Power up with Papaya
Papaya (also called papaw/pawpaw) isn’t just a bright and exotic fruit. It's very beneficial for our health! Megan Ware, RDN, L.D., of Medical News Today says consuming papaya can help reduce the risk of heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. It can also aid in digestion, blood glucose control, lowering blood pressure, and healing wounds.
Papaya is native to Mexico but also grows naturally in the Caribbean and Florida. India is the largest producer of papayas. They are a very versatile fruit that can be added to salads, smoothies, sherberts, juices, and other dishes.
Papaya is able to benefit health because of the nutrients it contains: various vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals!
According to NutritionData, one raw medium-sized papaya has 119 calories that largely come from carbs (92 percent) and some protein and fats (8 percent). It contains 29.8 grams (g) of total carbs, 5.5 g of fiber, and 17.9 g of sugars. As for fats, it contains 0.1 g of saturated, monounsaturated, and polyunsaturated fat and 76 milligrams (mg) of omega-3 and 18.2 mg of omega-6 fatty acids.
Papaya also contains a good amount of vitamin A, vitamin C, and folate. Other vitamins it contains include vitamin E, vitamin K, thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, vitamin B6, pantothenic acid, and choline. It contains the minerals (from most to least) potassium, magnesium, calcium, phosphorus, selenium, iron, and zinc.
The National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements provides that vitamin A is involved in immune function, vision, reproduction, cellular communication, and maintenance of organs.
Vitamin C is needed for the biosynthesis of collagen, L-carnitine, certain neurotransmitters, protein metabolism, and immune function. It is also an antioxidant and can regenerate other antioxidants in the body. Vitamin C deficiency causes scurvy, which comes with fatigue, connective tissue weakness, and capillary fragility.
Folate is a B vitamin needed for single-carbon transfers in the synthesis of DNA and RNA and metabolism of amino acids. In fact, it acts as a coenzyme for many other reactions in the body. Symptoms of folate deficiency include megaloblastic anemia (when the bone marrow produces abnormal, immature red blood cells), weakness, fatigue, difficulty concentrating, irritability, headache, heart palpitations, shortness of breath, sore tongue, changes in pigmentation, and gastrointestinal issues.
Vitamin E contributes to various activities depending on its chemical form, but it does act as an antioxidant. It is an antioxidant because it protects cells from free radical damage. Free radicals contribute to a number of diseases. Vitamin E also stops the production of harmful reactive oxygen species when fat oxidizes. Vitamin E affects the immune system, cell signaling, regulating gene expression, and other processes.
Vitamin K is another nutrient the body needs to stay healthy. It plays a role in blood clotting, bone health, and other bodily functions. If you don’t get enough, you may experience bruising or bleeding problems. Vitamin K deficiency could also negatively affect bone strength and increase your risk of getting osteoporosis.
Thiamin, or vitamin B1, is needed for energy metabolism and the development and function of cells. Deficiency in this nutrient may come with weight loss, anorexia, confusion, memory loss, muscle weakness, and other symptoms. A condition called beriberi is the most common effect of thiamin deficiency. Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome is another common result of thiamin deficiency.
Riboflavin, or vitamin B2, is essential for certain enzymes that are involved in energy production, cellular function and development, and the metabolism of various substances. Although riboflavin deficiency is rare in the United States, it can cause endocrine abnormalities, skin disorders, excess blood, oral edema, hair loss, degeneration of the liver, and more.
The mineral potassium helps nerves function, muscles contract, regulate heartbeat, transport nutrients to cells, and maintain blood pressure. When you don’t get enough potassium, blood pressure can go up, kidney stones may develop, and you may become more sensitive to salt. Potassium deficiency can lead to hypokalemia, polyuria, encephalopathy, glucose intolerance, muscle paralysis, poor respiration, and more. Hypokalemia is when potassium levels in the blood are low and can come with symptoms like heart arrhythmia. Polyuria is when the body urinates large volumes frequently. Encephalopathy is a term for any disease of the brain that alters brain function or structure.
