Ingredients of an All-Natural Banana

This visualisation has a short story behind it.

Ingredients of an All-Natural Banana
Click to view large JPEG

I usually care too much about food labels. If something has monosodium glutamate (E621) or high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) in it, I’m probably not going to buy it no matter how healthy or delicious the food looks as a whole. (Strangely, I’d be willing to eat it, though.)

Some people care about different ingredients such as “E-numbers”. I made this graphic to demonstrate how “natural” products (such as a banana) contain scary-looking ingredients as well. All the ingredients on this list are 100% natural in a non-GM banana. None of them are pesticides, fertilisers, insecticides or other contaminants.

There’s a tendency for advertisers to use the words “pure” and “simple” to describe “natural” products when they couldn’t be more wrong. With this diagram, I want to demonstrate that “natural” products are usually more complicated than anything we can create in the lab. For brevity’s sake, I omitted the thousands of minority ingredients found in a banana, including DNA ;-)

Enjoy!

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146 thoughts on “Ingredients of an All-Natural Banana

      1. I mentioned it because the “Banana Equivalent Dose” concept seems to have a similar educational goal.

  1. Thanks for doing that, this is great fun!

    I just found a small typo in the Banana Ingredients:
    ETHENE GAS should be ETHYLENE GAS

    Cheers!

  2. I have never had any severe reactions to any organic foods like I have had with man-made chemicals! I will take my chances with God’s chemistry. I will not take any more chances with man-made chemicals thank you.

    1. There are many with food allergies (e.g. gluten, nuts, crabs, strawberries and even fish). Asbestos is also a 100% natural material, but you don’t want contact with that either.

      1. Rattlesnakes, scorpions, amanita mushrooms, strychnine. . .these are all 100% natural. What could be more natural than sunlight? That’s responsible for 90% of non-melanoma skin cancers.

        The point is, “natural” isn’t synonymous with “good” or “safe”.

      2. Careful now, only the amphibole derived asbestos is a carcinogen and usually only in industrial situations. Serpentine asbestos from chrysotile is pretty benign stuff. Its all about education. #geology

  3. It doesn’t appear to add up to 100% and shouldn’t “Water” be bolded? I agree with your premise, and don’t mean to nit-pick, just wondering.

    1. Rounding causes them not to add up to 100%. For example, 5.5 + 4.5 = 10.0. But if we round all the numbers to one decimal place, we get “6 + 5 = 10″. It’s quite normal, but I’ve corrected it in all the later posters (passionfruit onwards) :)

      Top-level ingredients (i.e. those with sub-ingredients in brackets) are bolded. Water is on its own and therefore doesn’t need to be.

      James :)

      1. but it doesn’t even seem close… 75% (water) + 12% (sugars) + ~3% is only 90%, so what’s the deal with nearly 10 missing %s?
        I believe (from the nutritional data I looked up on different things) that there are probably more sugars, like 22-25% in bananas.

  4. And if you call water “dihydrogen monoxide”, most people will happily sign petitions in favor of banning it. But what does this have to do with the many demonstrable facts which indicate that real food is better than “the displacing foods of modern commerce” in terms of maintaining human health and vitality?

    1. I’ve yet to see a good definition of “real food”, in that whatever definition I’ve seen I can come up with foods that the definer would agree fails to match the definition (e.g., if the definition is something like “something my grandparent would recognize as food”, I can pull up a food from a foreign culture, like lutefisk, babaganoush, natto, or corn on the cob, that the definer would agree is real food, but that their grandparent wouldn’t recognize).

      So how do you define “real food”?

      1. Why does it have to be a specific someone’s grandparent? Why not all of them? If real food is whatever humans ate in their natural habitat, then it encompasses everything from the Arctic to the equator.

      1. MSG is found naturally in seaweed. Ever bought dried seaweed at Asian supermarkets? The white dust on the surface of dried seaweed is pure, natural MSG.

