Claim: A Facebook user claimed that eating plantains and bananas with dark spots can cause cancer. He also said bananas or plantains with dark spots indicate a fruit forced to ripen with calcium carbide.
Verdict: MISLEADING. Rather than cause cancer, bananas and plantains contain nutrients that fight against cancer. It can only contribute to cancer if it is forced to ripen with toxic fertilisers or chemicals and consumed over time. Also, fact-checks have revealed that bananas and plantains with dark spots are not certain indicators of fruits artificially ripened with calcium carbide.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), one in six death cases is due to cancer globally. After cancer, only cardiovascular diseases hold a worse reputation (one in four). Nigeria, unfortunately, is among the African countries with cancer cases, battling 72,000 cancer-related deaths and 102,000 diagnoses annually, according to the National Cancer Control Plan.
A Facebook page, Eastern Pride, shared a video that lasted for three minutes and 15 seconds on Jan. 5, 2024. In the video, the narrator claimed that consuming bananas and plantains with dark spots can cause different kinds of cancer.
He said, “Lots of people have been suffering from cancer. Breast cancer, bone cancer, marrow cancer, lung cancer and many cancerous cases because of what we eat. If you see these types of bananas in the market [with dark spots], don’t buy it because it [breeds] future sickness.”
He urged his followers to avoid buying bananas and plantains with dark spots because it is a symptom of a fruit forced to ripen with calcium carbide. As of Jan. 21, 2024, the video has gotten 251 views, 22 reactions and three comments.
The novelty of the claim and its importance to Nigerians made the claim worth investigating for DUBAWA.
What research says about cancer
Alyssa Tatum, a clinical dietician, mentioned red and processed meats, alcohol, ultra-processed foods or drinks and edibles with artificial sweeteners as consumables that are ‘indirectly’ linked or can increase the possibility of cancer. However, she said that they cannot cause cancer unless consumed out of moderation.
“It’s not like if you had smoked meats last week at a barbeque that you’re going to have cancer now. It’s not necessarily that one-time exposure. It’s a repeated exposure over time, and that’s the concern, so just try to eat those in moderation,” she said.
Aside from these, dairy and overcooked or fried foods can also increase the risk of cancer because the methods used to make them can create carcinogens –an organism or agent capable of causing cancer by interacting with a cell’s DNA to produce mutation and create cancerous cells.
Oxidative stress can lead to cancer, and over the years, some fruits rich in anti-oxidants have been recommended. Bananas and plantains contain magnesium and vitamin E, nutrients that aid the fight against oxidative stress. The outer layer becoming darker is one sign that the fruit is ripening. When overripe, they are rich in antioxidants and tryptophan that reduce stress while helping to prevent cells from getting damaged.
Though with contrasting narratives, the myth about identifying bananas or plantains artificially ripened with calcium carbide has existed for ages. While the claimant in this report says bananas with dark spots mean it was forced to ripen, other claimants said bananas or plantain with green stalks imply an artificially ripened banana, like here in 2019 or here in 2021.
However, investigations on this claim revealed that the methods mentioned cannot be relied on when searching for naturally ripened bananas or plantain. Other fact-checks on similar claims can be seen on Full Fact, USA Today, Reuters and AFP Factcheck.
DUBAWA spoke with Temiloluwa Omotosho, a certified dietician and food nutritionist, on the prospect of an overripe banana causing cancer. She revealed that overripe bananas and plantains contain beneficial nutrients. She said, “The more a banana or plantain ripens, the more sugar contents in it. Cancer can only happen if the person has cancer genes.”
However, she revealed that cancer can only happen if the cancer gene is triggered by fruits forced to ripen with toxic chemicals or fertilisers. “The only situation that can lead to it is if a fruit is forced to ripen with harmful fertilisers or chemicals like carbide, and it is consumed continually,” she said.
Tessy Ahmadu, a clinical oncology and radiation consultant at the Federal Medical Centre, Jabi, also dispelled the claim, even though the glucose contents increase in overripe bananas or plantains. “Many people have likened glucose levels with cancer through many myths about the fact that cancer cells feed on glucose, which is where the claim comes from. But it is not a leading cause of cancer,” she said.
Ms Tessy mentioned the advantages of consuming overripe bananas and plantain. “They are rich in potassium and certain minerals like potassium and magnesium. They are also rich in glucose, which I said is probably why people connect it with cancer. But it does not sound true since it has not been proven scientifically,” she said.
Overripe bananas and plantains cannot cause cancer. A banana only becomes unhealthy when it shows signs of mould, leaks fluid, or smells rotten. Therefore, the claim that an overripe banana with dark spots causes cancer is misleading.