Papayas are one of the most commonly consumed tropical fruits around the world. Not only that it is naturally incredibly healthy and nutritious.
This fruit has a unique taste that makes it an excellent addition to many foods or eaten on its own. Not only that, it is loaded with antioxidants that come with several health benefits from eating them.
Keep reading to find out all you need to know about papaya.
Did You Know?:The papaya tree has three sexes, and they are male, female, and hermaphrodite.
Table of Contents
History & Facts
The papaya fruit, also known as papaw or pawpaw, comes from the Carica papaya plant species (1). It is part of the Caricaceae plant family (2). It was initially domesticated in Mesoamerica, also known as Central America and Southern Mexico (3). Today, it is grown in many other parts of the world that have a tropical climate. According to reports from 2020, India is the world’s leading producer with over 42% world production of papaya.
Papayas have a similar shape to other fruits like pears and can be up to 20 inches (51 cm) long. In general, the skin of the papaya is green when unripe and turns orange when ripe. The flesh on the inside is yellow, orange, or red. When ripe, the papaya has a sweet flavor and is soft and juicy in texture.
The fruit also has several black seeds in the center of it, which are edible but bitter. These seeds have been known to be used for centuries as a traditional medicine to treat digestive problems, fever, respiratory infections, and more (4).
You can find papaya available year-round at many grocery stores and supermarkets, but they’re typically more abundant during late summer through early fall.
Fun Fact:The world production of papaya is over 14 million tons per year.
As you may have guessed, papayas are jam-packed with a wide array of nutrients.
In one cup (230 grams) of raw papaya, there are the following macronutrients (5):
- Calories: 99 calories (kcal)
- Protein: 1.08 grams (g)
- Total fat: 0.6 grams (g)
- Carbohydrate: 24.8 grams (g)
- Fiber: 3.91 grams (g)
Papayas contain a relatively low amount of calories and carbohydrates but are high in fiber. Most Americans do not get adequate fiber in their diets. Eating a diet rich in fiber can help increase the feeling of fullness, reduce blood sugar spikes, lower cholesterol, and promote gut health (6). Additionally, they are a moderate glycemic index food, which means eating them won’t typically spike your blood sugar very high (7). This can be beneficial for people with type 2 diabetes.
Summary:Papaya is relatively low in calories and high in fiber, making it an excellent food choice for getting enough fiber and promoting overall health.
Vitamins and Minerals
In one cup (230 grams) of raw papaya, there are the following vitamins and minerals (8):
- Calcium: 46 milligrams (mg)
- Magnesium: 48.3 milligrams (mg)
- Phosphorus: 23 milligrams (mg)
- Potassium: 419 milligrams (mg)
- Vitamin C: 140 milligrams (mg)
- Folate: 85.1 micrograms (mcg)
- Choline: 14 milligrams (mg)
- Vitamin A: 108 micrograms (mcg)
- Beta carotene: 630 micrograms (mcg)
- Lycopene: 4210 micrograms (mcg)
- Lutein + zeaxanthin: 205 micrograms (mcg)
- Vitamin K: 5.98 micrograms (mcg)
As you can see, papayas are an excellent source of vitamin C, Vitamin A, potassium, and antioxidants like beta carotene and lycopene to name a few (9). Vitamin C is a potent antioxidant necessary for immune health and promoting skin health (10). The antioxidants and plant compounds they contain have also been noted to have health benefits.
In addition to their nutrients, papayas contain papain, an enzyme that helps digest proteins (11). For this reason, papayas are known to be used as a tenderizer for meats because the papain breaks down the proteins in the meat.
Summary:Papayas are high in several nutrients like vitamin C, A, potassium, and antioxidants and also contain a multi-functioning enzyme called papain.
Here are just a few of the several health benefits that come from consuming papaya.
May Improve Digestion
As mentioned, papaya is known and has been used for hundreds of years to promote regular bowel movements. This is because papaya has laxative properties, like papain, which aid digestion by helping break down food faster (12). This may make it easier for you to pass stools naturally without resorting to laxatives or enemas.
Papaya is also a great source of fiber, which helps regulate your digestive system (13). Fiber helps prevent constipation, which can lead to hemorrhoids or diverticular disease. It can also reduce cholesterol levels by up to 10 percent (14). Some people in the tropics even consider papaya to be a remedy for constipation and other symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
It is important to note that consuming large amounts of papain may cause diarrhea because it may stimulate your intestines too much. Your doctor can recommend whether or not this fruit might be helpful for you.
Summary:The papain and fiber in papaya help to promote regular bowel movements, preventing constipation and even potentially helping symptoms of Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
May Improve Heart Health
Papaya contains several heart-health-promoting nutrients like vitamins A and C. Not only are these vitamins known for reducing inflammation, but they have also been found to potentially prevent atherosclerosis or the hardening of arteries.
Atherosclerosis happens when cholesterol builds up on the walls of your arteries causing them to harden and narrow down over time. Since papaya contains a lot of antioxidants, it helps remove this buildup from your artery walls (15). Vitamin C is especially important as it helps prevent oxidation of low-density lipoprotein, which causes atherosclerosis (16).
