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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, August 17, 2006

Eat nutritious papaya during any meal

By Amy Tousman

Papaya is plentiful in Hawai'i and provides health benefits like vitamins A and C, potassium, folate and fiber. It is also low in calories.

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Q. Does eating papaya for breakfast provide any special health benefits?

A. Lucky we live Hawai'i. Papaya, widely grown in the Islands, is a fruit we can enjoy fresh anytime.

Low in calories and full of nutrition, papaya has more vitamin C than an orange! It's loaded with vitamin A, potassium, folate and fiber. It also contains lutein and zeaxanthin, substances which help protect our eyes from age-related blindness.

Papain, a substance in the sap of the papaya, has medicinal uses. Papain is especially plentiful in unripe papaya. Smaller amounts of papain are found in the leaves and ripe fruit.

Papain has been used for centuries to treat worms and parasites, especially tapeworms. Historically, it also was applied to the skin to treat psoriasis and to remove warts.

Papaya is often used as a digestive aid, because the papain it contains is an enzyme that helps digest proteins. Papain supplements also are commercially available.

Papain, combined with other digestive enzymes, is prescribed for folks with cystic fibrosis or diseases of the pancreas. These conditions interfere with the body's natural ability to make digestive enzymes. Papain also offers relief for less-serious digestive problems such as indigestion and bloating.

There can be risks in ingesting papain. Papain supplements and green papayas may increase the risk of miscarriage. Pregnant woman should only use them under medical supervision.

Ripe papaya is safe to eat during pregnancy.

Papain supplements shouldn't be used with medications that affect blood clotting such as Coumadin, Warfarin, or Heparin. This combination can cause uncontrolled bleeding.

Papain is an ingredient in most commercial meat tenderizers. When added to tough meat before cooking, it works by predigesting some of the fibrous animal protein.

Current research suggests papaya has antibacterial properties that may help heal injuries and reduce swelling after surgery. Papaya leaves can be made into a tea to relieve respiratory symptoms.

Papain is being studied for possible relief of cancer therapy side effects and rheumatoid arthritis. More study is needed before recommending papain for these uses.

Some folks who are allergic to latex have an allergic reaction to papayas. Latex is made from the sap of the rubber tree. A cross-reaction can occur due to similarities in the proteins in the sap of the rubber tree and that of papayas.

Eating fresh papaya is a healthy way to start off your day. Be creative by adding papaya to salads and smoothies. And don't forget my favorite, chicken papaya!

Amy Tousman is a registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator. Hawai'i experts in traditional medicine, naturopathic medicine and diet take turns writing the Prescriptions column. Send your questions to: Prescriptions, Island Life, The Advertiser, P.O. Box 3110, Honolulu, HI 96802; fax 535-8170; e-mail islandlife@honoluluadvertiser.com. This column is not intended to provide medical advice.