Christopher Columbus was known to have called papaya the “fruit of the angels”. The orange colored melon-like fruit is native to southern Mexico and Central America, but can be grown in most tropical areas. Ripe papaya is commonly used around the world to make juice or as a delicious addition to salads, salsa, or desserts. Papaya is also commonly used as a meat tenderizer, digestive enzyme, or to make chewing gum.(2).
Papaya contains a special digestive enzyme called papain, which is why it is most known to be a powerful digestive aid. But improved digestion helping the body to detox isn’t the only benefits of papaya- it can also help the body to heal wounds, to reduce inflammation, to purify the blood, and much more. Papaya, like other types of tropical fruit, are also high in multiple vitamins, minerals, flavonoids, and antioxidants and are used around the world to boost overall health in numerous ways. This is the reason I include papaya extract in my multi-vitamin blend and also have it on my Healing Foods Shopping List as part of a healing diet.
Papaya Nutrition Facts
One cup of mashed papaya, or about one small papaya, contains approximately (in recommended daily values):
- 100 calories
- 25 grams of carbohydrate
- 4 grams of fiber
- 224% vitamin C
- 26 % folate
- 15% vitamin A
- 14% magnesium
- 14% potassium
- 13% copper
- 11% pantothenic acid
Beta-carotene has been shown to help prevent mouth and lung cancer. Papaya provides 144 mcg of folate, a necessary B-vitamin for DNA formation, especially critical for pregnant women. It is also high in other B vitamins such as B6 and pantothenic acid, both critical to help our bodies utilize calories efficiently.
Papaya also provides critical minerals such as potassium and magnesium, which help maintain bone health, fluid regulation and the control of blood pressure. Magnesium also helps with stress reduction. Papaya contains the flavonoids lutein, zeaxanthin, lycopene, and crytoxanthin, all antioxidants that help fight free radical damage and may help decrease the effects of aging. Lutein and zeaxanthin are especially critical in helping reduce the risk of macular degeneration, the leading cause of age-related vision loss.(7)
Top 10 Papaya Health Benefits
Due to its nutritional content, papaya has a variety of health benefits. The high antioxidant and flavonoid content that papaya provides is where the majority of the health benefits found in papaya.
1. Helps Aid Digestion
Compounds found in papayas help to break down and use proteins properly; specifically papain helps to break apart the bonds between amino acids, which are the building blocks of proteins. Papain is similar other types of enzymes made in the pancreas that help our bodies digest meat. But, these enzymes need acid for activation and papain can work even without the presence of acid.
Therefore, due to is ability to break apart amino acids, this digestive enzyme can be helpful for people struggling with low stomach acid who may not be able to tolerate consuming certain types meat. It can also help those with absorption problems better absorb protein once it has been eaten.
People with digestive disorders such as irritable bowel syndrome, leaky gut, or autoimmune and inflammatory bowel diseases may benefit from adding papaya or a papain supplement to their diet. Since papain helps with digestion, eating papaya in the morning can help reduce the symptoms of morning sickness for pregnant women. If you are pregnant add a slice of papaya to your breakfast to help soothe your stomach all day.
Eating papaya can help tp prevent constipation due to its high fiber content and may be especially helpful if you eat any type of processed meat or if you overindulge. Papain can be found as a supplement alone and is found in many digestive enzyme formulations. But, since eating papaya has so many other health benefits, why not just enjoy this delicious fruit instead of taking a supplement?
A 2011 study in the journal of Molecular Nutrition and Food Research found that inflammatory markers decreased when test subjects were given papaya. Researchers believe that papaya may help reduce inflammation for people with inflammatory medical conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, although further research is needed.(8)
Papain has also been shown to help reduce inflammation in people with disease such as asthma or arthritis and can help reduce inflammation in the prostate.(4) Lower levels of bodily inflammation is often associated with naturally slowing aging.
3. Strengthens Blood
There is much in interest in the use of papaya 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 clotting ability and potentially lead to internal bleeding.(10)
A study conducted on mice found that those given papaya leaf extract had significantly higher platelet and red blood cell counts after 72 hours compared to those in the control group. Researchers believe that papaya extract may eventually be a treatment for people with blood disorders. (11, 12)
4. Benefits Cardiovascular Health
Vitamin C has been shown to help reduce the risk of heart attacks by helping protect the arteries against damage. It may help reduce free radical damage and the oxidation of cholesterol, reducing the ability of cholesterol to form plaques along the artery walls.
People with diets low in vitamin C have been shown to have a greater risk of developing a heart attack or stroke, although more research is needed to determine the exact mechanism.(13) Folate also helps convert a substance linked to heart attacks called homocysteine into other benign amino acids, reducing risk of a cardiovascular event.(14)
5. Helps Prevent Cancer
Papain, since it is able to breakdown proteins, may be able to help attack the protective coating found on cancer cells, preventing their growth. There is significant interest in this area of cancer and diet connection and how enzymes like papain can be used in helping treat cancer.(6)
Vitamin C and beta-carotene, both of which are high in papaya, have been linked to a decreased risk of cancer, especially colon cancer. Fiber can also help reduce the amount of cancer-causing toxins in the digestive system and papaya provides almost 7 grams per serving. Because of its high antioxidant and anti parasitic properties, papaya also makes an excellent addition to a regular detox or cleanse that can further boost immunity.
