Also known as papaw or pawpaw, papayas are the fruit of the Carica papaya plant. They are native to Mexico and Central America, but this fruit is now grown in the tropical countries. A pear-shaped fruit with skin that turns from pale green to a bright orange-yellow as it ripens, a papaya fruit can grow from 6 inches to 20 inches, depending on the variety.
Papayas, when ripe, are slightly sweet and bear a vibrant color which makes them a popular ingredient in salads, pies, sherbets, and even juices. An unripe papaya, pale green in color, either has little to no flavor but is still popular with Asian cuisines. But other than its culinary properties, the papaya fruit is also known for its health benefits which will also be mentioned in this article.
The papaya fruit is a good source of vitamins A (in the form of carotenoids which act as an antioxidant) and C, folate and fiber. Furthermore, the fruit is fat-free, cholesterol-free and low in sodium.
A small papaya banana, weighing 140 grams, is packed with the following:
Papaya is a good source of vitamin A which is beneficial for healthy eyes and vision. Papaya also contains nutrients called lutein and zeaxanthin that provide protection against UV light that damage the eyes. An adequate supply of these nutrients can significantly lower the risk of the most common cause of blindness called thee macular degeneration.
Because of its high beta-carotene content, papaya can help in countering asthma. It helps reduce the lung inflammation or swelling that can lead to the said disease.
Antioxidants protect cells from free radical damage that is associated with cancer. Being rich in antioxidants, papaya may reduce cancer risk and perhaps even slow cancer progression.
Consuming an adequate amount of vitamin K, also present in papaya, improves the calcium absorption by our bodies so it can strengthen and rebuild bones.
Although papayas are generally sweet in taste when ripe, it has high fiber content and is very low in sugar which makes papaya a great choice for those who are diabetic.
Digestion problems are also aided by including papaya in the diet. Papain, an enzyme found in the juice of the unripe fruit, helps break down proteins, carbohydrates and fats. This is why papayas are widely used to aid indigestion. In addition, papayas are also good for tenderizing meat because of its papain content.
Papayas are rich in antioxidants such as Vitamin C, carotenes, folate, and pantothenic acid. This fruit is also abundant in potassium, copper, and magnesium. All of these nutrients work together to promote a healthy cardiovascular system. Among the most important dietary changes to lower the risk of cardiovascular disease is found here in this fruit - low sodium content and high level of potassium. Due to its fiber content, papayas are also known to lower cholesterol levels.
Papain is not only good for indigestion, but also for anti-inflammation. The antioxidants present in papaya such as beta-carotene and Vit-C also help in reducing inflammation. That is why diseases which are worsened by inflammation are reduced when aided by these nutrients.
Papayas can be used as an ointment by mashing it. It is known to be useful in healing wounds and preventing infection to surrounding areas. The enzymes papain and chymopapain are the ones responsible for this effect.
Our hair needs sebum so it stays moisturized and healthy. To produce sebum, vitamin A is a requirement. Aside from sebum production, Vitamin A is also important for the growth of all bodily tissues, including hair and skin. A sufficient amount of vitamin C, of which a medium-sized papaya provides more than twice the RDI, is necessary for the formation of collagen that provides the structure of our skin. Lycopene in papaya also helps in reducing signs of aging, such as wrinkling and sagging.
Semi-ripe or raw papayas contain latex, which may trigger latex allergy to those who have it.
If you have a latex allergy, you may or may not have reactions to the fruit as these reactions occur only in about 30-50% of people with latex allergy. To avoid allergic reactions, prevention is always the best route to go to.
Unripe papaya is also known to cause abortion as it stimulates uterine contractions.
Containing a rich source of nutrients, antioxidants, vitamins and enzymes that hold wonderful health benefits for the human body, the papaya fruit is certainly a superfood!