Is a Banana Really 'Basically a Candy Bar'?

Comparable amounts of sugar has led Instagram health 'experts' to claim the two are one in the same. That's really dumb.

A banana isn't a candy bar.

Unfortunately, that needs stating.

Why?

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A banana isn't a candy bar.

Unfortunately, that needs stating.

Why?

Because it's exactly the type of common-sense nutrition advice that's being lost in the social media age.

You can find many supposed nutrition "experts" on Instagram or Twitter claiming a banana is basically the same as a candy bar. Their justification is that a large banana contains a decent amount of sugar (17 grams), and that candy is high in sugar, so they're basically the same.

Yes, that's pretty much the entire argument, and it's often used to demonize fruit in general.

But in a world where many assume "sugar equals bad," that argument is making an impact and changing the way people view food. However, it's a horrible comparison for many reasons.

For starters, 17 grams of sugar is actually much less than you'll find in most candy bars. A Milky Way Bar, for example, contains 35 grams of sugar. And remember, the 17 grams figure is only for a large banana—a small banana contains about five fewer grams of sugar.

But for argument's sake, let's compare a large banana to a Hershey's Cookies 'n' Creme Bar. At 21 grams of sugar per 1.55-ounce bar, it has one of the lowest sugar totals of any popular candy bar.

As absurd as this may sound, let's break down some key reasons why a banana is not, in fact, the same as a candy bar.

We start with the nutrition facts.

Per Google, one large banana (which is roughly 8 inches long) weighs 136 grams and contains:

  • 121 calories
  • 0.4 grams of total fat
  • 0.2 grams of saturated fat
  • 487mg of potassium
  • 31 grams of total carbohydrate
  • 3.5 grams of dietary fiber
  • 17 grams of sugar (0 of which are added sugar)
  • 1.5 grams of protein

And per Hershey's official website, a 1.55-ounce Cookies 'n' Creme Bar weighs 43 grams and contains:

  • 220 calories
  • 11 grams of total fat
  • 7 grams of saturated fat
  • 140 mg of potassium
  • 28 grams of total carbohydrates
  • 0 grams of fiber
  • 21 grams of sugar (18 of which are added sugar)
  • 3 grams of protein

Right away, the banana containing 99 fewer calories than the candy bar is a significant difference.

A piece of fruit is almost always going to contain significantly fewer calories than a candy bar, which is really important for weight loss. As another example, if you were to compare a Snickers Bar to an apple, the difference in calories would also be about 100.

So that's a big gaping hole in this harebrained "banana-is-a-candy-bar" idea right off the bat.

The candy bar has a slight edge in protein and calcium content, but the overall amounts aren't particularly impressive. Meanwhile, the banana is significantly higher in fiber, as well as potassium, vitamin C, vitamin B-6 and magnesium.

The 3.5 grams of fiber in the banana compared to the 0 grams in the candy bar is a crucial difference.

Most Americans could use more fiber. Per the Harvard School of Health, the average American adults eats between 10-15 grams of fiber per day—well short of the 25 grams a day for women and 38 grams a day for men recommended by the USDA.

A crucial distinction between the sugar that naturally occurs in fruit and the sugar that's added by manufacturers to products like candy is that the sugar in fruit is stored in cells where fiber also resides.

This unique trait means it takes more time for the digestive tract to break down the sugar, which is desirable for several reasons.

"Fiber slows down digestion, resulting in the sugar being absorbed more slowly," says Brian St. Pierre, Director of Performance Nutrition at Precision Nutrition. This gives the liver more time to metabolize the sugar, which keeps blood sugar relatively stable and helps to avoid the rapid rise—and sudden crash—associated with a sugar high.

Avoiding those surges in blood sugar reduces the amount of insulin your body must produce, thereby putting you at less risk of insulin resistance, obesity and Type 2 diabetes.

"You don't get that quick rise and fall of blood sugar levels," St. Pierre says.

The prolonged digestion period also means fruit helps you feel much fuller than ultra-processed foods like candy, which are digested quickly and, as St. Pierre says, "designed to overwhelm your normal satiation signals, so they can and often do lead to overeating."

While the banana and the candy bar contain comparable amounts of added sugar, none of the sugar in the banana is added sugar.

Meanwhile, 18 of the 21 grams of sugar in the Hershey's Cookies 'n' Creme Bar come via added sugars.

Added sugars are defined as "any sugars or caloric sweeteners that are added to foods or beverages during processing or preparation." Unlike naturally occurring sugars, which are a product of mother nature, added sugars are added to foods by humans.

