Foods For Depression: One Surprising Reason to Save Your Banana Peels

Friday, April 25, 2014 by Meg   •   Filed under Depression

Do you eat bananas? Don't toss your peels! 

Maybe it's the conservationist in me, or maybe I am just frugal...if frugal means cheap as hell. It's probably both of those that led me to discover the fact that banana peels can be amazing for mental health. 

Food, Serotonin and Natural Prozac

While bananas have things like potassium and magnesium--both of which play an important role in mental health--the high concentrations of tryptophan in banana skins may play an even more important role in depression, specifically because tryptophan is the chemical humans use to synthesize serotonin.

Serotonin is often referred to as the "happy chemical" in the brain, and those with depressive symptoms usually have lower levels of serotonin available. Low serotonin alters mood, sleep regulation and appetite just to name a few. Drugs such as Prozac work by increasing the concentration of serotonin in the brain and providing a restorative effect for neurotransmitters. 

While there has been some controversy in recent years about whether chemicals from food can pass the blood-brain barrier to effectively regulate mood, recent research suggests that some foods do have antidepressant effects. However, whether this occurs because certain foods actually increase serotonin, or because they contribute to the functioning of neurotransmitters in other ways, remains unclear, and the effects may be dependent on the overall functioning of the system. 

Banana Peels as Antidepressants

Prescription for Nutritional Healing author Phyllis Balch reports that while the banana may have some tryptophan for a serotonin boost, the peel has much higher levels1. This may explain why Taiwanese research cited by Balch found banana peels to be an effective treatment for depression either juiced or steeped in hot water. Other research on banana peel extract has found similar antidepressant effects2.

However, banana peels should be used as a supplement, not as a stand alone treatment for major depression.

While using food to treat mental health symptoms may depend on the severity of the condition and other health factors, trying something like banana peel tea has little downside unless you are allergic to bananas. Even if the effects are too subtle for your liking, banana peel tea is still a delicious--and frugal--way to close out the evening. 

Want to drink your worries away? Try this:

How to Make Banana Peel Tea

While you can toss the whole banana peel right into the blender with a smoothie or eat it along with the fruit, banana peel tea may be a little more palatable. It's warm and calming, probably both from the general comfort of a hot cup of tea and the extra health benefits you're getting out of it.

Here's what you do:

  1. Eat the bananas. (Duh.) I usually toss the peels into a bag in the freezer until I have a big batch to do all at once. If you're impatient, you could do it the other way and peel the bananas and freeze the fruit for smoothies or banana ice cream.
  2. Dry them out. If you have a dehydrator, just lay the peels out on the rack and let the machine do the work. If you just have an oven like I do, turn it on low (around 200 degrees Fahrenheit). Then, lay the peels on metal wire cookie sheets in single layers so they cook evenly. 
  3. Flip them. I turn mine when the tops start getting black, usually after 45 minutes or so in. 
  4. Wait another half an hour to an hour depending on your oven. When the peels are black and crispy all over, take them out to cool. 
  5. Crunch the dried peels up for storage. Once they cool, I stuff them in mason jars a few at a time and smash the shit out of them with the handle of a wooden spoon. Some days, nothing says "stress relief" like annihilation, particularly before the banana peel tea is ready. You can also toss the peels into a blender or coffee grinder for a finer powder so you can add the powder itself to something like smoothies.

Now you're ready to make the tea! 

6. Heat the water to boiling.

7. Put the prepared peels in the water. I have a mesh container for the crushed peels, like a reusable tea bag. This one works well because it's big enough for peels that didn't get crushed all the way. If you do not have something like this available, you can use a coffee filter, though you may have to pour the water through it a few times to get the most out of the peels. You can also toss a few heaping spoonfuls right into your cup and strain them later, or grind it finer and drink the whole damn thing. 

8. Add other things according to your taste. Steep a few cinnamon sticks or whole cloves, nutmeg, ginger root or raw coconut. I enjoy this tea with cinnamon, turmeric or some pumpkin pie spice, and a splash of raw milk or coconut oil. The milk and its added tryptophan content is great before bed, while coconut oil is amazing for you...well...anytime.  

9. Enjoy!  

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Topic-Relevant Resources

Prescription for Nutritional Healing
Guide to natural health practices

Against Depression
Detailed explanations of the systems involved in depression along with personal stories of success from psychiatrist Peter Kramer.

Gut and Psychology Syndrome: Natural Treatment for Autism, Dyspraxia, A.D.D., Dyslexia, A.D.H.D., Depression, Schizophrenia
An additional piece to the puzzle for those suffering from allergies and certain types of neurological issues. Food matters for mental health. This helps to explain some of those processes.

Fat Chance: Beating the Odds Against Sugar, Processed Food, Obesity, and Disease
A look at the effects of processed food on the brain.

Nourishing Traditions: The Cookbook that Challenges Politically Correct Nutrition and the Diet Dictocrats
Great book on nutrition that includes old world recipes to get back to basics

Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us
An in depth look at how the food industry alters physical and emotional health through advertising and addictive substances.