Health Benefits of Papaya

Carica papaya is the scientific name of the orange and green fruit known more commonly as papaya. It tastes sweet and has a soft texture that many find appealing. The seeds are also edible, although they’re more bitter than the fruit itself. 

Papayas are originally from Central America. They grow best in a tropical region where there is plentiful rainfall but little long-term flooding. Freezing temperatures may damage a papaya crop.

Indigenous people in the area ate papayas and used them for medicinal purposes. In the 1500s and 1600s, Spanish and Portuguese colonizers brought the seeds to other tropical areas of the globe, including the Philippines and India.

Today, Hawaii, the Philippines, India, Ceylon, Australia, and tropical regions in Africa are the most fruitful papaya-producing regions. Smaller papaya-farming operations still exist in Central and South America.

Papaya has many different names all over the globe. In Australia, it’s called a pawpaw. In southern Asia, it’s sometimes called a kepaya, lapaya, or tapaya. Its name in French is sometimes “figueir des iles,” or fig of the islands. Some Spanish names for papaya include “melon zapote,” “fruta bomba,” or “mamona.”

You may encounter many varieties of papaya in a store, including:

  • Kapaho solo (also known as puna solo)
  • Waimanolo
  • Higgins
  • Wilder
  • Hortus gold
  • Honey gold
  • Bettina
  • Improved peterson
  • Sunnybank
  • Guinea gold
  • Coorg honeydew
  • Washington 

Health Benefits

Protection Against Heart Disease

Papayas contain high levels of antioxidants vitamin A, vitamin C, and vitamin E. Diets high in antioxidants may reduce the risk of heart disease. The antioxidants prevent the oxidation of cholesterol. When cholesterol oxidizes, it’s more likely to create blockages that lead to heart disease. 

Additionally, papaya's high fiber content may reduce the risk of heart disease. High-fiber diets lower cholesterol levels.

Papaya has folic acid, which is essential for converting the amino acid homocysteine into less harmful amino acids. High levels of homocysteine, an amino acid primarily found in meat products, are a risk factor for heart disease. So eating papaya in your diet may lower homocysteine levels, reducing this risk factor.

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Digestion and Reduced Inflammation

The papaya fruit contains two enzymes, papain and chymopapain. Both enzymes digest proteins, meaning they can help with digestion and reduce inflammation. Papain is an ingredient in some over-the-counter digestive supplements to help with minor upset stomach. 

Both papain and chymopapain also help to reduce inflammation. They may help acute pain, like those from burns or bruises, and they can help with chronic inflammatory conditions like arthritis and asthma.

Immune System

Eating foods high in vitamin C can help to boost the immune system, allowing the body to fight off bacterial and viral illnesses. Papaya has a good amount of this antioxidant, making it part of an immune-healthy diet. 

Papaya is also a good source of Vitamin A, another important vitamin for a healthy and functional immune system. 

Potentially Protects Against Prostate Cancer

Lycopene is a natural pigment found in foods that are red or orange. Tomatoes, watermelon, and papaya are good sources of lycopene. Some experts believe that eating more lycopene reduces the risk of prostate cancer, but some studies have been inconclusive.

However, in other studies, eating a diet high in lycopene along with green tea reduced the risk of prostate cancer significantly.

Nutrition

A medium-sized papaya contains more than 200% of the vitamin C you need per day, helping to reduce the risk of heart disease and boost the immune system. It’s also a good source of:

Nutrients per Serving

A medium-sized papaya (approximately 275 grams) contains about:

  • 119 calories
  • 1.3 grams of protein
  • 30 grams of carbohydrates
  • Less than 1 gram of fat
  • 4.7 grams of dietary fiber
  • 21.58 grams of sugar

Things to Watch Out For

Papaya is generally safe to consume, but some people may experience allergic reactions. Papaya has natural sugars, so if you need to avoid sugar for any reason, eat an amount that fits with your health needs. 

How to Eat a Papaya

When choosing a papaya at the store, consider when and how you want to eat it. Green papayas are not ripe yet and will not have the characteristic flavor or texture. However, unripe papayas are used in some cooked dishes or raw in certain styles of salads. Papayas with red and orange skin are riper. You want it to be slightly soft to the touch, but not overly soft. 

If you do buy unripened papayas, store them at room temperature to allow them to ripen before consuming.

Once you are ready to eat the papaya, simply cut it open, scoop out the seeds, and eat the orange interior. The skin and seeds are not poisonous, but most people do not eat them.

Many recipes include papaya, such as:

  • Papaya salsa
  • Papaya jam
  • Papaya smoothies
  • Papaya relish
  • Fruit bowls with papaya
  • Papaya salads
WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on November 07, 2020

Sources

SOURCES: 

Cleveland Clinic: "Antioxidants & Heart Health."

Journal of Clinical Medicine: "Role of Vitamin A in the Immune System."

Mayo Clinic: "Cholesterol: Top foods to improve your numbers."

Medicine: "Lycopene and Risk of Prostate Cancer."

Nutrients: "Vitamin C and Immune Function."

Nutrition Journal: "Role of homocysteine in the development of cardiovascular disease."

Produce for Better Health Foundation: "How much Maradol papaya can a diabetic person eat?"

Purdue University Center for New Crops & Plant Products: "Papaya."

University of Nebraska-Lincoln Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources: "Allergenic Foods and their Allergens, With Links to Informall."

The World's Healthiest Foods: "Papaya."

© 2020 WebMD, LLC. All rights reserved.

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