Papayas grow in tropical climates and are also known as papaws or pawpaws. Their sweet taste, vibrant color, and the wide variety of health benefits they provide make them a popular fruit.
The papaya, a previously exotic and rare fruit, is now available at most times of the year. The possible health benefits of consuming papaya include a reduced risk of heart disease, diabetes, cancer, aiding in digestion, improving blood glucose control in people with diabetes, lowering blood pressure, and improving wound healing. Papayas are a soft, fleshy fruit that can be used in a wide variety of culinary ways. Here we will explore more on the health benefits, uses, how to incorporate more of them into your diet, and what nutritional value papayas have.
Fast facts on papaya:
- Papaya is native to Mexico. However, it grows naturally in the Caribbean and Florida too.
- According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), India produces the most papayas – over 5 million tons in 2013.
- It can be added to salads, smoothies, and other dishes.
Health benefits of consuming papaya
There are many health benefits to consuming fruits and vegetables, and papaya is no different. However, there are benefits related specifically to papaya, and some are quite surprising:
Age-related macular degeneration
Zeaxanthin, an antioxidant found in papaya, filters out harmful blue light rays; it is thought to play a protective role in eye health, and may ward off macular degeneration. However, a higher intake of all fruits has been shown to decrease the risk of and progression of age-related macular degeneration.
The risk of developing asthma is 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.
Consuming the antioxidant beta-carotene, found in papayas, may reduce cancer risk. Among younger men, diets rich in beta-carotene may play a protective role against prostate cancer, according to a study published in the journal Cancer Epidemiology and Prevention Biomarkers.
Low intakes of vitamin K have been associated with a higher risk of bone fracture. Adequate vitamin K consumption is important for good health, as it improves calcium absorption and may reduce urinary excretion of calcium, meaning there is more calcium in the body to strengthen and rebuild bones.
Studies have shown that people with type 1 diabetes who consume high-fiber diets have lower blood glucose levels, and people with type 2 diabetes may have improved blood sugar, lipid, and insulin levels. One small papaya provides about 3 grams of fiber, which is equivalent to just 17 grams of carbohydrates.
Papayas contain an enzyme called papain that aids digestion; in fact, it can 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.
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.
Choline is a very important and versatile nutrient found 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.
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 their beneficial effects. Ointments containing the papain enzyme have also been used to treat decubitus ulcers (bedsores).
Papaya is also great for hair because it contains vitamin A, a nutrient required for sebum production, which 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.
Nutritional breakdown of papaya
Papayas are an excellent source of vitamin C, and one single medium fruit provides 224 percent of recommended daily intake.
One medium papaya has approximately:
- 120 calories
- 30 grams of carbohydrate – including 5 grams of fiber and 18 grams of sugar
- 2 grams of protein
Papayas are also a good source of:
- vitamin A
- pantothenic acid
They also have B vitamins, alpha and beta-carotene, lutein and zeaxanthin, vitamin E, calcium, potassium, vitamin K, and lycopene, the powerful antioxidant most commonly associated with tomatoes.
How can I incorporate more papaya into my diet?
There are many simple ways to add papaya to a diet. The fruit is quite tricky to eat, as it is very juicy, but consider the following methods of eating and recipes:
How to eat papaya
When choosing or eating papaya, look for fresh papayas with reddish orange skin that are soft to the touch. Just cut like a melon, scoop out the seeds, and enjoy. The seeds of the papaya are edible but have a bitter, peppery taste. Using a spoon, it is possible to scoop out the soft flesh of the fruit.
Papaya is a soft, versatile fruit. This means it can be incorporated into many recipes. Consider the following simple methods of preparation:
- Make a tropical fruit salad with fresh papaya, pineapple, and mango.
- Muddle papaya into a 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 topping for fish tacos.
- Add a few slices of frozen papaya to smoothies. Combine with pineapple juice, half a frozen banana, and Greek yogurt for a sweet tropical treat.
Potential health risks and side effects of consuming papaya
People with a latex allergy may also be allergic to papaya because papayas contain enzymes called chitanases. They can cause a cross-reaction between latex and the foods that contain them. To some, ripe papaya can have an off-putting odor. You can minimize this smell by mixing the cut fruit with lime juice.The seeds of the papaya, though unpleasant tasting to some, are perfectly safe to consume.