also help lower cholesterol.

A banana is an all-natural, pre-wrapped energizer filled with potassium and good carbohydrates to give your muscles what they need. It makes a great snack about an hour before you hit the gym because it provides glucose in your bloodstream that your muscles will use for energy during your workout. A banana is also a great post-workout snack. Its natural sugars are used to rebuild your muscle glycogen (stored fuel) and its potassium assists the body in converting blood sugar into glycogen.

So, be wary of pop-up internet nutrition recommendations and enjoy America's favorite fruit. Bananas are readily available all winter long.

Bonnie Brost is a licensed and registered dietitian at Essentia Health. For a banana muffin recipe, find this column at www.superiortelegram.com.

Banana Bran Muffins

Got ripe bananas? Try this Banana Bran Muffin recipe that includes whole grains, good fats, fiber and the benefits of the banana. These muffins use white whole-wheat flour to provide 10 grams of whole grain in each muffin. If you use all-purpose flour, there would be no whole grain in this muffin. I've decreased to sugar to the sugar to only one teaspoon of added sugar per muffin along with three grams of fiber to make this a great choice for a quick breakfast or a snack.

1 cup mashed banana (about 2 medium bananas)

1 cup unsweetened shredded bran cereal (like All-bran)

¼ cup buttermilk

2 large egg whites

2 tablespoons olive oil or canola oil

2 teaspoons molasses

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 cup white whole-wheat flour

3 tablespoons sugar

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon baking powder

½ teaspoon cream of tartar

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Coat muffin tin with olive oil or canola oil or line with muffin papers.

In a medium bowl, stir together the first seven ingredients. Set aside for at least five minutes to soften bran. In a large bowl, combine flour, sugar, baking soda, baking powder and cream of tartar. Make a well and add the banana mixture, stirring just until blended. Spoon into prepared muffin cups.

Bake for 15 minutes or until center springs back when lightly touched. Cool for five minutes before removing from muffin pan. Yield: 12 muffins.

Nutrition Facts:

Serving size, 1 muffin; calories, 110; total fat, 3 grams; saturated fat, 0 grams; trans fat, 0 grams; cholesterol, 0 milligrams; sodium, 140 milligrams; potassium, 250 milligrams; carbohydrates, 20 grams; fiber, 3 grams; protein, 3 grams; total sugar, 7 grams; added sugar, 4 grams.

Bonnie Brost is a licensed and registered dietitian at Essentia Health.