Papayas are a large sweet seeded fruit that grow in tropical climates but are usually available year round in most developed countries. Papayas are native to Central America and have been long revered by the Latin American Indians. On their journeys, Spanish and Portuguese explorers brought papayas to many other subtropical lands. Christopher Columbus called papaya, “the fruit of the angels”. Papaya was introduced to the United States in the 20th century, and they have been cultivated in Hawaii, the major U.S. producer since the 1920s. Today, the largest commercial producers of papayas include the United States, Mexico and Puerto Rico.
If you happen to visit the island of Cuba, you don’t want to say the word “papaya”, cause if you do, you’ll be referring to the female reproductive organ (in a not very nice way). So if you go to Havana and want some for breakfast, you need to ask for “Fruta Bomba” (bomb fruit); that is how they call it down there.
Eating papaya may help reduce the risk of diabetes, heart disease, cancer, digestive disorders, obesity, rheumatoid arthritis and macular degeneration. Papaya helps lower blood pressure, and improves wound healing and is considered to be a superfood.
There are many diseases in which slow healing is a problem, particularly diabetes, but other chronic disease processes such as heart disease, anemia, immune deficiency diseases and hepatitis can affect healing. Age may also be a factor as older people tend to have thin skin which heals poorly.
People who eat papaya not only have improved health, they have better skin. Papaya can be used topically. Some people use papaya as a facial mask to improve the appearance of skin and pores and on their hair to reduce oils. Mashed papaya appears to be beneficial for promoting wound healing and preventing infection of burned areas. The enzymes chymopapain and papain in papaya have been used medicinally. Ointments containing the papain enzyme are been used to treat decubitus ulcers or bedsores.
Important nutrients in papaya:
Vitamin A – Vitamin A is an antioxidant that prevents night blindness and other eye problems, as well as some skin disorders such as acne. This vitamin is necessary for healing and immunity, the formation of teeth and bones, aids in fat storage and protects against colds, influenza and infections. A deficiency of Vitamin A has been linked to migraine headaches. Vitamin A also keeps skin and hair moist.
Vitamin C – Papayas are high in Vitamin C and provide 224% of the recommended daily requirement (RDA). A higher intake of vitamin C helps protect the body against oxidative stress, builds collagen, and is one nutrient that is essential in wound healing.
Vitamin E – Vitamin E is an anti-oxidant and is important in the prevention of cancer and cardiovascular disease. It is important for normal tissue repair, healthy skin and hair and helps prevent cellular damage by inhibiting the inflammatory processed caused by free radicals.
Vitamin K – Vitamin K plays a key role in helping the blood clot and preventing excessive bleeding. This nutrient may also prevent osteoporosis by helping to improve calcium absorption and urinary excretion of calcium which may help prevent kidney stones. Low intakes of vitamin K have been associated with a higher risk for bone fracture.
B Vitamins – B vitamins are water-soluble vitamins that play important roles in cell metabolism and nerve health.
Beta-carotene – Papayas contain beta-carotene which may help prevent asthma as well as cancer, including colon and prostate cancer. Other foods high in this nutrient are apricots, broccoli, cantaloupe, pumpkin and carrots.
Calcium – Calcium is necessary for the formation and growth of bones, teeth and for the maintenance of healthy gums. Cardiovascular effects include regulation of the heart. Calcium is necessary for muscles and nerves to function correctly.
Choline – Choline is similar to the B vitamins. It can be made in the liver. It is also found in foods such as liver, muscle meats, fish, nuts, beans, peas, spinach, wheat germ, eggs and papaya. Choline is used for liver disease, including chronic hepatitis and cirrhosis. It is also used for depression, memory loss, Alzheimer’s disease and dementia, Huntington’s chorea, Tourette’s disease, a brain disorder called cerebellar ataxia, certain types of seizures, and a mental condition called schizophrenia. Athletes use it for bodybuilding and delaying fatigue in endurance sports. Choline is taken by pregnant women to prevent neural tube defects in their babies and it is used as a supplement in infant formulas. Other uses include preventing cancer, lowering cholesterol, and controlling asthma. Getting enough choline can improve sleep, muscle movement, learning and memory. Choline also helps to maintain the structure of cellular membranes, aids in the transmission of nerve impulses, assists in the absorption of fat and reduces chronic inflammation.
