The Power of Bananas and Cauliflower

In the September 2017 edition of School Nutrition, Dayle Hayes, MS, RD, uses the To Your Credit feature to reverse Dorothy’s rainbow journey and showcase the palate less-appreciated—white foods. In the educational article, “Beyond the Rainbow,” Hayes’s three companions (rather than Scarecrow, Tin Man and Lion) are Mushrooms, Onions and Potatoes. Now, fully converted to home-sweet-home, allow Hayes and this bonus content to treat you to the nutritional value of two other items of produce: Bananas and Cauliflower.

Bananas

FUN FACTS: Bananas are botanically the berry of a flowering plant. The tiny little brown flecks in the center of a banana are seeds, just like the little specks on strawberries.

Bananas are the most popular fruit in the U.S., according to the Produce for Better Health (PBH) 2015 State of the Plate Report. Per capita consumption of bananas in the U.S. is around 25 to 27 pounds per year (about 45 to 50 bananas) – and increasing. However, our banana habit pales in comparison to Uganda, which has the highest per capita consumption in the world. Ugandans eat an average of 500 pounds of bananas, a.k.a. plantains, per person per year, including varieties seldom seen in US markets.

Most of our bananas come from Central and South America. Hawaii is the only U.S. state where bananas are grown commercially and can be considered a local fruit. Bananas are popular in schools as a breakfast fruit, a grab-and-go fruit, and almost as an must-have in any smoothie recipe. This is a good thing because students need more potassium and bananas are a good source of this key nutrient that helps to maintain fluid balance and prevent high blood pressure.

An average banana has 422 milligrams of potassium (12% of the Daily Value), as well as 12% DV of fiber, 17% DV of vitamin C and 20% DV of vitamin B-6. Like almost all fruit, bananas are fat-free, cholesterol-free (except avocados and coconuts) and sodium-free. What about those online ads claiming that bananas turn directly into belly fat? There is no proof that any food goes directly to fat on a particular body location – and every indication that both children and adults could enjoy a banana-a-day to keep high blood pressure away!

Bottom line: Enjoy bananas for breakfast, lunch or snacks as sweet way to get more potassium and fiber. Need a new school breakfast? Try a banana split with vanilla yogurt and berries (fresh, frozen or dried).

Cauliflower

FUN FACTS: Purple and orange cauliflower is now in grocery stores and farmers markets. The new colors are natural; these varieties are bred to have more pigmentation from anthocyanin (purple) or carotene (orange).

At the end of 2016, bonappetit.com predicted cauliflower would “start showing up on every single menu,” while other foodies began to call it the “new kale.” While cauliflower may not be on every single school menu, it is showing up in restaurants, cooking channels and dietitian blogs as pizza crust, roasted or mashed side veggies, and Szechuan hot-and-spicy main dishes. In a 2016 blog for US News and World Report entitled 9 Ways to Get in on the Cauliflower Trend, Registered Dietitian Janet Helm asked, “Cauliflower, is there anything you can't do?” Answer: Not really. You can: Mash it. Steak it. Rice it. Crust it. Dip it. Popcorn it. Pasta it. Bread it. Buffalo it.

How about from a nutrition perspective? Does cauliflower deserve to kick kale off its good-for-you pedestal? Actually, kale and cauliflower are cousins – both are part of the cruciferous vegetable family that includes bok choi, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, collards, kohlrabi and turnips. All of these veggies have a similar nutrition profile and contain phytonutrients associated with fighting cancer, strengthening bone tissue and maintaining healthy blood vessels. However, only a few of them, like broccoli, made it into the dark green category while all the others were thrown into the “Other” veggie subgroup.

Cauliflower is an excellent source of vitamin C and a good source of vitamin K. It also has a bit of potassium, manganese and dietary fiber with almost no calories (14 per ½ cup serving). Like all cruciferous vegetables, cauliflower gives off a pungent smell when being cooked, especially when steamed or overcooked in tight containers. It is worth learning how to cook these veggies properly so that children and adults can learn to appreciate them and increase their intake of the sulfur-containing antioxidants that cause such odiferous smells.

Bottom line: Try cauliflower more often. While no one food is a health miracle, cauliflower’s versatility in the kitchen puts it into the must-learn-how-to-cook group.

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