Papaya, being a ubiquitous fruit grown in many tropical climates, is often served in salads and smoothies. But have you thought of what could be the health benefits of eating papaya?
Eating papaya can help in promoting better digestion, reduce inflammation, prevent toxic cellular damage, protect our heart and skin, and promote weight loss and menstrual blood flow. It even displays anticancer anti-dengue properties and antidiabetic potential.
Learn more about the health benefits of papaya and how papain helps our body in many ways below. I’m sure you’ll never look and eat papaya the same way you did before. Keep on reading!
What Is Papaya?
Papaya (Carica papaya L.) is a mildly sweet, melon-like tropical fruit from the family Caricaceae. It is native to Central America and the Caribbean, including Mexico, Costa Rica, and the Bahamas. It reached Malacca and India shortly after the Spaniards introduced the fruit to the Luzon Island of the Philippines in the sixteenth century.
It is also known as papaw or pawpaw. When first encountered by Europeans, it was nicknamed as ‘tree melon’, however, its name varied centuries later and per region. It is called kapaya, kepaya, lapaya, or tapaya in southern Asia and the East Indies. While in French, the fruit is called papaye and the plant is called papayer or figuier des Iles. Spanish-speaking people call it melón zapote, lechosa, fruta bomba, mamón, or mamona, while Brazilians called it mamao.
Plant And Stem
According to Morton, the papaya is erroneously referred to as a ‘tree’ though the papaya is properly described as a large herb that grows at a rate of 6 to 10 feet (1.8-3 meters) the first year and reaching 20 or even (6-9 meters) in height. It has a hollow green or deep-purple stem becoming 12 to 16 inches (30-40 centimeters) or more thick at the base and roughened by leaf scars.
The papaya leaves emerge directly from the upper part of the stem in a spiral on nearly horizontal petioles. The blade is divided into 5 to 9 segments, each irregularly subdivided. It has prominent yellowish ribs and veins. The life of a leaf is about 4 to 6 months. Both the stem and leaves produce white milky latex.
Fruits And Seeds
The fruit size varies from less than 0.5 kilograms to 9 kilograms. The fruit is melon-like, oval to nearly round, and can be pyriform or elongated in shape. It measures from 6 to 20 inches (15-50 centimeters) in length and 4 to 8 inches (10-20 centimeters) in terms of thickness.
At first, it produces green hard fruits that are rich in white latex. As it ripens, it becomes light- or deep-yellow externally and the thick wall of the succulent flesh becomes aromatic, yellow, orange, or various shades of salmon or red.
It is a climacteric fruit and is mainly consumed fresh when ripened after harvest. Ripening is judged by the approximate percentage of yellowness on its skin, and more accurately by measuring its total soluble solids (TSS) contents with a refractometer.
When ripe, it is then juicy, and sweetish and may have a cantaloupe-like flavor while in some, it may be quite musky. Attached lightly to the wall are soft, white, fibrous tissue usually numerous small, black, ovoid, corrugated, peppery seeds measuring about 5 millimeters long, each coated with a transparent, gelatinous arillus covering.
The five-petalled flowers are fleshy, waxy, and slightly fragrant. Some plants bear only short-stalked (pistillate) female waxy or ivory-white flowers while some may bear only staminate (male) flowers. Some may be hermaphroditic ivory-white with bright yellow anthers, clustered in panicles.
At certain seasons, some plants produce male flowers, while at other times, may produce hermaphroditic flowers. This change of sex occurs during high temperatures temporarily in midsummer. Male or hermaphrodite plants may change completely to female plants after being beheaded.
Papaya varieties can be self or cross-pollinated. Generally, gynodioecious varieties (having hermaphrodite and female trees) are self or cross-pollinated and the dioecious varieties (having both male and female trees) are enforced cross-pollinators.
