Properties and Benefits of Papaya: Today I am excited to talk to you about papaya, or the fruit of the angels, as Christopher Columbus himself is said to have named it. Papaya, papaw or pawpaw is an extremely rich source of nutrients such as carotene, vitamin C, flavonoids, B vitamins and minerals. Due to its high antioxidant content, papaya is said to increase life expectancy, if consumed regularly. In addition to this, it can significantly reduce the health risks of cigarette smoking and prevent smoking related diseases such as emphysema and lung cancer.
Papaya extracts are also used in the cosmetic industry and marketed in anti-aging products. The fruit stands out thanks to its generous content of vitamins A and C, both of which are important for a strong immune system, skin health and good eyesight. It also contains small amounts of potassium, a nutrient of crucial importance for cardiovascular health.
Papaya is the fruit of the papaya tree (Carica papaya). Papayas have a slightly elongated shape and bright-yellow or orange flesh, depending on the variety. When ripening, the fruit changes its skin color from deep green to bright yellow. The seeds are enclosed in a jelly-like substance in the hollow middle of the papaya fruit. Both the flesh of the fruit and its seeds are edible. While the seeds of the fruit are bitter and strong-flavored, the beautiful, brightly colored skin is soft and sweet, with a tropical aroma.
When ripe, papayas are best consumed raw, in a delicious, fragrant fruit salad or alongside chopped onions and grilled or boiled chicken breast. For extra flavor, you can add some hazelnuts, walnuts or even sesame seeds, poppy seeds or sunflower seeds. Unripe, green papaya contains papain, a special enzyme which breaks down proteins. Similarly, pineapple contains bromelain, an enzyme with a similar function.
For healthy people, eating green papayas after a heavy meal can help the stomach digest proteins more easily. Due to its papain content, papaya can be used as a natural remedy for slow digestion. As a cooking aid, green papays can be used as a meat tenderizer in marinades. Remember: papain is largely found in the neck of the papaya fruit (as well as in the latex obtained from the papaya tree).
Papayas are a great source of carotenoids. Both the bright yellow and orange flesh of the papaya fruit contain lutein and zeaxanthin, vitamin A precursors with potent antioxidant effects. Both lutein and zeaxanthin protect the human retina from free radicals found in light waves. In addition to this, papayas contain beta-carotene.
All three vitamin A precursors found in ripe papaya help prevent macular degeneration associated with old age. Macular degeneration is the partial of total loss of central vision caused by a damaged retina. Because of their antioxidant properties, carotenoids found in papaya are believed to play an important part in the prevention of cancer.
According to a study conducted at Kansas State University, papaya can increase the life expectancy of smokers as well as passive smokers. Professor Richard Baybutt studied the relationship between vitamin A, lung inflammation and emphysema and made a surprising discovery: benzo(a)pyrene, a common carcinogen found in cigarette smoke, causes vitamin A deficiency in both first-hand smokers and in second-hand smokers.
Vitamin A appears to have a powerful protective effect on the lungs and this may help explain why some smokers never develop emphysema, a progressive lung diseases that causes difficult breathing.
There are people who take up smoking from a very early age (even 12-13 years old) and live to be 90 years old. Why? The answer might be that, for some people, a diet rich in vitamin A can prevent smoking-related diseases. If you smoke or are exposed to cigarette smoke, make sure your diet supplies you with sufficient vitamin A, which will lower the risk of developing dangerous smoking-related diseases such as emphysema and lung cancer. This applies if you work with coal tar as well, because benzo(a)pyrene can be found in coal tar as well.
A good diet should include vitamin A-rich foods such as red chili peppers, spinach, cabbage, carrots, sweet potatoes, cantaloupe, mango, papaya and red bell peppers. Most of these fruit and vegetables, papaya included, are available all year round in most countries all over the world.
Papayas boast even more amazing health benefits: for instance, 100 g of fresh papaya can supply us with around 100% of the RDI of vitamin C. Among other things, vitamin C promotes the production of collagen, a structural protein which keeps us looking young and beautiful. In addition to this, a regular consumption of vitamin C-rich papaya can strengthen our immune system naturally and ensure it responds better and quicker to bacterial threats.
Moreover, papaya is believed to have antifungal properties due to an antimicrobial substance synthesized by the fruit itself. Interesting enough, both the papaya fruit and its leaves are used as a traditional treatment against malaria (and other fever-causing infections). Though the mechanism is not very clear yet, papaya is believed to stimulate the immune system by raising thrombocyte levels in the blood.
Papaya can be eaten fresh, added to stews or made into jams (due to a high pectin concentration naturally found in the fruit). In traditional Asian cuisine, the leaves and the flowers are also used for cooking and make savory dishes such as steamed papaya leaves or deep fried papaya flowers. The seeds of the fruit are also edible and boast great health benefits themselves. Because they have a strong, spicy flavor, you can grind papaya seeds and use them as a replacement for pepper.
Very important: pregnant women should avoid eating papaya in large quantities, especially if it is unripe. Green papaya can cause uterine contractions and may provoke miscarriages. Traditionally, green papaya was used as a method of inducing abortion and even as a natural contraceptive. Special compounds found in green papaya and papaya seeds are believed to have potent contraceptive effects and may act similar to modern contraceptive pills, suppressing the action of certain hormones.
Overall, papayas appear to have many positive effects on human health and consumption is encouraged. If you feel eating the fruit alone may be a bit dull, you can always mix it with other fruits of your liking and add some cashews or hazelnuts for a crunchier texture. Additionally, you can make a delicious papaya and carrot juice which is sure to be a hit.