Copper – Copper aids in the formation of bone, hemoglobin and red blood cells and is important for healthy nerves and joints. Copper is essential in the formation of collagen and elastin as well as being involved in the healing process. One of the first sign of copper deficiency is osteoporosis.
Fiber – Papaya is high in fiber and water content, both of which help to prevent constipation and promote regularity and a healthy digestive tract. Studies have shown that type 1 diabetics who consume high-fiber diets have lower blood glucose levels and type 2 diabetics may have improved blood sugar, lipids and insulin levels. One medium papaya provides about 4.7 grams of fiber. The fiber, potassium and vitamin content in papaya all help to ward off heart disease. An increase in potassium intake along with a decrease in sodium intake is the most important dietary change that a person can make to reduce their risk of cardiovascular disease.
Folate – Folate or folic acid is “brain food” and is highly important in the formation of red blood cells and is needed for energy production and the regulation of amino acids. Folic acid may help depression and anxiety. A deficiency in folic acid can lead to severe birth defects.
Lutein – Lutein is a carotenoid and anti-oxidant that has a protective effect in the retina against free radical damage by the harmful effects of blue light. It is being researched as a possible anti-cancer nutrient. In 2007, in a six-year study, John Paul SanGiovanni of the National Eye Institute, Maryland found that lutein and zeaxanthin (nutrients in eggs, spinach and other green vegetables such a limu moui a type of brown seaweed) protect against blindness (macular degeneration), affecting 1.2 million Americans, mostly after age 65. Lutein and zeaxanthin as well as fucoidan reduce the risk of age-related macular degeneration (AMD).
Lycopene – Lycopene is a nutrient in papaya but is higher in tomatoes. This nutrient is used in preventing heart disease, “hardening of the arteries” (atherosclerosis); and cancer of the prostate, breast, lung, bladder, ovaries, colon, and pancreas. Lycopene is also used for treating human papilloma virus (HPV) infection, which is a major cause of uterine cancer. Some people also use lycopene for cataracts and asthma.
Magnesium – Magnesium is a vital catalyst for enzyme activity and energy production and also protects the arterial linings from the destructive effects of stress as well as assisting in the uptake of calcium and potassium. With Vitamin B-6 Magnesium helps prevent and and dissolve calcium phosphate kidney stones. A deficiency can be manifested in symptoms of confusion, insomnia, irritability, poor digestion, rapid heart rate, seizures and symptoms of diabetes. Magnesium is helpful in the prevention of cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis, certain forms of cancer and may reduce cholesterol levels.
Pantothenic acid – also known as vitamin B5 – is a water-soluble vitamin that is a precursor in the synthesis of coenzyme A which is essential to many biochemical reactions that sustain life and required for the biological activity of several proteins and fatty acid synthesis.
Chymopapain – According to research, the enzymes chymopapain and papain are beneficial to the skin as well as internal health. Papaya can be used topically. Some people use papaya as a facial mask to improve the appearance of skin and pores or on wounds to promote wound healing and prevent. It can be particularly beneficial in burns. Ointments containing the papain enzyme have also been used to treat decubitus ulcers or bedsores.
Papain – Papain is an enzyme in papaya that aids in digestion and can even help rid the body of parasitic worms. This enyzyme can reduce pain and swelling (inflammation) as well as fluid retention following trauma and surgery or in illnesses such as inflammation of the throat and pharynx, shingles (herpeszoster) symptoms, ongoing diarrhea, hay fever, runny nose, and a skin condition called psoriasis. Papain is also used along with conventional treatments for tumors. In cooking it is used as a meat tenderizer.
Potassium – Potassium is needed for a healthy nervous system, electrochemical impulses and a regular heart rhythm. Potassium helps prevent stroke, aids in proper muscle contraction and works with sodium to control the balance of water in the body and helps maintain normal blood pressure.
Zeaxanthin – Zeaxanthin is another antioxidant found in papaya which may prevent macular degeneration and helps filter out harmful blue light rays. Studies show that people who eat 3 or more servings of fruit have a lower risk of macular degeneration as well as other age related illnesses.
If you’re not eating papaya you should. A word of caution, if you are allergic to latex you might be allergic or sensitive to papaya. Try a small amount just to be sure. Papaya is delicious in sauces, chutney, fruit salads, shakes, and as a stand-alone fruit. It is important to note that eating it raw preserves the nutrients and enzymes.
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