        There’s basically zero MSG in a banana, however.

      1. It is much less addictive than dihydrogen monoxide. Dihydrogen monoxide withdrawal symptoms cause death in 5 to 7 days. No one was able to survive. :-)
        Glutamate is one of the major components of many fruit and vegetables (tomatoes are champions in this respect), meat, fish and almost any other food.
        And strangely, Glutamate easily converts into MSG in contact with ordinary salt. For example when it gets into your bloodstream. (also that is one of the reasons salted food tastes better and a dash of salt on tomato tastes incredible).
        Also adding MSG is much healthier then adding salt as you need severals orders of magnitude _less_ MSG additive to get same result as by adding salt.
        So in general all of the hype against use of MSG is basically same kind of hoax as trying to prohibit use of dihydrogen monoxide.

  5. I know what MSG is, I love the stuff – the point I’m trying to make is that in your post you state that you don’t eat foods with MSG in them. Yet make an image indicating the ingredients in a banana – one of which is Glutamic Acid. Glutamic Acid is MSG without the salt.

  6. At least with regard to bananas, I would argue that they are a fairly “trained” fruit, if not strictly a man-made product. Derived from nature, yes, but highly, highly modified by man’s desire for a fruit it found to its liking. Nit-picking for sure, but it’s clear to me that bananas, while highly nutritious and healthy, are not immune to man’s deep modification skills. Speaking for the Cavendish, at least.
    Sources: http://homecooking.about.com/od/foodhistory/a/bananahistory.htm, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Banana#Modern_cultivation

  7. Like many others, I found this on other sites including Facebook, and traced it to this blog. Might I ask, from where where did this list derive? Are you a chemist, or is this from data found elsewhere?

  8. i love this! i tweet about chemophobia all the time. TV commercials are triumphing a standard of pronounceability to food ingredients these days, but many things are pronounceable only because someone invented a nice word for it, like acetylsalicylic acid becoming “aspirin”. chemophobes seem to randomly pick a chemical every so often to worry about, and ultimately get it excised from products without any science, like what’s happened recently with BPA and phthalates. my attitude is get over it, life is a chemical process! there was a list a long time ago of nasty-sounding ingredients that was a cup of coffee–that would make a good poster too! keep up the good work!

  9. Good educational fun, James. Thank you. As I scrolled through some of the comments, I remembered a principle of toxicology that I had stumbled upon years ago: “These dose is the poison, the poison is the dose.” Any substance it seems in extreme excess or in extreme deprivation will harm and/or kill. (Even bananas!)

      1. The way I’ve always heard this was “the dose makes the poison”, and there are any number of examples of “natural” substances that are absolutely essential in small amounts, but potentially deadly in large amounts. .

        Water has already been mentioned. There are a number of metallic and/or trace mineral elements that are necessary in miniscule quantities for proper enzymatic or other body function, but can be toxic in large doses. EG, iron is necessary for the hemoglobin molecule to carry oxygen in the blood, but too much iron can cause injury to vital organs (eg “siderosis”).

        I’ve mentioned sunlight above. Sunlight exposure is necessary for the body to manufacture vitamin D, which is critical in bone and calcium homeostasis. Lack of sunlight exposure without sufficient dietary vitamin D intake can cause rickets. Conversely, UV radiation from sunlight is ALSO responsible for 90% of non-melanoma skin cancers.

        Oxygen gas is another example. Obviously, if you go without inhaled oxygen for even a few minutes, you suffer anoxic injury and die. In contrast, if present in greater than normal concentrations in inhaled air oxygen gas can cause injury to the central nervous system (the “Paul Bert effect”) and lungs (the “Lorraine Smith effect”).

  10. I LOVE these posters!

    However, I think the ingredient “Aqua” should be replaced by Dihydrogen Monoxide (DHMO).

    I was a Physics and Earth/Space Science teacher for a few years, but was “drafted” into teaching several sections of Chemistry one year. I REALLY WISH I’D KNOWN OF THESE THEN!

