IT'S time to arm yourself with a banana. Go on, grab one from the fruit bowl - this is an interactive story. Now, hold the sliver-of- moon fruit in your hand and marvel at its simplicity. Turn it over, finger the clean lines, the chink of stem; feel its smoothness, its firmness; now examine its green- yellowness or brown-speckled ripeness (depending on your preference).
Next, bend-snap the stem, then peel it, bite it, chew it slowly, wallowing in its sweetness, and then swallow it.
You have just eaten one of the most versatile, health-giving foods on the planet.
In fact, scientists worldwide have given it the thumbs-up for dozens of reasons.
Research at the Queen's Medical Centre in Hawaii shows that eating bananas regularly could reduce the risk of having a stroke by up to 40%.
That's because the tropical fruit is high in potassium but low in sodium, say doctors.
The study of nearly 6000 people aged over 65 suggested that those with the lowest intake of the mineral were 50% more likely to suffer a stroke.
This was especially so for those people taking diuretics, which may prevent potassium from the diet being absorbed by the body. Researcher Deborah Green, who led the study, suggests patients who have to take diuretics for valid medical reasons may benefit from extra potassium in their diets. Eating bananas is one of the simplest ways to get the mineral because every 100 grams of the raw fruit contains 358mg of potassium.
It also helps keep blood pressure down.
A team of researchers from Taiwan has found that banana peel extract can ease depression and also protect eyesight.
After a two-year study, scientists at Taichung's Chung Shan Medical University found that banana peel is rich in the neurotransmitter serotonin, believed to regulate moods.
A low level of serotonin has been linked to depression, and a whole class of anti-depressant drugs have been developed to increase concentrations of the neurotransmitter in the brain.
The Taiwanese researchers recommend boiling banana peel and drinking the water, or drinking banana peel juice extracted by a domestic fruit-juicing machine. Doing so once each day or several times a week can help beat the blues, they say.
If you do this, you'll get a double whammy.
The scientists say banana peel contains lutein, an antioxidant from the carotenoid family, which provides nutritional support to the eyes. They did clinical trials on two groups of retina cells - one soaked in a solution of banana peel and the other a control group.
Each group was exposed to strong light six hours a day for two days. The results were startling. All the cells in the control group died, but the banana-steeped cells suffered no damage and in fact regenerated. The Archives if Ophthalmology has published similar research, which shows that eating three servings of fruit each day can reduce the risk of developing age-related macular degeneration. This eye disease is the main cause of vision loss in elderly people.
This study showed that oranges and bananas were the most helpful, though the subject of this story was the best.
Bananas are also high in vitamin B6 to soothe nerves, a good source of iron to help people beat anaemia and also contain the ever- touted vitamin C, which is great for fighting infections.
Sportspeople swear by bananas as an immediate and sustained source of energy. Because the non-seasonal fruit contains three natural sugars, fructose, sucrose and glucose, along with dietary fibre, they are instant pick-me-ups.
Not only are they tops with athletes, bananas are a great brain food, according to a United Kingdom study of 200 students fed the fruit for breakfast.
Findings show they aid students in their learning by keeping them alert. They are also perfect study snacks.
For those of you eaten by mosquitoes lately, salve your bites with the inside of a banana skin. Apparently this is a highly successful treatment for reducing the swelling and irritation of those angry red lumps.
People with stomach ulcers can also find comfort in bananas because it's the only raw fruit suitable for people with chronic cases.
This easy-to-digest fruit is often one of the first solid foods given to babies. But be warned - it stains clothes terribly. That's a minute annoyance considering bananas are also deemed great for treating both constipation (high in fibre) and the electrolyte- draining effects of diarrhoea (there's that much-needed potassium again). They help ease indigestion, morning sickness, hangovers, are good for the bones and help ward off kidney cancer.
While there are bunches of ups, there is a downside to bananas - especially for the purists. Most of the world's commercial banana crop is a hybrid variety called Cavendish, which is sterile. The tiny seeds in the fruit we eat are useless, so banana plants have to be propagated through removing and transplanting part of the underground stem, called a corm. While the banana isn't in danger of extinction, the Cavendish is vulnerable to diseases that could threaten its commercial cultivation. This happened to its forerunner, the Gros Michel, which used to be the most popular variety up until 1960. It was wiped out by Panama disease.
A virulent form of this disease has already wiped out the Cavendish in some parts of Southeast Asia. So the moral of this story is, go bananas over bananas while you can.