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 detailing the health benefits of popular foods.
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.
On the next page we look at the nutritional breakdown of papaya, how to incorporate more papaya into your diet and the possible health risks associated with its consumption.