    Keep up the great work!

    1. It’s good to hear that you like them. I didn’t use “DHMO” because it was used to mock people. That’s not my intention. :)

      These posters have only just gone live. I’ve only just started sharing my work. There’s more to come ;)

  11. I have a strong reaction. This is 100% man made red herring. Distracting from the relevant issue of nutrition which is real and serious in our society. To say that a banana has just as many ingredients, pronounceable or not, as a bag of cheetos – so what? You are conflating complexity with syllables. A banana is a one-word ingredient, but it is a complex food. Most will not argue that bananas are complex, once you go molecular. That isn’t the point of monosyllable eating. Bananas are complex. Cheetos are just crappy. Stick to that poster and save yourself the red herring.

    1. Bananas are also quite crappy to my taste.
      But are there any _scientific_ studies showing that a bag of Cheetos is worse for you than a banana?
      If you look at any fruit or vegetable, most of their ingredients are specifically designed by evolution to be poisonous to as many life forms as possible. So by eating “natural fruit” you are eating mix of fungicides, herbicides, insecticides with some added nutrients in the most unedible form. Yes we are designed by evolution to survive consumption of those poisons. But it does not make them “good for you”.

  12. Very informative. I use to eat bananas for breakfast before, and I’m really curious of the nutrients I’m getting from the food. Putting nutrition facts on foods is a really great way to know if its natural or not.

      1. In The Healing Garden, natural is synergistic. In the same manner we travel a mobius strip attempting to define life, which is always greater than the sum of its parts. Maybe what we mean by natural as a starting point, is one or more of the synergistic parts complementing life. Etymologically, we are at a watershed definition of natural. This is how the definition is recrafted. – The Healing Garden gardener

  13. I love tryptophan.
    In regards to what is natural. Natural is anything that is not man made. For example the banana may have been trained by man but it did not grow the banana. The banana is born from the seed, sprouted and grown all on its own. Sure man may have watered it but man also did not make water and in many cases it finds water all on its own. So bananas are not dependent on man for their survival.

    1. Interesting point! But have you ever visited a banana plantation? They are anything but natural. Swathes of rainforest are cleared to plant mile after mile of cloned trees in neatly-arranged grids, each one with a number. And that was before the GMO movement. Just adding to the discussion…

      1. Yes and those are great points. I’m not sure that the banana is up there on the list of foods that is genetically modified (though they might be) but they certainly have been a source of political power. Wasn’t it United Fruit that set up a coup d’ete to dethrone the then President Guzman in Guatamala? And as you say look where that has taken off to. So from en ethical stand point the banana is a blood fruit and they also give me heart burn but I digress.
        At some point though you do have to draw the line on what constitutes a natural farmed plant. Big agriculture with many of its flaws rides the fence for me just staying inside those lines but. Genetic modification of the very DNA is where I stop and like a good farmer from the chrysalids define them as deviants. And you know what they do with deviants in Labrador?

      2. I’ve just been listening to some Mark Passio and he defines natural from the egyption etymology ntr, pronounced naytar, meaning spirits and the suffix, al means, of or related to. So “of or related to the realm of spirits.” Passio is great in his way that he bridges the gap between “new age” ideology and a more rational approach to knowledge. if you have the time you can listen to his whole seminar on https://www.tragedyandhope.com/peace-revolution-episode-079-no-masters-no-slaves-you-are-the-illuminati/ or the video version of the same seminar, https://www.tragedyandhope.com/natural-law-the-real-law-of-attraction-mark-passios-natural-law-seminar/

      3. natural |ˈnaCHərəl|
        adjective
        1 existing in or caused by nature; not made or caused by humankind: carrots contain a natural antiseptic that fights bacteria | natural disasters such as earthquakes.
        • (of fabric) having a color characteristic of the unbleached and undyed state; off-white.

