The Powerful Papaya
By Charna Sheinfeld, Nutrition Intern
When I think of papaya, its bright orange hue reminds me of the sunshine, which tells me that summer is on its way. How fitting is it then, that papaya, an early summer fruit, is the food of the month of June. These long sphere shaped fruits were dubbed “fruit of the angels” by Christopher Columbus. If you consider its buttery texture and silky sweet taste, you’ll understand why!
The bright orange color of papaya stems from its rich content of carotenes and other antioxidants. Papaya is also a powerhouse of nutrients such as the B vitamins, vitamin C, potassium, copper, magnesium, and fiber, all which combined contribute to heart health.
Vitamins C and carotenoids prevent the oxidation of cholesterol. When a buildup of oxidized cholesterol occurs, plaque forms in the walls of the arteries, which can eventually cause a heart attack or stroke. Papaya’s nutrients also promote digestive health and provide protection from colon cancer through the fiber’s ability to bind to cancer producing toxins in the colon. Papaya’s richness in vitamin C also has been found to play a role in boosting the immune system and protecting against rheumatoid arthritis.
Papaya is especially unique because it contains an enzyme called Papain. Because of its ability to act as an enzyme and break down proteins, papain is used in many areas, including, medicine, cosmetics, and even cooking! Papain is used in medicines that are helpful for reducing inflammation and pain, as well as fluid retention after surgery and trauma, and even in some treatments for tumors. Additionally, papain is used in the manufacturing of cosmetics, toothpaste, and even contact lenses. Moreover, it can even be used as a meat tenderizer, and has been the major ingredient in meat tenderizing powders in South America for thousands of years.
If you have not yet tried fresh papaya, it’s never too late! Eat it plain, or check out my two recipes below to use them in various dishes!