Perhaps the easiest way to clean up your diet is to reduce the amount of added sugar you consume. This simple act can have a transformational impact on your health.

"Sugar that's added to processed foods is much worse than natural sugar in whole foods like fruits and vegetables," write nutrition researcher Kris Gunnars for Healthline.

High amounts of added sugar should always raise a major red flag. Diets high in added sugar have disastrous effects on overall health, as they've been linked to obesity, heart disease, cancer, tooth decay, acne, type 2 diabetes and a host of other undesirable outcomes. The American Heart Association recommends a maximum limit of 37.5 grams of added sugar per day for men and 25 grams per day for women, but the less you consume, the better.

RELATED: Why The Sugar in Fruit Doesn't Make You Fat

Unlike fruit, products high in added sugar—like candy—tend to be low in overall nutrients. The FDA states that "scientific data shows that it is difficult to meet nutrient needs while staying within calorie limits if you consume more than 10 percent of your total daily calories from added sugar."

Another big factor at play here is the weight of both the banana and the candy bar. The banana weighs more than three times as much as the candy bar, which is actually highly important when you consider that the average person eats between three and five pounds of food per day.

In a pamphlet entitled Low-Energy-Dense Foods and Weight Management: Cutting Calories While Controlling Hunger, the CDC writes, "Research shows that people eat a fairly consistent amount of food on a day-to-day basis. This finding holds true whether the amount of food contains many or few calories."

Since fruit is high in water, it's a lot heavier than ultra-processed foods like candies, cookies, chips, etc. What that means is that it's very difficult to overindulge on whole fruit, but very easy to overindulge on classic junk food.

If you were to attempt to consume three pounds of food in a day by eating nothing but bananas (which is not a good idea, as variety is key to any diet), you'd need to down about 10 large bananas. That'd equal 1,210 total calories.

If you attempted to do the same with Hershey's Cookie 'n' Creme Bars, you'd have to eat about 31 and a half bars. That translates to nearly 7,000 calories.

Reasons such as this are why ultra-processed foods often lead to overeating and weight gain, even when you control for other factors.

Compared to candy bars, fruits also have far more overall vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients and antioxidants. That cocktail of nutrients does some amazing things for the human body.

We've taken deep dives into the benefits of regularly eating fruit such as apples, bananas, oranges and strawberries, and the research is decisive. Regularly eating fruit has been connected to:

And much, much more.

However—and this is where things can get a little confusing—there are certain forms of fruit which are more akin to a candy bar.

Whole fruit offers a wealth of health benefits, but many food manufacturers seek to take advantage of fruit's health halo by bastardizing its nutrition and rendering it into little more than a generic sweetener.

Fruit juice isn't healthy, as many of the fruit's naturally occurring fiber and nutrients are destroyed during its manufacturing process.

Fruit smoothies and shakes can be sneaky, too—while they can be healthy, certain recipes allow you to slurp down a tremendous amount of sugar and calories in just a few minutes. That's not necessarily ideal if your healthy goals include maintaining or achieving a healthy weight. It's always better to make them yourself than to buy them somewhere else.

Dried fruit has its uses, but it can be easy to overindulge on because almost all the water in the fruit has been removed, making it much lighter and more compact.

And fruit served in heavy syrup is much higher in sugar and calories than it needs to be.

A good rule of thumb is that the closer you can eat fruit to the form it's picked off a tree or bush, the better. Whole fruit is best.

You may have heard that chocolate is "actually good for you," but the research you're referring to centers around dark chocolate. And not just any dark chocolate—stuff with 70% or higher cocoa content. Your average vending machine candy bars don't even approach this figure.

A banana is not a candy bar. Not even close.

There's a reason Fooducate gives a banana an "A" overall food grade and a Hershey's Cookies 'n' Creme Candy Bar a "D" grade.

They're two very different foods aside from being somewhat comparable in their total grams of sugar. But when you consider that the candy bar is nearly all added sugar while the banana is all natural sugar, you realize even that argument doesn't hold much water.

When someone attempts to demonize foods that have long been considered healthy on the back of lone nutrition fact, you should be skeptical.

There may be certain circumstances that complicate the issue, such as specific health conditions, but we're speaking generally.

The closer fruit is to its natural form, the healthier it tends to be.

Strive to eat a wide-range of varieties, as different color fruits have different blends of powerful nutrients.

As for those who say a banana is basically a candy bar, you should probably stop following them.

Photo Credit: skodonnell/iStock, iStock

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Topics: FRUIT | FRUITS AND VEGETABLES | CANDY | EATING HEALTHY | NUTRITION ADVICE