Papaya: The Delicious Powerhouse Fruit that Can Help Prevent Heart Disease, Cancer
© 2023 Health Realizations, Inc. Update
Papaya is a sweet, tropical fruit that originated in Central America. Today, though, its popularity has made it easily accessible throughout the United States (which, along with Mexico and Puerto Rico, is now one of the biggest commercial producers of the fruit).
Aside from bringing a delectable taste of the tropics to your table, papayas are one of the healthiest fruits out there. They're rich in vitamin C (one serving will give you close to a three-day supply!), folate, potassium, fiber, and vitamins A, E and K, along with antioxidant flavonoids.
Papaya's peak season is early summer and fall, so right now is an ideal time to enjoy this nourishing fruit. Plan ahead to maximize this heart health food in this years meals.
Top Health Benefits of Papaya
Why eat papaya? It's delicious, refreshing and will support your health in the following ways.
1. Promote Good Digestion
Perhaps the most well-known benefit of papaya is its digestive support. Papaya, particularly the skin and the unripe, green varieties, contains the enzyme papain, which helps digest proteins. (Papain is often used to make digestive enzyme dietary supplements as well.)
Papaya also contains nutrients, such as fiber and folate, which are known to help prevent colon cancer. Its fiber, for instance, helps bind with and rid your body of cancer-causing toxins in your colon.
2. Fight Heart Disease
The nutrients in papaya help prevent the oxidation of cholesterol in your body. This is important because when cholesterol becomes oxidized it can stick to your blood vessel walls, leading to plaque that can cause heart attacks and strokes.
3. Anti-Inflammatory Properties
The enzymes in papaya are known to lower inflammation in your body. This is effect is particularly beneficial for people with asthma, osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis or burns.
4. Support Your Immune System
Because papaya is so rich in vitamins A and C, it is an excellent fruit to eat to keep your immune system functioning properly.
5. Protect Your Eyes and Lungs
Eating fruit like papaya has been found to protect against macular degeneration, the most common cause of vision loss among the elderly, along with promoting lung health (particularly if you're exposed to a lot of secondhand smoke).
6. Fight Prostate Cancer
Papaya is rich in lycopene, which is known to prevent damage to DNA and fight prostate cancer. In fact, studies have shown that men who eat the most lycopene-rich fruits and vegetables (including tomatoes, apricots, pink grapefruit, watermelon, papaya, and guava) were 82 percent less likely to have prostate cancer than those who ate the least.
Papaya is so rich in nutrients that its benefits do not end there. Other pluses to eating this powerhouse fruit include:
It's good for you skin, hair and nails
When applied to your skin, it may fade freckles
The folate it contains may prevent anemia
The skin can be used as an external treatment for wounds or areas that will not heal quickly
You can apply papaya to your skin to relieve the itch and irritation from mosquito bites
How to Choose, and Eat, Papayas
If you're not yet familiar with this tropical fruit, look for a papaya that's soft with red-orange skin. You can choose a fruit with yellow skin, but be aware that it will take a few days to become fully ripe (to hasten ripening, put the papaya in a brown paper bag with a banana). For the best flavor, eat the papaya as soon as it's ripe.
Both the flesh and the seeds of papaya are edible. The seeds have a peppery flavor and are excellent sprinkled on salads, or blended into salad dressings.
The fruit itself can be eaten alone (try it with a squeeze of lemon or lime juice to enhance its flavor), in fruit or green salads or even cooked. For something different, try out these two unique papaya recipes; they're simply delicious!
Roasted Papaya With Brown Sugar
- 2 tablespoons light-brown sugar
- 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
- 2 medium Solo papayas (14 ounces each), halved lengthwise and seeded
- 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 1 lime, cut into 4 wedges
- Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Stir together sugar and ginger in a small bowl. Arrange papaya halves, cut sides up, in a 10-by-13-inch baking dish. Sprinkle sugar mixture evenly over halves.
- Bake, brushing papaya edges with melted sugar mixture (it will collect in well of fruit) 2 or 3 times, until mixture is bubbling and papaya edges are beginning to darken, 35 to 40 minutes.
- Sprinkle each serving with a pinch of cayenne. Serve with lime wedges.
Spicy Papaya-Carrot Salsa
- 1 small chayote, peeled, seeded, and cut into 1/4-inch dice
- 2 medium carrots, peeled and cut into 1/4-inch dice
- 2 1/2 cups papaya (Solo or Mexican) chunks (1/2 inch)
- 1/3 cup distilled white vinegar
- 1 or 2 fresh Scotch bonnet chiles, thinly sliced
- 1 teaspoon light-brown sugar
- 1 teaspoon coarse salt
Bring 3/4 cup water, the chayote, and carrots to a boil in a medium saucepan. Add papaya, vinegar, chiles, sugar, and salt. Return to a boil. Reduce heat; simmer, partially covered, until chayote and carrots are tender, 20 to 25 minutes.
Remove from heat. Process one-third of mixture in a food processor; return to saucepan, and stir to combine. Salsa can be refrigerated up to 2 weeks; serve warm, cold, or at room temperature.
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