Magnesium plays a role in more than three-hundred enzyme systems. These enzyme systems are involved in numerous bodily processes such as protein synthesis, muscle and nerve function, blood glucose control, and blood pressure regulation. Magnesium is also needed for energy production, bone development, DNA and RNA synthesis, and the transportation of calcium and potassium.
Calcium builds bones and keeps them healthy while also helping blood clot, muscles contract, and the heart beat. If we don’t get enough calcium in our diets, our bodies will draw it from our bones! Calcium is used by nerves to carry messages from the brain and body parts, as well. Lack of calcium could eventually lead to low bone mass and increased risk of osteoporosis and bone fractures. Calcium could also help decrease the risk of cardiovascular disease, but supplements might increase risk. So make sure you are getting your calcium by eating the foods that contain it, and take your Balance of Nature!
Remember, always consume your vitamins by eating whole foods. Multivitamins aren’t nearly as effective or safe. Check out our helpful resource to read more about why.
Papaya also contains the phytochemicals alpha- and beta-carotene, lutein, zeaxanthin, and lycopene. Phytochemicals have antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, anticancer properties, and more!
Thanks to all the nutrients they contain, papayas may help protect against various health conditions including:
- Age-related macular degeneration
- Bone fractures
- Heart disease
- And more!
For instance, vitamin A and vitamin C help prevent the oxidation of cholesterol. This prevents build up on blood vessel walls and, therefore, lowers the risk of heart attacks and strokes. The fiber in papayas can aid in digestion and inhibit cancer-causing toxins in the colon. Folate, vitamin C, beta-carotene, and vitamin E have also been associated with reduced colon cancer risk. Papaya’s components also work together to reduce inflammation, help the immune system function properly, and protect against various conditions like macular degeneration and rheumatoid arthritis.
The enzyme papain combats cancer by breaking down the fibrin cancer cell wall and protein.
All the nutrients work together synergistically to make all these benefits possible.
Even a papaya’s seeds have health benefits! The Journal of Pharmacognosy and Phytochemistry says the seeds contain isothiocyanate, which works against leukemia as well as colon, lung, breast, and prostate cancer. The seeds also hold fatty acids, crude protein, crude fibre, papaya oil, carpaine, caricin, glucotropaeolin, benzyl glucosinolates, beta-sitostrol, and more. They have strong bactericidal activity and anthelmintic properties (treats infection with parasitic worms). Papaya seeds have been used as an antifertility agent in males, a counter irritant, treatment for ringworm, psoriasis, and more. However, some substances, such as carpaine and benzyl isothiocyanate, could have adverse effects. Be sure to discuss concerns with a health professional.
How to Prepare
If you want to try using papaya, you may not know where to start in preparing it. And if you’re familiar with papayas, you probably know they have a lot of seeds.
Darlene Schmidt, cookbook author and culinary teacher, explains that a papaya is ripe when its green skin starts turning yellow. You’ll need a larger knife to start cutting a papaya. Cut the papaya in half along the length of the fruit. Scrape out the seeds using a spoon after separating the two sides. You can save the seeds to season salads or other meals (they are similar to peppercorns). You can then dig into the fruit with a spoon or ice cream scoop to eat it, or slice it into wedges or cubes. We’ve heard a little lime makes it much tasiter.
You can also get the benefits of papaya by eating Balance of Nature Fruits!
The Last Bite
Papaya is yet another fruit that can supply our bodies with the nutrition and chemistry it needs to function properly. First of all, papayas contain many nutrients essential for life, and second of all, they contain extra nutrients called phytochemicals that act as antioxidants and can help protect us from developing various conditions and diseases such as cancer, macular degeneration, and digestive issues. Papaya can make a great addition to a smoothie or salad, or you can eat it as you would a melon. Balance of Nature Fruits also contain papaya.