Take a moment right now to picture the perfect banana. What does it look like and how does it taste? Maybe you thought of a soft and sweet banana with tiny brown spots. Or you might have imagined a heartier banana with a light green peel.

It’s obvious that the taste, texture, and color of bananas change as they ripen. For that reason, everyone seems to have their own idea of what the perfect banana really is. But did you know that the nutritional content of bananas also changes as they age?

The best way to understand how the health of a banana can change is by investigating what really happens to them internally over time. So let's take a look.

Green Bananas

pasture, vegetable, banana
Micaela Petrucci

These bananas are youthful, full of life and also full of starch. Referred to as “resistant” starch, this nutrient makes your digestive system work a little harder. It's also the reason why green bananas seem to fill you up so quickly. I must warn you; however, the starch in green bananas can also make you feel gassy or bloated. 

The starch content in green bananas contributes to their waxy texture. These bananas aren’t quite as soft as their elders, which actually makes them perfect for cooking; they can take some heat.

If you’re looking for a banana that’s lower on the glycemic index, go for a green one. Eventually, your body will break this starch down into glucose. This way, green bananas will raise blood sugar levels slowly. The trade-off here is taste. Green bananas can be bitter, as they contain less sugar in every bite.

Yellow Bananas

vegetable, banana
Delissa Handoko

Say goodbye to starch and hello to sugar. This gradual switch results in a softer and sweeter banana. While the yellow variety is higher on the glycemic index, they are actually easier to digest. With less starch to break down, your digestive system will soak up the nutrients quicker.

Unfortunately, there is always micronutrient loss as bananas age. To make up for this, yellow bananas are more developed when it comes to antioxidants. Your immune system will definitely appreciate a yellow banana.

#SpoonTip: Store your bananas in the fridge to prevent micronutrient loss. While your bananas will still lose some nutrients, they will lose them at a much slower rate.

Spotted Bananas

trout, fish
Sasha Kran

These bananas are older, wiser and sweeter. Not only do brown spots show that a banana has aged, but they also indicate how much starch has been converted to sugar.  

Think of all those brown spots as little sugar freckles. Ultimately, the greater number of brown spots a banana has, the more sugar it contains.  

You can also view brown spots as tiny immune system boosters. Spotted bananas are so rich in antioxidants that they have been linked to cancer prevention. Tumor Necrosis Factor (TNF), which functions to destroy tumors, is linked to those brown dots. So if you thought brown spotted bananas were bad, you may want to reevaluate. 

Brown Bananas

banana, peanut, vegetable
Bethany Garcia

Do you remember all that resistant starch? Well, it’s practically all sugar now. These bananas can appear shriveled and mushy, but don't give up on them just yet. 

Just as the starch has broken down into sugar, chlorophyll has taken a new form as well. This breakdown of chlorophyll is the reason why antioxidant levels increase as bananas age. So a fully brown banana is an antioxidant powerhouse.  

The soft and sweet nature of brown bananas makes them perfect for mashing. Use your mashed brown bananas to make some nutritious and tasty treats. Whip up some banana bread or maybe even pancakes.

vegetable, banana
Bethany Garcia

Bananas will always be a go-to snack in terms of nutrition. All bananas are around 100 calories, low in fat and are rich sources of potassium, vitamin B6, vitamin C and fiber. However, we know that ripening of bananas does alter some of their nutritional benefits. So what does the healthiest banana really look like?

The answer to that question really depends on what benefits you're looking for. If you're searching for a snack that is low in sugar and will fill you up quickly, lean towards the green variety. If easily digestible antioxidants are your goal, yellow or spotted bananas are the way to go. Finally, brown bananas are the ideal pick for a healthy alternative that will satisfy your sweet tooth.

All you have to do is choose which nutritional content fits your lifestyle best and you're free to go bananas, literally.