The papaya, a previously exotic and rare fruit, is now readily available at most times of the year. Papayas grow in tropical climates and are also known as papaws or pawpaws. Their sweet taste, vibrant color and wide variety of health benefits are just a few reasons to add them to your diet.
The possible health benefits of consuming papaya include a reduced risk of heart disease, diabetes, cancer, aiding in digestion, improving blood glucose control in diabetics, lowering blood pressure, and improving wound healing.
This MNT Knowledge Center feature is part of a collection of articles on the health benefits of popular foods.
Contents of this article:
Nutritional breakdown of papaya
Papayas are an excellent source of vitamin C and one single medium fruit provides 224% of your daily needs. Papayas are a good source of folate, vitamin A, magnesium, copper, pantothenic acid and fiber.3 They also have B vitamins, alpha and beta carotene, lutein and zeaxanthan, vitamin E, calcium, potassium, vitamin K and lycopene, the powerful antioxidant most commonly associated with tomatoes.
Possible health benefits of consuming papaya
Papayas are an excellent source of vitamin C and one single medium fruit provides 224% of your daily needs.
Consuming fruits and vegetables of all kinds has long been associated with a reduced risk of many lifestyle-related health conditions. Many studies have suggested that increasing consumption of plant foods like papayas decreases the risk of obesity and overall mortality, diabetes, heart disease and promotes a healthy complexion and hair, increased energy, overall lower weight.
Age-related macular degeneration: The antioxidant zeaxanthin, found in papaya, filters out harmful blue light rays and is thought to play a protective role in eye health and possibly ward off damage from macular degeneration.1 A higher intake of all fruits (3 or more servings per day) has also been shown to decrease risk of and progression of age-related macular degeneration.
Asthma prevention: The risks for developing asthma are lower in people who consume a high amount of certain nutrients. One of these nutrients is beta-carotene, contained in foods like papaya, apricots, broccoli, cantaloupe, pumpkin and carrots.
Cancer: Consumption of the powerful antioxidant beta-carotene (found in papayas) has been shown to have an inverse association with the development of colon cancer in the Japanese population.8
Among younger men, diets rich in beta-carotene may play a protective role against prostate cancer, according to a study conducted by the Harvard School of Public Health's Department of Nutrition.9
Bone health: Low intakes of vitamin K have been associated with a higher risk for bone fracture. Adequate vitamin K consumption is important for good health, as it acts as a modifier of bone matrix proteins, improves calcium absorption and may reduce urinary excretion of calcium.5
Diabetes: Studies have shown that type 1 diabetics who consume high-fiber diets have lower blood glucose levels and type 2 diabetics may have improved blood sugar, lipids and insulin levels. One medium papaya provides about 4.7 grams of fiber.
The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends 21-25 g/day for women and 30-38 g/day for men.
Digestion: Papayas contain an enzyme called papain that aids in digestion and can also be used as a meat tenderizer.
Papaya is also high in fiber and water content, both of which help to prevent constipation and promote regularity and a healthy digestive tract.
Heart disease: The fiber, potassium and vitamin content in papaya all help to ward off heart disease. An increase in potassium intake along with a decrease in sodium intake is the most important dietary change that a person can make to reduce their risk of cardiovascular disease.
Inflammation: The choline is a very important and versatile nutrient in papayas that aids our bodies in sleep, muscle movement, learning and memory. Choline also helps to maintain the structure of cellular membranes, aids in the transmission of nerve impulses, assists in the absorption of fat and reduces chronic inflammation.6
Skin and healing: When used topically, mashed papaya appears to be beneficial for promoting wound healing and preventing infection of burned areas. Researchers believe that the proteolytic enzymes chymopapain and papain in papaya are responsible for it's beneficial effects.2 Ointments containing the papain enzyme have also been used to treat decubitus ulcers or bedsores.
Papaya is also great for your hair because it contains vitamin A, a nutrient required for sebum production that keeps hair moisturized. Vitamin A is also necessary for the growth of all bodily tissues, including skin and hair.
Adequate intake of vitamin C, which papaya can provide, is needed for the building and maintenance of collagen, which provides structure to skin and hair.
How to incorporate more papaya into your diet
You can incorporate more papaya into your diet by making a tropical fruit salad or adding a few slices to your favorite dish.
Look for fresh papayas with reddish orange skin that are soft to the touch. One of the best ways to enjoy a papaya is as is. Just cut like a melon, scoop out the seeds and enjoy. The seeds of the papaya are actually edible, but have a bitter, peppery taste.
Make a tropical fruit salad with fresh papaya, pineapple and mango.
Muddle papaya into your glass of lemonade, iced tea or water for a burst of fresh fruity flavor.
Make a fresh salsa with papaya, mango, jalapeno, red peppers and chipotle pepper. Use as a topper for your favorite fish tacos.
Add a few slices of frozen papaya to your smoothies. Combine with pineapple juice, half a frozen banana and Greek yogurt for a sweet tropical treat.
Potential health risks of consuming papaya
If you have a latex allergy, you may also be allergic to papaya because papayas have chitanases, often causing the cross-reaction between latex and the foods that contain them.3
It is the total diet or overall eating pattern that is most important in disease prevention and achieving good health. It is better to consume a diet with variety than to concentrate on individual foods as the key to good health.
Written by: Megan Ware, RDN, LD, registered dietitian and nutritionist