Surviving on a single food source will always eventually lead to malnutrition as no single substance can provide a balanced diet alone. Some foods, however, are better suited than others to survive on during extreme situations. Can you survive, and for how long with nothing but bananas to satiate you?
Although bananas are a nutrient-dense fruit, you cannot live a prolonged healthy life by sustaining on them alone. Bananas will supply you with water, calories, carbohydrates, vitamins B6 and C, and some dietary fiber, but they are deficient in protein, vitamins B1, B2, B3, B5, and B9, and many essential minerals. Over time, this nutritional unbalance will lead to malnutrition and result in health issues such as fatigue, muscle mass loss, a weakened immune system, and eventually, death.
Bananas are rightfully considered a healthy fruit as they contain very little fat and only trace amounts of sodium. In a survivalist situation, they are a decent source of sustenance to keep you alive until a rescue can be made. Each person is different though, and the time it takes to feel the side effects of the nutritional deficits will vary widely from between days to months.
Can You Survive on Bananas?
For short term survival, you need two things to survive: water and calories. Often, the human body can provide the calories from stored muscle and fat, so the greatest thing to seek in a survival situation is a source of hydration.
With 75% of a banana’s mass being attributed to water, eating bananas alone can keep you hydrated if you eat enough of them. As an average banana weighs 100 grams, each banana contains 75 grams of water which equates to ~75 mL or ~2.5 US fluid ounces. Currently, it is recommended that you drink 64 fluid ounces of water a day, so you would need to eat around 26 bananas daily to meet this requirement.
The need for water will grow in hotter climates and if you are exerting yourself making a shelter, hiking out of your predicament, or experiencing an illness like diarrhea or vomiting. When in a survival situation, look at the color of your urine frequently to assess your hydration levels. The darker your urine, the more liquid you need to consume.
Twenty-six bananas a day will also provide you with 2,340 calories (based on 90 calories per banana) which is more than enough energy to keep the human body functioning. This well above the fewest calories you should aim to consume a day under any circumstances of 1,200 (or 13 bananas) for women and 1,600 (18 bananas) for males.
Consequences of Eating Only Bananas for Survival
Consuming a single source of food exclusively will lead to nutritional unbalances and bananas are no different. Consuming only bananas will lead to malnutrition from a lack of protein and macronutrients even though the calorie intake is high enough.
Depending on your body composition and underlying health, the effects of this undernutrition may not be felt for weeks. Signs that you’re being affected will be cognitive underperformance, fatigue, cramps, and susceptibility to infections.
A Lack of Protein
Maintaining your muscle mass is almost impossible when sustaining on a banana-only diet as an average banana contains merely one gram of protein. Therefore, to get your daily intake of protein (46 grams for women and 56 grams for men) would result in also consuming four times the daily requirement of potassium and magnesium, while consuming a whopping 5,000 calories on average.
Over time, your body will break down your existing muscle mass to supplement your dietary protein deficit. This will leave you feeling weak and potentially unable to seek assistance in ending your plight.
Too Much Fiber
Eating enough bananas to prevent dehydration will also lead to the overconsumption of dietary fiber. With each banana, you consume 2.6 grams of dietary fiber. Therefore, you need around 10 bananas to get the suggested daily intake of 28 grams.
Too much fiber though can lead to constipation that would be difficult to relieve without an additional source of water. If left untreated, you can develop hemorrhoids or rectal prolapse. In severe cases, worsening constipation can develop into a bowel impaction that if left untreated can lead to death.
Too Little Sodium
The greatest immediate concern, however, will arise from the lack of sodium in your diet. Bananas contain only a trace amount of sodium, which is a vital mineral for survival. It is needed to control electrolyte balance that is essential for hydration and to assist the heart muscle in contracting.
Each banana contains just 1 mg of sodium, yet the recommended daily amount is 2400 mg. Sodium deficiency, aka hyponatremia, will lead to muscle cramps, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, and shock before you eventually fall into a coma and die.
Bananas: The Worldwide Sweet Fruit
Although there are different species of bananas, in the Americas and Europe, the word has become synonymous with the fruit-derived exclusively from the Cavendish group.
These are the familiar yellow, long, sweet, soft dessert fruit. It’s worth noting though that there are other species, and plantains are firmer, starchier forms of bananas too. The term banana can also be used to describe the plant that produces the fruit. However, for the basis of discussion here, this article referred exclusively to Cavendish bananas.
Bananas are native to Indomalaya and Australia and due to domestication are now produced in 135 tropical climate countries worldwide. The largest producers of this fruit in 2017 were India and China, accounting for 38% of global production between them.
In 2018, 148 million tons of bananas and plantains were produced worldwide. Therefore, chances are relatively good that a source of bananas will be available for you to survive on if you are stranded in tropical conditions.
For a limited time, you can survive on bananas alone. As 75% of their mass is water, they even provide a decent source of hydration. They are a short-term solution though due to their nutritional imbalance. Consuming a banana-only diet will result in significant health consequences that may lead to death.
Can you overdose on bananas? Bananas have a reputation of being a high-potassium food, and many people wonder if you can overdose by eating an excessive amount of the fruit. The recommended daily potassium intake for adults is ~4,700 mg and an average 100 g banana contains ~358 mg. You would need to eat around 13 bananas to exceed this. Bananas aren’t even the most potassium dense natural food as 100 g of avocado packs ~487 mg of potassium.
Is it safe to eat unripe bananas? While unripe bananas are slightly bitter in taste, rather firm, with a waxy texture they are perfectly safe to eat. Green bananas are high in starch (70-80% of their dry weight), that converts to sugars as they ripen. Therefore, consuming green bananas can be beneficial to those seeking to reduce their intake of the natural sugars sucrose, glucose, and fructose. Additionally, green bananas have a higher content of pectin, a dietary fiber that can assist in digestive health.