Called by navigator Christopher Columbus as “the fruit of the angels,” papaya is the fruit of Carica papaya, a tropical plant that grows up to ten meters tall. The spherical or pear-shaped fruit grows up to 20 inches and changes color from green (unripe) to yellow or orange when ripe. The flesh of the fruit is orange with either pink or yellow hues. The seeds are aggregated at the center of the fruit and each of them has gelatinous covering. Although the seeds are edible, they are usually discarded because of bitter taste. The skin of the fruit is generally not consumed.
Papaya is a native plant of Central America but was introduced by Spanish and Portuguese navigators to many tropical lands to which they journeyed including the Philippines, Indonesia, India, Caribbean, and some parts of Africa. Today, the largest commercial producers of papaya are Puerto Rico, Mexico, and the United States.
Papaya is usually eaten ripe but it can be eaten raw. Unripe papaya (the one with green skin) can be used in making salad or in cooking. In the Philippines, unripe papaya is grated to make “atsara,” a vegetable salad with vinegar, black pepper, and sugar. It is traditionally served as appetizer. In the same country, unripe papaya is popularly used in chicken and pork soups.
Also called as papaw, paw paw, mamao, and tree melon, papaya is one of the most nutritious tropical fruits. Once considered as an exotic fruit, papaya rapidly gained popularity because of its amazing health benefits which are briefly discussed below.
Health Benefits of Papaya
Papaya> contains the digestive enzyme papain which aids in the digestion of protein. Before we absorb protein, it should be broken down into the smallest unit called amino acid. Papain is a protease that breaks meat (large protein) into tiny pieces called peptides and amino acids.
Papaya is rich in dietary fibers which help regulate bowel movement and prevent constipation. By absorbing toxins in the digestive tract, dietary fibers may help prevent colorectal cancer and other gastrointestinal diseases.
Another wonderful thing about papaya is it contains three very powerful antioxidants: Vitamin C, Vitamin E, and Vitamin A. These antioxidants prevent the oxidation of cholesterol, which will only stick in blood vessels and become plaques when oxidized. Cholesterol plaques in the inner linings of blood vessels can cause heart attacks or strokes.
The antioxidants also get rid of free radicals in the body. Free radicals are unstable reactive compounds that damage cells and cause cancer, neurodegenerative disorders, premature aging, and other diseases.
Papaya is a great source of folic acid, a B vitamin needed to breakdown homocysteine, a harmful amino acid that damages blood vessels. An elevated level of homocysteine in the blood is a significant risk factor for heart attack and stroke.
The Vitamin C and Vitamin E which we can get from eating papaya boost our immune system to help our body fight infection and cancer.
The carotenoids in papaya including lutein and beta-carotene are helpful in maintaining the health of our eyes. These carotenoids act as antioxidants to prevent eye disease like macular degeneration, the primary cause of vision loss in older adults.
Studies show that increasing consumption of fruits rich in Vitamin C like papaya gives a person protection against rheumatoid arthritis.
Papaya can also prevent emphysema in smokers. Smoking reduces Vitamin A in the body as this vitamin is involved in the detoxification of toxins found in cigarette smoke like benzo(a)pyrene. When the body of smokers is deficient with Vitamin A, they tend to develop lung inflammation or emphysema. Smokers should increase their consumption of Vitamin A rich foods like papaya to prevent emphysema and other lung diseases.
Like tomato, papaya is also rich in lycopene, a compound that protects the body against prostate cancer, the second most common cancer in men. It has been found in cancer studies that men who frequently consume fruits and vegetables rich in lycopene are 82% less likely to develop prostate cancer compared to those consuming the least lycopene-rich foods.
Papaya, indeed, is packed with nutrients that are amazingly beneficial to our body. Eating papaya regularly can protect our body against many diseases that cause sufferings to millions of people today.
- Papaya – WHFoods – The George Mateljan Foundation
- Papaya Fruit Facts – Californa Rare Fruit Growers, Inc.