6. Prevents Macular Degeneration
The flavonoids lutein and zeaxanthin can help prevent macular degeneration, an age-related loss of vision. Zeaxanthin specifically helps filter out blue light that can be harmful to the retina.
7. Protects Against Arthritis
A 2004 study found that people with diets low in vitamin C, and therefore low in fruits and vegetables, had a three times greater risk of developing polyarthritis, an inflammatory condition that affects multiple joints. (15)
8. Prevents Asthma
Beta-carotene has been shown to help reduce the risk of asthma. Vitamin A levels are especially critical for children to help reduce airway inflammation levels.(18)
Papaya seeds also have their own nutritional benefit and can be eaten, although they are quite bitter. They have been used as a folk medicine to treat parasitic infections, E.coli, and other viral and bacterial infections.
Due to the high levels of vitamin C, vitamin A, and other flavonoids, papaya is a great fruit to help keep the skin healthy and wrinkle-free. These nutrients work as antioxidants helping prevent free radical damage the leading cause of aging.
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. This treatment showed significant decrease in viral activity after five days(9).
Traditional Polynesian cultures in Hawaii and Tahiti, made poultices out of papaya skin to help with wound healing, the skin is particularly high in papain. They would apply the poultice directly to the skin to heal burns, rashes, or bug bites.(3)Papain can be used to treat fungal and viral infections of the skin, such as warts or ringworm. It helps destroy the layer of protein that protects viruses and fungi against attack, helping reduce their ability to reproduce. (5)
It’s believed that papaya was first grown in Southern Mexico and Central American regions, where Spanish explorers first came across the seeds and edible sweet fruit and brought them along during travels through Central America, India and other Pacific islands.
Around 1626, it’s thought that seeds were brought to Italy and then spread across Europe. Today papaya is used in many types of cuisines- it’s prevalent in pacific island dishes, Thai, Hawaiian, Indian, Malaysian, and Filipino recipes, and more. Because papaya scans the globe, it if called by many different names including the popular name “pawpaw” which is used in many European nations and across Australia.
Papaya: How to Purchase & Prepare
Papayas are a part of the plant family Caricaceae and grow on the Carica papaya plant in tropical climates. Papayas are an interesting fruit in that their trees actually come in three “sexes”: male, female, and hermaphrodite. Only the hermaphrodite plant produces the papaya fruit, while the other two kinds produce trees, leaves, and seeds but will not grow into the edible food we know as papaya. For this reason, today nearly all commercial papaya growers plant and cultivate hermaphrodite papaya plants, since they contain all of the parts necessary to germinate themselves and keep reproducing new seeds.
Today papaya is grown around in the world in different tropical areas, with India, Indonesia, Brazil, Nigeria, Mexico, certain U.S states (Hawaii, Florida, and Southern California), and many Central American nations being the largest producers. The popularity of using papaya in recipes around the world has only continued to increase over the past few decades, as India has grown to now produce over 38% of the papaya grown worldwide.
Previously, it was difficult to find papaya outside of the tropics, but now it can be seasonally found in most supermarkets. There are two main varieties of papaya: 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.(1) When immature, papaya is green and can only be eaten if cooked. Green papaya is used for stir fries and curries in many Asian dishes. As papaya ripens it develops its yellow-orange color and its signature sweetness. A ripe papaya has orange skin that will give 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 is okay if it has a few black spots on the skin. If the papaya is yellow it will take a few days out on the counter to ripen. Papaya is best eaten at room temperature to allow the sweet flavors to develop. If you are planning on dicing it up, be sure to eat as soon as it is cut for the best taste.
Avoiding GMO Papaya
Papayas plants are vulnerable to a few widespread viruses and fungus, specifically a variety of papaya ringworm that ruins the plant’s fruit, so this made researchers investigate papaya seeds in order to see if genetically altering them could produce more protection against viruses.
Researchers were successful in creating a strand of genetically modified (GMO) papaya seeds to make them more resilient to pests and bacteria, and in turn produced Rainbow papaya and SunUp papaya, which now make up 80% 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 will need to ensure you are purchasing an organic variety in order to know that the papaya has not been modified in any way. GMO crops are often the cause of unwanted allergies and digestive disorders, in addition to more serious problems, so organic, non-GMO papaya should always be your first choice.
Papaya can be eaten raw, sliced in half, with the seeds scooped out. You will want to add a little squeeze of lemon to enhance the flavor. The seeds of the papaya 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. Papaya is amazing in a smoothie to start the day right. Try this recipe or create your own by mixing papaya with other tropical fruits and your favorite protein powder.
- ½ cup strawberries
- 1 cup sliced papaya
- 1 cup coconut kefir
- 1 scoop vanilla protein powder
- ½ cup water and ice
Add all ingredients to a blender and blend on high until smooth.
Also try subbing in papaya in place of other tropical fruits in these healthy recipes:
Possible Papaya Side Effects
Papaya may cause allergic reactions in people allergic to latex. Papayas and other fruits contain a substance called chitinase that are associated with cross-reactions between latex and fruit. Green papaya contains the most potential for allergic reactions, therefore it should not be eaten raw.
Papaya has many amazing nutritional and health benefits. Add it to your favorite salad or use it make a delicious salsa.Next time you are shopping look for papaya at your local grocery store or enjoy it on your next island vacation.
Have you tried papaya? What is your favorite papaya benefit?