Are bananas fattening?

I was in a market last night and I saw a couple shopping together in the produce section. While I was looking over the mangos (yup, I'm still on a big mango kick) the man asked, "Do you want any bananas?" and she replied, "I don't eat bananas, they're fattening." I really had to bite my tongue (I try not to give unsolicited nutrition info, especially to strangers) but it was tough. I hoped bananas had moved beyond their reputation for being a fruit that plumps you up, but apparently, it's a status that's been hard to shake.

It's true that bananas are low in water compared to other fruits. That means there's more carbohydrate (and therefore more calories) per bite compared to say a plum. Water has no calories, so generally, the higher a fruit's water content, the lower the calories per serving. Here's one way to think about how "watery" a fruit or veggie is: consider what it looks like dried, when most of the water's been removed. Dried grapes turn into tiny raisins, and sun-dried tomatoes are transformed into shriveled little curls. But high-starch, low water foods like beans, peas, potatoes and bananas look relatively the same when dehydrated.

But-that doesn't mean you should shun them-even if you're watching your weight. Bananas provide no fat, cholesterol, or sodium, and they're incredibly nutritious. You've probably heard that they're high in potassium, which helps regulate blood pressure. But they're also a good source of vitamin B6 (which helps maintain blood sugar levels and is needed to build protein in the body as well as nerves and immune cells), vitamin C (for immunity) and fiber (for cholesterol control and digestive health).

To keep calories in check, just choose "baby" bananas, the ones about the size of long fingers, which are naturally portion controlled (and neatly wrapped!). One of these little guys provides just 50-60 calories (less than a small apple) and amounts to about ½ cup when sliced.

Here's how the calories climb based on size:
Small - 6-7" long - 90 calories
Medium - 7-8" long - 105 calories
Large - 8-9" long - 121 calories
Extra-large - over 9" - 135 calories

Bananas are part of the Flat Belly Diet!, and I highly recommend them for everyone as a nutrient-rich fruit. The bottom line is this: a food can only be "fattening" if it provides more calories than your body can burn, so essentially, no food is inherently fattening, or any food could be fattening, given the right amount. But by choosing mini bananas, you can skirt the issue of excess calories altogether. I personally love "naners" as is, on whole grain toast with peanut butter, whipped into smoothies, baked into bread, frozen (covered in melted dark chocolate or toasted nuts or whole oats), grilled in the skins (they're amazing), or sliced and added to fruit salad, oatmeal, cold cereal, or brown rice pudding - yum!

A mashed banana is also the secret ingredient in my famous healthy chocolate chip cookie recipe (I guess it's no secret anymore!). A combo of sunflower oil and mashed banana holds the cookies together (instead of butter or margarine and eggs).

So, woman in the supermarket, if you're reading, please consider adding these tasty gems to your cart on your next trip! The only people who really should shun them are those allergic to latex (because of a cross-reaction to a substance they contain called chitinases).

What are your thoughts on this? Have you avoided eating bananas (or any other healthful food) because of its reputation for causing weight gain? If the answer is yes, click here to bust common myths about healthy veggies.

Or are you a banana lover like me? How often do you eat them, and do you have any fun recipes? Please share!

Best Banana Recipes:
Low-Cal Peanut Butter and Banana Muffins
Dreamy Banana-Peach Smoothie
Guilt-Free Banana Split