Papaya contains an enzyme called papain, which can break down the tough protein chains found in muscle meat. Because of this, people have used papaya to tenderize meat for thousands of years.
If the papaya is ripe, it can be eaten raw. Especially during pregnancy, unripe papaya should be cooked before consuming. The unripe fruit is high in latex, which can stimulate contractions.
Papayas are shaped similar to pears and can be up to 20 inches long. The skin is green when unripe and orange when ripe and the flesh is yellow, orange or red. The fruit also has many black seeds, which are edible but bitter.
One small papaya contains:
- Calories: 59
- Carbohydrates: 15 grams
- Fiber: 3 grams
- Protein: 1 gram
- Vitamin C: 157% of the RDI
- Vitamin A: 33% of the RDI
- Folate (vitamin B9): 14% of the RDI
- Potassium: 11% of the RDI
- Trace amounts of calcium, magnesium and vitamins B1, B3, B5, E and K.
Papayas also contain healthy antioxidants known as carotenoids, particularly one type called lycopene. Your body absorbs these antioxidants better from papayas than other fruits and vegetables. Research suggests that the lycopene in papaya can reduce your cancer risk. It may also be beneficial for people who are being treated for cancer. Papaya may work by reducing free radicals that contribute to cancer.
Among 14 fruits and vegetables with known antioxidant properties, only papaya demonstrated anticancer activity in breast cancer cells. In a small study in older adults with inflammation and precancerous stomach conditions, a fermented papaya preparation reduced oxidative damage.
Studies show that fruits high in lycopene and vitamin C may help prevent heart disease. The antioxidants in papaya may protect your heart and enhance the protective effects of “good” HDL cholesterol. In one study, people who took a fermented papaya supplement for 14 weeks had less inflammation and a better ratio of “bad” LDL to “good” HDL than people given a placebo.
People in the tropics consider papaya to be a remedy for constipation and other symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). In one study, people who took a papaya-based formula for 40 days had significant improvement in constipation and bloating. The seeds, leaves and roots have also been shown to treat ulcers in animals and humans