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What Is the Banana Diet?

By Kris Roudebush
Updated Feb 27, 2024
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The banana diet is any one of several eating plans that promise weight loss and energy boosts with the consumption of numerous bananas each day. Most health experts consider these sorts of plans to be “fads” that are popular for a short time but aren’t backed by science or anything more than anecdotal reports of success. One of the most well known banana-based plans was hugely popular in Japan in 2008, and actually caused a banana distribution shortage to the island nation that lasted a number of months. More recent modifications have taken the initial idea, namely that eating primarily bananas each day can lead to weight loss and better health, and have added modifications and additional rules. Most of the time, the diets are designed to be something of a short-term “cleanse” or “purification,” and adherents aren’t normally expected to stick with the plan long-term. Results can vary wildly from person to person, though, and dieticians and medical experts are often quick to warn that the plan isn’t safe for everyone. There can be dangers involved in getting all or most of a day’s calories from a single food, for instance, and long-term use can actually deprive the body of nutrients and minerals it needs to remain healthy.

Basic Concept and Initial Popularity

Most health trend scholars pinpoint Japan as the origin of what became known in the West as the “banana diet,” and a social media article authored by a pharmacist there is believed to have been the spark that ignited what soon became a boomingly popular trend. According to the article, the pharmacist was able to lose 37 pounds (16.8 kg) simply by replacing his breakfast with four small bananas and eating a banana with room temperature water for lunch. He purportedly ate a “normal” dinner but had nothing, not even bananas, after 8pm.

The article went viral and people, particularly university students, began following the pharmacist’s plan almost religiously. A number of books were written on the subject, many with a few modifications, and formal diet guides, workbooks, and banana-related health merchandise entered the market to record sales. Adherents took to the Internet in vast numbers to chart their success, whether real or imagined, and before long people all over the world were following the plan in some form or another.

Guidelines and Rules

Banana diets typically have a number of rules, though these can vary a lot depending on the specific plan being followed. Almost all instruct dieters to eat at least one raw banana for breakfast, with some versions of the diet including a glass of room temperature water or milk. The original diet can be thought of as a banana meal replacement plan, with dieters eating the fruit in place of breakfast and lunch, but then eating any dinner desired. One of the most important rules of the original plan was that dieters needed to stop eating at 8pm, and be asleep for the night before midnight.

Common Variations

The popular Japanese plan didn’t really prohibit any foods and drinks as much as it augmented them with bananas and set restrictions on when foods could be eaten. Other more recent takes on the concept have tended to be more stringent. Many restrict things like sugar and alcohol in addition to adding bananas, for instance, and a number of plans also require participants to calorie-count the meals and snacks they consume in addition to bananas each day.

Some take more extreme measures. One popular plan, for instance, permits the consumption of nothing but bananas and water for a span of anywhere from 3-8 days. Another requires dieters to eat a whole raw banana before every meal or snack. Rarely, however, do plans require the incorporation of exercise, which most medical experts say is just as important to weight loss as is diet.

Drawbacks and Potential Problems

Despite a number of overwhelmingly positive reviews, there is no scientific evidence for the success of any banana eating plan when it comes to weight loss. In fact, a number of researchers have suggested that eating only or primarily bananas can contribute to excess calories, which might actually lead to weight gain over the long-term. Additionally, many nutritionists question the value of any diet based solely around a single food. While bananas do have a number of important nutrients and minerals, they don’t contain everything a person needs to stay healthy.

The best advice for people looking to lose weight is to typically a commitment to regular exercise and healthy eating. Results aren’t immediate under this slower approach and they do require both patience and persistence. While it may seem tempting to solve all diet woes with a few days of massive banana consumption, few things in life are truly that simple.

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Discussion Comments
By anon132886 — On Dec 08, 2010

Bananas possess something called resistant starch, which is a type of carbohydrate that resists digestion. As such, it makes you feel fuller longer, and so you are prone to eating less. Ripe bananas have about 4 grams of resistant starch, while green bananas have closer to 12. According to Ellen Kunes (The Carb Lovers Diet), people should consume at least 8 grams of resistant starch per day, and the more the merrier.

By LittleMan — On Nov 19, 2010

I could see how you would lose weight with this just by making yourself a little bit fuller before mealtimes with a low calorie food. A lot of people say that drinking a glass of water before a meal can make you feel fuller sooner so that you don't over eat, so I can only imagine how much fuller you'd feel if you ate something like a banana, or another piece of fruit before your meal.

Other than that I really don't see how it would help you lose weight -- is there something about bananas for a diet that I don't know about, some magical fat burning power they've been found to have? Seriously, I'm curious.

Anybody tried this banana diet from Japan, can you clue me in on how it works?

By galen84basc — On Nov 19, 2010

There's another version of this called the bananas only diet. That one was big when I was in college; all the girls on my hall seemed to have tried it at one time or the other (yours truly included).

That version of the banana diet (not the banana diet from Japan) is just another fad though. Although a lot of us did lose weight on the all banana diet, it just came right back as soon as we switched back to normal food. And besides, eating that many bananas can just put you off the taste for life.

I still to this day cringe at the sight of a banana after one particularly bad week where I lived off of bananas, saltine crackers, and water.

But this banana diet actually sounds good -- I'd try it if not for my aversion to bananas.

By pleats — On Nov 19, 2010

I have to say that I'm a little bit torn about the Japanese banana diet. Although bananas are a great source of nutrition, I think it's a little silly to say that you can really eat whatever else you want as long as you eat a banana with it.

Or maybe I'm misinterpreting it. I haven't really read any banana diet reviews other than this one, so I haven't heard about typical banana diet results.

Has anybody reading this ever tried the banana diet; can you tell me what your results were? I'd be really interested to hear from someone who has tried it themselves, since that's always the best way to find out if something works or not.

By bestcity — On Nov 30, 2008

One benefit of eating bananas is increased level of protection against colon cancer. Bananas contain vitamin B6 which has been proven to decrease the risk of colon cancer. So even though the diet might, or might not work, you still will be getting benefits from eating bananas.

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