Papaya, a fruit native to tropical America, is unrivaled by any other fruit except the mango for its beta-carotene content. This is the plant form of vitamin A. Beta-carotene is a special vitamin which gives papaya its orange colour and has powerful antioxidant properties.
It helps in preventing damage by free radicals which might other wise lead to some forms of cancer, heart disease, cataract and premature ageing. Eating papaya can also help prevent blindness caused by a deficiency in vitamin A. (This is the most common cause of blindness in India.) However, if eaten in excess, it can cause the yellowing of palms and skin known as carotenemia. Raw papaya contains no beta- carotene. Half a medium-sized fruit will provide an adult’s daily requirement of vitamin C as well as supply small amounts of calcium and iron. Raw papaya contains large amounts of vitamin C.
The fruit is also known to have laxative properties because of its mucilageneous fibre. Contrary to popular belief, pregnant women need not avoid papaya for the fear of miscarriages. Rather it is a unique, wholesome and easily digestible fruit. What’s more is that papaya is an excellent choice for those suffering from digestive ailments, dyspeptic patients and convalescing individuals. Being low on calories, high on fibre and water content, as well as high on nutrition, it makes for wholesome eating with high satiety for weight watchers.
Raw papaya is a rich source of papain which is plant pepsin (an enzyme produced in animals to digest protein). Papain is capable of digesting protein in acid, alkaline or neutral mediums while animal pepsin
requires an acidic medium. Because of this property, raw papaya is used to tenderise meats and is widely used by the food industry as a tenderiser. In some preliminary research, patients with coeliac disease, who could not digest wheat protein (gluten), have had benefits when treated with papain. However, many more clinical trials would be needed to justify its use in coeliac disease.
Papain also exhibits pain relieving properties, and the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved its medical use in spinal injections in order to ease the discomfort of slipped discs. Juice of green, raw papaya is also used externally to improve complexion and treat skin blemishes. Some studies also suggest anti-candida effects (fungal infection) and anti-bacterial effects. These may aid the
treatment of a candida infection and in wound healing and ulcer treatment. A recent study published in Journal of Medicinal Food found that papain has anti-ulcer properties too. The papain extracts significantly reduced the ulcer index in the experimental model.
Scientists have found that the black seeds of papaya contain, in traces, a toxic substance called carpine. Carpine in large quantities is said to lower the pulse rate and depress the nervous system. The substance is found only in papaya seeds and that too in very small quantities. Fortunately though, the fleshy part of the fruit is completely free from this toxic substance.
Some varieties remain green when ripe, but most turn deep yellow or orange. When buying, choose uniformly yellow fruit with a delicate scent. Papaya is excellent when fresh, in fruit salads, smoothies or served with ice cream. Papaya is also enjoyable when finely chopped and served with chopped fresh chilies in a salsa dip.