The Weird Reason Some Kids Were Told To Eat 200 Bananas A Week

According to the Mayo Clinic, celiac disease is an autoimmune disease that is triggered by gluten. Found in wheat, barley, and rye, this group of proteins attacks the small intestine and can ultimately cause malabsorption, anemia, and other severe health problems (via Healthline). Per Beyond Celiac, 1 in 133 Americans suffers from this ailment, with numbers on the rise. Although there is no current cure, it is now known that eating a gluten-free diet can help control the symptoms and boost healing for the small intestine (per WebMD). However, this was not always the case.

Back in the 1920s, NPR states that the cause of celiac disease was a mystery, and 30% of children who had it died. In 1924, Dr. Sidney Haas came up with a treatment plan for those suffering from celiac disease — one that involved eating a whopping 200 bananas a week. Beyond Celiac reports that patients (who were mostly children), were prescribed to eat plenty of bananas a day along with dairy, meats, and vegetables. Because the diet cut out wheat and was high in calories, it worked. These children, known as the "banana babies” eventually recovered and were thought to have simply outgrown the disease (via Gluten-Free Living). Of course, that was wrong.

The banana babies later suffered health consequences

NPR reports that Haas came up with the banana diet after he noted that people from Puerto Rico who ate bananas did not suffer from celiac disease, unlike those from other regions who primarily ate bread. For one reason or another, Haas did not make the connection that it was perhaps not the bananas, but something in the bread (like wheat) causing the illness. Nevertheless, people went bananas over the diet and Haas eventually treated over 600 people. The trouble began when wheat was reintroduced into the patient's diet because they thought they no longer had celiac disease (via Beyond Celiac).

According to Celiac, this mistake led to long-term issues for sufferers of the disease. The symptoms returned and with a vengeance. Lindy Redmond, a former banana baby, thought she was cured and continued to eat wheat throughout her life. It was only until she was 66 that Redmond learned her small intestine was severely damaged and that she indeed still had the disease. She believes that her chronic colds, miscarriages, and other ailments throughout her life were caused by untreated celiac disease. Per Slate, it wasn't until Dutch pediatrician Willem Dicke proved that bananas were nothing but a fruit that the diet fell out of fashion. He later pioneered the gluten-free diet, the only known treatment for celiac disease.