Friday, July 11, 2014

Don't Go Too Bananas. . .

From Wikipedia, Taken by Timothy Walker
Recently Health Digest, a Health/Wellness Website with nearly 2 million likes on Facebook, shared a post entitled “Banana for Breakfast Anyone???”  I love a good banana.  Or banana bread.  Or a banana split, so when my first friend shared it, I read it with interest.  Bananas, I learned, were high in iron, great for constipation (getting rid of it), provided an instant boost of energy, and in a program at a Twickenham School in England, a school administrated, I assume, entirely by monkeys, students ate bananas at every meal and by the end of the year had confirmed the existence of the Higgs boson in the particle accelerator they built in their gym as an after school project.  Also, bananas, when inserted as a suppository, are a foolproof cure for the hiccups.

Okay, maybe I added some "facts" of my own at the end there, but while I’m no nutritionist, I am a researcher, and when I see that many un-cited claims, my first instinct is to check them out.  Once I started, all but the most obvious claims quickly unraveled.

For instance, the post claims that bananas are great for anemia because they’re high in iron, according to the Wikipedia entry, the average banana has 1% of your daily iron: hardly "high" in iron.  Though that’s for a medium-size banana.  Who knows how high it could go for a large banana?

Another claim suggests that a recent “survey” showed that people who ate a banana each day were less depressed “because bananas contain tryptophan”.  Most of the craze around Tryptophan is based on a 1986 Psychopharmacology study that showed doses of 1-15 grams helped situational insomnia: Livestrong says the average banana contains .011 grams of Tryptophan, so on average you'd need to eat about 100 bananas to get to the low end of that range level.

And yes, it has "FOUR TIMES" the protein of apple, but I'd hardly recommend replacing your whey protein with bananas, as you'd have to eat nearly 40 bananas to get to the RDA. 

While the post said nothing about this, I did learn that bananas are also relatively high in Magnesium (eat two!), a good source of Vitamin C (move over orange juice, it’s banana juice time) and even better source of Vitamin B-6, and I know from the constant barrage of energy drink advertisements that B vitamins make it possible for even relatively un-athletic somnolent adults to base-jump, BMX bike, and drive for 27 hours straight (I’ll double check these claims later).

The final stroke was when I looked into the details for the Twickenham School for Criminally Insane Monkeys in Rehabilitation (TSCIMR).  A banana at every meal?  What could have provoked a school to make that choice?  Searching for information about this experiment turned up nothing about what lead to it being conducted, or how it turned out, but it did emerge that despite the fact that the post said “this year”, the story about the Twickenham Experiment dates back at least to 2005, as does the original post, which was debunked on by Chiquita banana representative and has been reposted many times over the years, by some who refer to the email their aunt sent them, and by others who claim it as their own "research" (i.e. plaigirized).   Meanwhile, the claim about “a Twickenham school” (visit scenic Twickenham) is either a total fabrication, or the articles about their experiment are buried too deeply beneath all the different reposts of Bullsh*t About Bananas that it'd be too time consuming for me to find it in search results.  A search on for Twickenham and bananas turned up nothing in the first 100 results that sounds remotely like this.

The best lies are built around shreds of truth, and so I wonder if in fact this banana post is one of the least questioned and most successfully propagated in the last decade.  While I wasn't able to find any proof the Twickenham Banana Experiment actually happened, some of the articles I found in Google Scholar even referenced the apocryphal study. The lesson, I guess, is that just because a webpage or Facebook page contains “Health” in its title, or has a lot of fans/likes doesn’t mean that they are even remotely responsible health professionals.  And that bananas are great as part of a well-balanced diet, but don’t expect it to solve all your health problems.  Though if you have the hiccups, please let me know how the suppository treatment goes.