Is Papaya Good for You?
Papaya is an appealing tropical fruit with sweet-tasting, orange-hued flesh and edible black seeds that have a delicious, peppery flavor. Commonly grown in Mexico and Central America, this fruit is widely consumed by people who live in Southeast Asia and South America, as well as tourists vacationing in tropical locations. Read on to discover the many potential health benefits of papaya and why you should include more of it in your diet.
What Is Papaya?
The papaya may not be the first item you add to your grocery cart when browsing the produce section. But this flavorful, oval-shaped fruit is a must-try if you're looking for a new sweet treat that's natural and nutritious.
Papaya (Carica papaya)—known as "pawpaw" in Australia and other parts of the world—belongs to the Caricaceae family. The Caricaceae family is a group of flowering plants found primarily in tropical locations, such as Central and South America and Africa, per a 2017 review published in Frontiers. Spanish invaders took seeds of this plump, juicy fruit, native to Central America, and planted them throughout the Caribbean and South America. Dutch and Portuguese colonists then brought papaya overseas to Africa and Asia, where it became a staple in their cultural cuisines.
Botanically, the papaya is a berry that grows on large trees that can reach over 10 feet in height, per the USDA. The Environmental Working Group included papaya on its 2022 "Clean Fifteen" shopper's guide, meaning that even conventional (i.e. non-organic) papayas contain low levels of pesticide residues.
A 1-cup (145-gram) serving of raw papaya contains, per the USDA:
- Calories: 43
- Protein: 0.5 grams
- Fat: 0.3 grams
- Carbohydrate: 11 grams
- Fiber: 2 grams
- Vitamin C: 61 milligrams
- Potassium: 182 milligrams
Health Benefits of Papaya
"Like many tropical fruits, papaya has a great nutritional profile," says Sarah Schlichter, M.P.H., RDN, a registered dietitian at Bucket List Tummy. "Papaya is high in immune-helper nutrients, like vitamins A and C, with one medium papaya providing more than the daily recommended amount of vitamin C and nearly one-third of the daily recommended amount of vitamin A. Papaya also offers a slew of antioxidants that can help manage oxidative stress in the body and promote overall health."
Besides an excellent nutritional profile, papaya may offer these health benefits:
Strengthens Your Immune System
As Schlichter mentions above, papaya is rich in vitamin C, a water-soluble nutrient with a laundry list of health benefits. Vitamin C (ascorbic acid) is an antioxidant that bolsters your immune system, fends off illness and infections, and supports wound healing, per the National Institutes of Health. In addition, vitamin C encourages collagen production to keep your nails, skin, hair and joints healthy.
One serving of papaya delivers more than half the recommended daily allowance of vitamin C, which is 75 milligrams a day for women and 90 milligrams a day for men.
May Lower Cancer Risk
A 2021 literature review published in Antioxidants concluded that diets rich in vitamin C from fruits and vegetables could play a critical role in cancer prevention and therapy. Since papaya is high in vitamin C, it possesses antioxidant properties that help prevent free radical damage and oxidative stress to your body's cells, which can form cancer-causing compounds. Additionally, papaya flesh gets its vibrant orange hue from a phytonutrient called lycopene, which has anti-cancer properties, per 2021 research published in Molecules.
Improves Your Digestion
Staying hydrated and getting enough fiber are two essential criteria for optimal digestion. Considering that up to 88% of papaya is water, eating papaya is a great way to enhance digestion, alleviate constipation and reduce bloating. Also, papaya's fiber content promotes regular bowel movements, a critical component for healthy digestion and lowering colon cancer risk.
May Reduce Inflammation
Papaya contains an enzyme called papain that inhibits your body's production of cytokines—a protein group released during inflammation. Chronic inflammation wreaks havoc on your health by increasing your risk of disease. According to a review published in Biology in 2021, Carica papaya extracts offer several health benefits, including protection against inflammation, aging, cancer and chronic disease.
Potential Side Effects
"Eating too many seeds may cause digestive discomfort for some, so slowly adding them to your diet may be more agreeable," says Schlichter. Also, according to the American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology, people with a latex allergy should avoid papaya due to potential cross-reactivity. Furthermore, the enzyme papain found in unripe papaya can cause respiratory allergies, including asthma, per a 2016 case published in Allergy, Asthma & Immunology Research.
Tips for Enjoying Papaya
Schlichter offers tips for enjoying this delicious tropical fruit. "Papaya flesh is sweet and juicy and can be enjoyed scooped out of the skin as 'melon balls.' It's a great salad topping and a nice tropical addition to smoothies. Papaya can also be grilled or added to kebabs in the summer."
Related: How to Cut Papaya
The Bottom Line
Papaya is a mouthwatering tropical fruit you should include in your grocery cart whenever possible. It delivers more than just a burst of juicy flavor by packing a nutritional punch that can lower inflammation, enhance digestion, strengthen your immune system and reduce your risk of chronic disease, including cancer. Check out these Healthy Papaya Recipes to get more "pawpaw" in your life.