Christopher Columbus was known to call papaya the “fruit of the angels.” This orange-colored, melon-like fruit is part of the Caricaceae family of plants and grows on the Carica papaya tree.
It’s native to southern Mexico and Central America but can be grown in most tropical areas. When ripe, it is commonly used around the world to make juice or as a delicious addition to salads, salsa or desserts. Not only that, but it is also commonly used as a meat tenderizer or digestive enzyme as well.
Improved digestion and helping the body detox aren’t the only benefits of papaya. It can also help improve heart health, reduce inflammation, strengthen the blood and so much more.
Like other types of tropical fruit, it’s also high in multiple vitamins, minerals, flavonoids and antioxidants. Plus, it is used around the world to boost overall health in a number of incredible ways.
It’s believed that papaya was first grown in Southern Mexico and Central American regions. Spanish explorers are thought to be the first to come across papaya seeds and the edible sweet fruit. They brought them along during travels through Central America, India and other Pacific Islands.
Today, papaya is grown around the world in many different tropical areas. India, Indonesia, Brazil, Nigeria, Mexico, the United States and many Central American nations are the largest producers.
The popularity of using this fruit in recipes around the world has only continued to increase over the past few decades, which is a good thing given the numerous papaya benefits.
Papayas have long been used in many forms of traditional medicine. The fruit is thought to offer benefits in the treatment of a wide variety of health conditions.
In many parts of the world, for instance, the papaya fruit is believed to help naturally treat malaria, E. coli and parasitic infections.
According to Ayurveda, papaya can help alkalize the body, reduce inflammation and strengthen the function of the spleen. It’s also thought to nourish the body, enhance energy levels, and improve vision and eye health.
Lucky for all of us, simply adding this fruit to your diet can provide a range of health benefits, including the following:
1. Promotes Proper Digestion
It is similar to other types of enzymes made in the pancreas that help our bodies digest meat, but unlike other enzymes, it can work even without the presence of acid. Therefore, due to is ability to break apart amino acids, this papaya enzyme can be helpful for people struggling with low stomach acid who may not be able to tolerate consuming certain types meat.
It also can promote protein absorption in those with other digestive issues.
Eating papaya can also help prevent constipation due to its high fiber content. Fiber adds bulk to the stool and eases its excretion out of the body.
In fact, a 2012 review published in the World Journal of Gastroenterology found that increasing fiber intake was effective at increasing stool frequency in people with constipation to help promote regularity.
2. Soothes Inflammation
Inflammation is a natural immune response designed to fend off foreign invaders and protect against illness and infection. However, chronic inflammation is at the root of most diseases, and it is believed to contribute to serious conditions like heart disease, cancer, diabetes and more.
A 2011 study published in the journal of Molecular Nutrition and Food Research found that inflammatory markers decreased when test subjects were given papaya. Researchers found it may help reduce inflammation and relieve symptoms for people with certain conditions, such as rheumatoid arthritis. It is noted, however, that further research is needed.
Papain has also been shown to help decrease inflammation in people with diseases such as asthma or arthritis. Not only can lower levels of inflammation slow the progression of chronic disease, but they may also help to naturally reverse signs of aging as well.
3. Strengthens the Blood
Papaya has garnered a good amount of attention as a blood strengthener to help people who have a medical condition called thrombocytopenia, or low blood platelets. This is a dangerous medical condition that can reduce the body’s ability to form blood clots and potentially lead to internal bleeding.
An animal study out of Malaysia conducted on mice concludes that those given papaya leaf extract had significantly higher platelet and red blood cell counts after 72 hours compared to those in a control group. Although additional information is still needed, researchers believe that papaya extract may eventually be used as a treatment for people with blood disorders and impaired blood clotting.
4. Enhances Heart Health
Papayas are loaded with vitamin C, which is an important micronutrient that acts as an antioxidant to protect against free radical damage. It also protects against the oxidation of cholesterol, reducing the ability of cholesterol to form plaque along the artery walls.
