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story.lead_photo.caption Dr. Dianna Richardson of the Health, Wellness & Nutrition Center in Jefferson City has served communities as a wellness practitioner for more than 20 years. Core to her practice has been the use of nutrition to enhance health and improve vitality.

An often-overlooked fruit currently available is papaya. Packed with a multitude of potential health benefits, eating papaya may reduce your risk of heart disease, diabetes, some cancers and improve wound healing. A bonus is the enzymes contained in papaya aid digestion.

For those worried about age- related macular degeneration, papaya contains the antioxidant zeaxanthin. This antioxidant helps filter harmful blue light rays. Zeaxanthin is believed to play a protective role in eye health, as well as staving off macular degeneration.

The beta- carotene found in papaya, apricots, cantaloupe and carrots is linked to reduced risk of developing asthma. Additionally, beta carotene is associated with reduced risk of developing some cancers — including prostate cancer.

Another important nutrient found in this delicious fruit is vitamin K. Low intakes of vitamin K has been associated with developing a higher risk of bone fractures. Vitamin K improves calcium absorption and reduces urinary excretion to strengthen bones. In addition, vitamin K plays an important role in producing prothrombin, which is essential for proper blood clotting.

Digestion issues? Papain, an enzyme found in papaya, is a beneficial digestive enzyme. Interestingly, it may also be used as a meat tenderizer, helping to break tough meat fibers. Papaya contains high amounts of both water and fiber. This can be a great combination to reduce constipation to promote a healthy digestive tract.

Likewise, the versatile nutrient choline is found in this multi-beneficial fruit. Adequate amounts of choline are needed for muscle movement, memory, learning and sleep. Most importantly, choline reduces chronic inflammation. It is also responsible for maintaining the structure of cellular membranes, nerve impulses and helps in fat absorption.

In addition, research has shown certain enzymes in papaya promote wound healing and prevent infection of burned areas. A beneficial ointment containing these enzymes can be used to treat decubitus ulcers (bedsores). However, skin benefits do not stop there. The fruit is high in vitamins A and C. Both are needed to produce collagen in the body. Collagen is needed for building and repairing skin structure.

Furthermore, the combinations of fiber, potassium, B vitamins, alpha and beta-carotene, lutein and zeaxanthin, vitamin E, calcium, vitamin K and lycopene are beneficial in reducing risks of cardiovascular disease and many other chronic conditions. This includes reducing risks associated with developing diabetes.

When purchasing, look for fresh papayas with reddish orange skin that are soft to the touch. Just cut like a melon, scoop out the seeds, and enjoy. The seeds of the papaya are edible but have a bitter, peppery taste. Enjoy the benefits of papaya by adding it to smoothies, fresh salsa, or adding to a tropical mix with pineapple and mango. Try this papaya salsa with you favorite chicken or fish recipe.

Dr. Dianna Richardson has been serving Jefferson City and the surrounding communities for more than 22 years. Richardson holds a doctorate in naturopathy, along with degrees in nutrition and a master's degree in public health education. She may be found at the Health, Wellness & Nutrition Center, LLC on Dix Road in Jefferson City.

MANGO PAPAYA SALSA

Makes: 8 servings

1 mango, seeded and diced

1 papaya seeded and diced

1 large red bell pepper seeded and diced

1 avocado, peeled, seeded and diced

1/2 sweet onion, diced

2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro

2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

Salt and pepper to taste

In a medium bowl, mix mango, papaya, red bell pepper, avocado, sweet onion, cilantro, and balsamic vinegar. Season with salt and pepper. Cover, and chill in the refrigerator at least 30 minutes before serving.

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