PapayaFifty-one million Americans visit doctors and hospitals annually with digestive system disorders, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. A papaya fruit preparation could greatly reduce bloating, diarrhea, reflux and constipation based on the principles of traditional Chinese medicine.

Papayas were called the “fruit of the angels” by Christopher Columbus, according to historical accounts of these yellow-orange fruits indigenous to Central America. Today, papayas are grown throughout the world. In Vegetables, Herbs and Fruit, authors Matthew Biggs, Jekka Vicar and Bob Flowerdew write that growing your own tree is as easy as sowing several black seeds in a hole and weeding out the weaklings. Because one male tree is needed to pollinate 20 female trees, a garden should have several trees. Each sex produces different flowers so both need to be represented. Be sure to select non-GMO papayas, not the 7-inch commercial dwarf, for planting seeds.

Unripe papayas keep for many days and can be cooked to release health benefits. Food for Health: A Nutrition Encyclopedia describes papayas as rich in antioxidants, folate, pantothenic acid, magnesium, copper and potassium.

A study in Archives of Ophthalmology by E. Cho et al found that papaya lowers the risk of age-related macular degeneration, a primary cause of vision loss in older adults.

Papayas can help prevent oxidation of cholesterol, according to a 2002 study in Atherosclerosis Thrombosis Vascular Biology. It is one of the richest food sources of folate, which reduces homocysteine in the blood and improves mitochondria energy production.

The highest amounts of papain from the papaya are obtained from slow cooking the fruit over low heat until a puree forms. Traditional Chinese medicine recommends papaya be cooked eight to 10 hours. The accompanying recipe results in a weaker concentration of anti-inflammation compounds than the slow cooker method, but Dr. Burkhard Schutz of Biovis Institute of Naturopathic Diagnosis and Preventive Medicine in Germany showed that both techniques yield healing properties for digestion.

Several years ago I visited John Burns, better known as Johnny Papaya, at his Sarasota home, which is surrounded by papaya and citrus trees. His fresh fruit salads always include papaya and he recommended a wedge of papaya at each meal. A spoonful of papaya sauce as a topping for a salad or fruit cup would provide even more benefits.

Betty Wedman-St Louis is a licensed nutritionist and environmental health specialist in Pinellas County who has written numerous books on health and nutrition. Visit her website at

Papaya Sauce

2 cups fresh or unripe papaya cubes
1 ripe banana, cut into pieces

Peel and seed papaya. Cut into cubes and place in saucepan. Add banana pieces. Heat over low temperature until a soft puree forms, about 15 to 30 minutes. Stir occasionally to prevent sticking. Mash, then pour into bowl and refrigerate until ready to use.

Makes 2 cups.

Nutrition information per tablespoon: 52 calories, 1g protein, 8g carbohydrates, 0g fat, 37mcg sodium.