Some research has found that a deficiency in vitamin C may be linked to a greater risk of death from heart disease, although additional information is needed to determine the exact mechanism. Papaya also contains folate, which can help convert homocysteine, a type of amino acid that has been linked to heart disease, into other amino acids to reduce the risk of heart problems.
5. May Have Anti-Cancer Properties
Several compounds found in ripe and unripe papaya have been shown to have powerful anti-cancer effects. Papain, for example, has been shown to block the growth and spread of tumors in animal studies. Meanwhile, vitamin C and beta-carotene, both of which are found in papaya, have been linked to a decreased risk of several different types of cancer.
Plus, in addition to promoting regularity, studies show that increasing your intake of dietary fiber may also be associated with a lower risk of colorectal cancer.
6. Can Help Prevent Macular Degeneration
Each serving of papaya packs in a hearty dose of beta-carotene, one of the primary nutrients involved in preserving vision and protecting eye health.
It also contains lutein and zeaxanthin, two flavonoids that can help prevent macular degeneration, or age-related loss of vision. Zeaxanthin specifically helps filter out blue light that can be harmful to the retina to optimize vision even as you get older.
7. Helps Prevent Asthma
In addition to keeping vision healthy, beta-carotene has been shown to help reduce the risk of asthma. Maintaining adequate levels of vitamin A in the diet may be especially crucial for children to help reduce airway inflammation.
Papaya seeds also have their own nutritional benefits. They can be eaten as well, although they are quite bitter.
The seeds have been used as a folk medicine to treat parasitic infections, E. coli and other viral and bacterial infections.
8. Slows Signs of Aging
Due to the high levels of vitamin C, vitamin A and other flavonoids, papayas are a great fruit to help keep the skin healthy and wrinkle-free. Research shows that these nutrients work as antioxidants that help prevent free radical formation and oxidative damage to the skin, both of which are considered some of the leading causes of aging.
9. Fights Viral Infections
Papaya leaves have been used treat dengue fever, a deadly viral infection from mosquitos in tropical areas. In one particular study, the leaves were mixed with water and given to patients twice a day. The treatment was found to significantly decrease viral activity after five days.
Traditional Polynesian cultures in Hawaii and Tahiti made poultices out of papaya skin to help with wound healing. Why? The skin is particularly high in papain.
They would apply the poultice directly to the skin to treat burns, rashes or bug bites.
Papain also can be used to treat fungal and viral infections of the skin, such as warts and ringworm. It helps destroy the layer of protein that protects viruses and fungi against attack, decreasing their ability to reproduce and spread.
Papayas are a nutrient-dense food. That means each serving contains a low amount of calories but a high amount of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants.
A one-cup serving of raw papaya (about 145 grams) contains approximately:
- Calories: 62.4
- Total Carbohydrates: 15.7 g
- Fiber: 2.5 g
- Sugar: 11.3 g
- Total Fat: 0.4 g
- Saturated Fat: 0.1 g
- Polyunsaturated Fat: 0.1 g
- Monounsaturated Fat: 0.1 g
- Trans Fat: 0 g
- Protein: 0.7 g
- Sodium: 11.6 mg (0.5% DV*)
- Vitamin C: 88.2 mg (98% DV)
- Folate: 53.6 mcg (13% DV)
- Vitamin A: 68.2 mcg (8% DV)
- Potassium: 264 mg (6% DV)
*Daily Value: Percentages are based on a diet of 2,000 calories a day.
In addition to the nutrients listed above, papayas also contains a small amount of vitamin E, vitamin K, thiamine, riboflavin, pantothenic acid and calcium.
It’s common to compare tropical fruits, such as papaya, mango, pineapple, guava and banana, which are beloved for their delicious flavor and signature sweetness. All are also rich in nutrients, offering a wealth of vitamin C, potassium, vitamin A, fiber, antioxidants and more.
However, there are also many distinct differences that set them apart.
- Mango is a type of stone fruit that belongs to the cashew family of plants, and it has become a popular ingredient used to make juices, smoothies, ice creams and chutneys.
