For many of us, mashed bananas were our first solid food. Turns out, that was a great choice. This versatile fruit is stuffed with nutrients that, interestingly, can also help us on the other end of our life spectrum—old age—when our electrolyte balance can easily get askew. Read on to learn more about why we’re bananas for bananas at every life stage.

See also Trending Ingredient: Bananas. 

What’s in It?

One medium-sized banana contains nearly a quarter of your daily vitamin B6, 17 percent of your vitamin C and 12 percent of your fiber. As for minerals, it provides manganese (16 percent DV) and potassium (12 percent DV), as well as magnesium, phosphorus and calcium. It also serves up antioxidants, such as dopamine and catechins.

What Does It Do for You?

To start, it shows your heart some love: The FDA recommends regular banana consumption as an antidote to high blood pressure because its potassium content can offset high sodium intake. The flavonoids found in bananas have also been linked with a lower risk of heart disease. And bananas, like most produce, contain compounds that fight oxidative stress. Although there’s not much hard science to prove it, some experts say that eating a banana before bed could help you sleep better at night, thanks to its mix of minerals and amino acids.

Bananas may especially benefit athletes. Researchers at Appalachian State University found in multiple studies that the fruit can improve both sports performance and recovery. Most interestingly, they discovered bananas had components that may act as a COX-2inhibitor (using the same mechanism as ibuprofen and other painkillers) to reduce post-exercise soreness and inflammation. (Disclaimer: Dole, a banana producer, funded the study, but did not participate in its execution.)

Mind Blower: A banana is technically a berry, because it has multiple seeds and comes from a flower that has only one ovary.

Our 5 Fave Uses for a Banana

  1. Mash it and stir into pancake batter or oatmeal for a welcome dose of sweetness and moisture.
  2. Eat it before a workout. Bonus if you dip each bite in nut butter first. (Visit page TK for more pre-workout fuel tips, and page TK for great nut-butter selections.)
  3. Break it into bite-sized pieces and freeze for use in smoothies.
  4. Grill it for a healthy dessert.
  5. Make a banana pop: Insert a popsicle stick into the bottom of the banana; dip it in melted dark chocolate; roll it in unsweetened coconut, nut pieces or another topping; place in fridge for at least 30 minutes, or until chocolate hardens. Cut banana into pieces for smaller pops.

Bedtime Banana Tea

Tonight, try this simple, sleep-promoting concoction, which taps into the nutrients not only in a banana’s flesh, but also its peel.

  1. Cut open both ends of a banana. Leave the peel on and place it in a pot with just enough water to cover it.
  2. Boil for 10 minutes. Then pour the water into a cup.
  3. Drink plain or add cinnamon and/or honey to taste—all three ingredients may enhance sleep.