The fiber, potassium, and vitamin content in papaya all help to ward off heart disease (17). An increase in potassium intake and a decrease in sodium intake is one of the most important dietary changes a person can make to reduce their risk of cardiovascular disease.
Studies also show that fruits high in lycopene and vitamin C may help prevent heart disease, which is exactly what papaya contains a lot of.
Summary:Papaya contains fiber, potassium, and several vitamins that have been found to help reduce inflammation and plaque buildup, which can help improve heart health and lower the risk of heart disease.
May Reduce Inflammation
Papaya contains vitamins C, A, and E and beta-carotene, all of which are antioxidants that help protect your body against free-radical damage (18). Free radicals are reactive molecules created during your body’s metabolism. They can promote oxidative stress, which can lead to disease. The compounds found in papaya help fight against the development of many serious diseases.
Studies note that fermented papaya can reduce oxidative stress in older adults and people with chronic diseases like prediabetes, mild hypothyroidism, and liver disease (19). Furthermore, many researchers believe that excess free radicals in the brain are linked to an increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease. Papaya can help reduce the number of excess free radicals.
The polyphenol compounds in papaya are strong antioxidants that may help prevent cellular damage. They also help protect against DNA damage that can lead to cancer development.
Summary:The nutrients in papaya, like vitamins C, A, E, and beta carotene, all act as antioxidants that help protect against free radical damage which can cause disease in the body.
Ways to Consume
Surprisingly enough, there are several ways that papaya can be consumed. It is a very versatile fruit.
If the papaya is ripe, meaning soft to the touch and reddish orange skin, it can be eaten raw. However, unripe papaya should be cooked before eating, especially for pregnant people. This is because unripe papaya is high in latex and can stimulate contractions.
Papaya can be prepared similarly to a melon, cut similarly, and scoop out the seeds to enjoy. The seeds of the papaya are edible but have a bitter, peppery taste. It is easiest to scoop out the soft flesh of the fruit with a spoon.
Consider these ways of incorporating more papaya into your meals and snacks:
- Cut it up and make it into a tropical fruit salad with other fruits like pineapple and mango
- Make a sweet and spicy salsa by combining papaya, jalapeno, onion, cilantro, mango, peppers, and lime juice
- Cut it into strips and wrap a slice of prosciutto around each strip
- Freeze the papaya and then add it to your favorite smoothie recipe
- Muddle the papaya and add it to a glass of water, iced tea, or lemonade
- Cut it in half and fill it with Greek yogurt and berries
- Eat it on its own as a delicious treat
Did You Know?:Papaya is nicknamed ‘fruit of the angels’, due to its abundance of nutrients and positive health effects.
In general, papaya is safe to consume in moderate amounts. However, there are some risks that some need to be aware of.
- Papaya allergy: Papaya contains enzymes called chitinases. People with a latex allergy may react similarly to papaya due to these chitinases (20). They can cause a cross-reaction between latex and the foods that contain them.
- May cause digestion upset/irritation: Side effects of consuming papaya, especially when consumed in excess, might include nausea and vomiting (21).
- Unripe papaya risks: Unripe papaya fruit contains the enzyme called papain. Taking large amounts of papain might damage the esophagus. Unripe papaya fruit is possibly unsafe when consumed during pregnancy (22). There is some evidence that unprocessed papain might poison the fetus or cause birth defects.
Summary:Papayas are overall safe but may cause allergy and digestive issues for some, and have increased risks when they are consumed unripe.
Frequently Asked Questions
How can I tell when a papaya is ready to eat?
When it comes to knowing when a papaya is ready to eat, the first thing to look for is the color of it. It should be golden-yellow to a reddish-orange hue. It may have a few green spots but should be free from blemishes or bruises. Green and/or pale papayas are likely under-ripe. By gently pressing the papaya with the fingertips and if it slightly yields, that is an indication it is ripe. It will likely feel similar to a ripe avocado or mango.
Avoid papayas that are too firm or hard, as they are likely underripe and lacking in flavor. On the other hand, overly soft or mushy papayas may indicate over-ripeness or spoilage. So, aim for a papaya that strikes the right balance between firmness and tenderness.
How should papayas be stored?
Papayas can be stored at room temperature or in the refrigerator depending on preference. Shelf life will be extended when it is put in the refrigerator. When refrigerated, store it in the crisper drawer. The cool temperature will slow down the ripening process, which typically extends the shelf life of the papaya for a few more days.
Keep in mind refrigeration may slightly alter the texture of the fruit, making it softer. So, if you prefer a firmer papaya, opt for room-temperature storage instead. Many prefer the flavor of papaya when it is cold which may change your storage preference. Papaya can also be frozen which is perfect for smoothies, sorbets, and/or a refreshing snack.
Fun fact: According to the Guinness World Records, the tallest papaya tree in the world reached a height of 46.16 feet.
Papaya is a rich, juicy fruit with a delicious flavor. It is high in fiber, vitamins C, and A, and contains antioxidants like beta carotene and lycopene. Not only that, consuming papaya may help improve digestion, promote heart health, and lower inflammation.
They can be consumed in a variety of ways like in smoothies, cut up, and mixed in with salads or salsas.
Pick up a papaya and try one today if you haven’t already!