- Pineapple is a fruit produced by a herbaceous perennial, and it’s often enjoyed as a snack in salads and sweets. It’s used to balance out savory dishes like pizza or burgers as well.
- Guava is commonly enjoyed in Central and South America. It can be found added to beverages, candies, homemade bars or desserts. It can also be eaten raw or seasoned with just a pinch of salt or cayenne pepper.
- Bananas, which are technically considered berries, are native to southeast Asia and Australia. Closely related to the plantain, bananas are usually consumed when fully ripe. They can be enjoyed raw or added to desserts, smoothies, breakfast dishes and more.
Although it was once difficult to find papayas in regions outside of their tropical habitat, you can now find them at most major supermarkets when in season.
There are two main varieties of this fruit: Mexican and Hawaiian type. The Mexican type can grow up to 10 pounds in size, whereas the Hawaiian one is generally smaller. Both have a sweet, orange-colored flesh and dark, gelatinous seeds on the inside.
When unripe, the flesh is green and can only be eaten if cooked. Green papaya is used for stir-fries and curries in many Asian dishes.
As it ripens, it develops its yellow-orange color and its signature sweetness. A ripe papaya has orange skin that gives a little when pushed.
If you purchase a papaya to eat the same day, choose one that has a reddish-orange skin and is softer. It may take a few days out on the counter to ripen if it’s still yellow on the outside.
It’s best eaten at room temperature, which allows the sweet flavors and familiar papaya taste to develop. If you plan to dice it up, be sure to eat as soon as it is cut for the maximum amount of flavor.
Wondering how to eat papaya to take advantage of the many micronutrients and benefits of papaya? There are plenty of different ways to enjoy.
- Whip up a healthy papaya salad
- Make papaya juice
- Eat it raw with a squeeze of lemon to enhance the flavor
There are many online tutorials for how to cut a papaya, but it typically just involves cutting the fruit lengthwise, scooping out the seeds and cutting the flesh of the fruit away from the skin.
The seeds are usually discarded, but they are also edible. They are slightly spicy and can be used as a pepper substitute in salad dressings and other sauces.
Need a an idea for how to bring the delicious flavor of papaya into your daily diet? Try this Tropical Acai Bowl to get your started.
Risks and Side Effects
Papaya may cause allergic reactions in people allergic to latex. Papayas and other fruits contain a substance called chitinase, which is associated with cross-reactions between latex and fruit.
Green papaya contains the most potential for allergic reactions and should not be eaten raw.
Many people also wonder: Can dogs eat papaya? While it can be a tasty treat for your furry friends, be sure to cut it into small pieces, and avoid letting them eat the seeds to prevent digestive issues.
Additionally, papaya is vulnerable to a few widespread viruses and fungi, including a variety of papaya ringworm. In an effort to combat this problem, researchers began conducting experiments on the seeds to see if genetically altering them could provide protection against these harmful viruses.
Researchers were successful in creating a strand of genetically modified papaya seeds that were more resilient to pests and bacteria. In turn, they produced Rainbow papaya and SunUp papaya, two varieties that now make up 80 percent of the papaya grown in Hawaii, one of the world’s biggest producers.
While it is still possible to find non-GMO papaya sold in the U.S., you need to ensure you purchase an organic variety in order to know that it has not been modified in any way. There are several health concerns associated with GMO crops, ranging from allergic reactions to antibiotic resistance, so opt for non-GMO fruit whenever possible.
- Papaya is a type of fruit derived from the papaya tree that is native to Mexico and northern South America.
- It is low in calories but packs tons of fiber, vitamin C, vitamin A and folate into each serving.
- There are numerous potential papaya health benefits, including enhanced digestion, reduced inflammation, better heart health and more.
- There are also many different ways to enjoy papayas. Some of the most popular include adding it to salads or smoothies, making it into a juice, or eating it raw with just a squeeze of lemon.
- Selecting organic, non-GMO fruit and including it as part of a healthy, balanced diet is a great way to take advantage of its unique health benefits.