        ORIGIN Middle English (in the sense ‘having a certain status by birth’): from Old French, from Latin naturalis, from natura ‘birth, nature, quality’ (see nature).

  14. And of course, all bananas are also clones (at least those of the Cavendish cultivar, the most commonly eaten one).
    Thanks for this. I’m going to pass it along to some of my friends who think that just because it’s “natural” it’s good for you.
    Well, botulin toxin is natural too and I wouldn’t recommend having any of it!

  15. I really appreciate the reminder with all of the brainwashing that occurs for the sake of marketing… Taking a critical lens upon things we don’t usually think about is always necessary. Thanks, James.

  16. lol I LOVE this post. It made me smile. There are some people that say that if you can’t pronounce an ingredient on a label then you should avoid it, but that is not always the case.

  17. The banana is a clear case of artificial selection. However, have you ever seen Kirk Cameron’s video (on YouTube) where he tries to argue that the banana is proof of God? For a plethora of ridiculous reasons, including (but unfortunately not limited to) God shaped the banana just right for us to hold, and gave us a tab at the top to open it with. Naturally speaking, bananas are brown, oblong-shaped objects that in no way look appetizing at all. Humans artificially selected for this shape, colour, texture and flavour. Don’t ya just love human ingenuity? I do. Nothing beats a banana milkshake!

  18. I also thought that the chemical composition changes specially with the taste when the banana ages. Today I did a banana fritter – I had 1 aged banana with a dark skin and almost non edible and another with a pure yellow skin still with a little shade of green on the ends.

    The one that was aged was so sweet and delicious, the other fresh and not yet ready to be frittered had hardly a taste worth mentioning.

    There must be a window for bananas as to when best to eat. Every banana I have is always different.

    Happy bananaz!

    1. Absolutely. Some fruits, like kiwis, change radically upon ripening. Other fruits change more subtly, but they all change during the ripening process.

      Generally, starches break down into sugars, which ferment into alcohols, which oxidise into carboxylic acids or ketones during the ripening (then rotting) processes.

      The fruits here were all analysed while they were ripe and delicious.

  19. Brilliant! That Ethene gas is nasty stuff though, I have to store my bananas from my other fruit, less I induce involuntary euthanasia (fruithanasia?)

  20. Reblogged this on Diana's Kitchen Laboratory and commented:
    This is certainly something to be wary of. Everything has chemicals in it, so keep that in mind next time you go grocery shopping. The trick is knowing what ingredient is naturally in the food product and what’s added and why. Don’t let those food advertisements scare you. If you ever have a question about any ingredients, post them to my questions page, and I’d be happy to explain.
    This article was popular enough to make it into one of my biochemistry lectures.

  21. You include ‘ash’ as one of the ingredients. Isn’t this a bit broad – not strictly an ingredient, more a category?
    (I suppose you mean this:)
    “ash that is reffered to on food packaging is pretty much what it sounds like: the inorganic material that remains after organic material is burnt up. But don’t be alarmed–it’s a measurement of non-organic mineral content, including calcium, phosphorous, zinc, iron, and other essential minerals.
    Ash has always been a useful by-product of fire, which burns everything with calories and leaves some portions of vitamin residue and all of the minerals behind. In fact, the FDA mandated a food composition test in which producers determine how much fat, carbohydrate, and protein is in a certain food by burning each organic element out of it at different temperatures. All that is left after a test like that is ash.”

  22. Reblogged this on abramovalex and commented:
    Признайтесь, никто из нас никогда не сможет создать такую “инфографику”, которая бы как эта, собрала 116 комментариев и около 4000 лайков! :)

  23. Now, when somebody says, “I won’t eat anything that has ingredients that I can’t pronounce,” I have the perfect reply. “Oh really? No bananas for you, then?”

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  25. Went into a natural food store the other day and listened to the owner tell us how her products were “free of chemicals”. I think I saw some smoke come out out of my biochemist girlfriend’s ears.

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