Here are some of the papaya cultivars grown in different countries and regions: Cuba (red maradol), Malaysia (Eksotika, Batu Arang, Subang 6, Sitiawan, and Sekaki), Taiwan (Tainung 2, Sunrise, and Red Lady), Philippines (Cavite, Sinta, Solo, Cariñosa, Red Lady, Morado, and Red Royale), India (Pusa Majesty, Pusa Giant, Pusa Dwarf, Mahabindu, Solo, Ranchi, CO1, Washington, Taiwan-786), Thailand (Sai-nampueng and Khaek Dam), South Africa (Hortus Gold, Kaapmuiden, and Honey Gold), Australia (Guinea Gold, Sunnybank/S7, Richter/Arline, and Petersen), Venezuela (Roja and Paraguanera), and United States (Cariflora, Betty, Homestead, Sunrise, Kapoho Solo, Rainbow, and Waimanalo).
Distribution And Planting Conditions
It has been widely grown throughout tropical and subtropical regions like Australia, the United States (including Hawaii, Florida, Texas, California, and Puerto Rico), Peru, Venezuela, Bangladesh, Pakistan, India, and various parts of Central and South Africa. They are very sensitive to frost and limited to the region between 32° north and 32° south of the equator.
It needs a great deal of rainfall or irrigation. Flooding for more than 48 hours is considered fatal. The plant grows best in light, porous soils rich in organic matter and can also thrive in scarified limestone, marl, or various other solids if provided with adequate care. The optimum pH may range from 5.5 to 6.7.
Planting may be done any time of the year. Local conditions help in determining when it is best for the crop to come in. They mature in 6 to 11 months (depending on the temperature) which ultimately provides an opportunity to supply markets in the off-season when the prices are increased.
Harvesting And Yield
The papaya flavor is said to be at its peak when the skin is 80% colored according to studies done in Hawaii. The fruits must be handled with great care to avoid scratching and leaking the latex which could stain the fruit skin and irritate the skin of papaya harvesters and cause allergy or severe respiratory reactions in immunosensitive individuals. Proper wearing of gloves and clothing is needed.
The fruits are best packed in single layers and padded to avoid bruising. Each plant may ripen 2 to 4 fruits a week over the fruiting season. Healthy plants may produce an average of 75 pounds (34 kilograms) of fruit per plant per year, however, the cultivars produce different and variable yields.
Papaya plants bear well during its first two years, and then its productivity declines progressively. Commercial plantings are generally replaced after 3-4 years. By that time, they have attained heights making harvesting more difficult.
Nutritional Value Of Papaya Fruit
Check and compare the data below extracted from the U.S. Department of Agriculture showing the nutritional profile of a 100-gram portion of raw papaya and canned and drained papaya with heavy syrup:
|Per 100 g||Raw Papaya||Canned and Drained Papaya with Heavy Syrup|
|Water||88.1 g||43.3 g|
|Energy||43 kcal||206 kcal|
|Protein||0.47 g||0.14 g|
|Fat (Total)||0.26 g||0.55 g|
|Carbohydrate||10.8 g||55.8 g|
|Fiber (Total Dietary)||1.7 g||1.5 g|
|Calcium||20.0 mg||21 mg|
|Phosphorus||10.0 mg||6 mg|
|Iron||0.25 mg||0.29 mg|
|Potassium||182 mg||67 mg|
|Vitamin C||60.9 mg||3.5 mg|
|Thiamine||0.023 mg||0.015 mg|
|Riboflavin||0.027 mg||0.015 mg|
|Niacin||0.357 mg||0.06 mg|
|Pantothenic Acid||0.191 mg||0.015 mg|
|Folate (Total)||37 μg||0|
|Vitamin A (IU)||950 IU||6 IU|
|Lycopene||1830 μg||1 μg|
|Carotene (β-carotene)||247 μg||3 μg|
|Vitamin E (α-tocopherol)||0.3 mg||0|
|Vitamin K (phylloquinone)||2.6 μg||0.3 μg|
Being a nutritious fruit, papaya ranks first among 13-17 fresh fruits for vitamin C content per 100 grams of edible portion. It was reported that most of the papaya cultivars contain higher levels of vitamin C when compared to passion fruit, annona fruit, banana, and pineapple. Check the table below for a vitamin C content comparison of some papaya cultivars:
|Papaya Cultivar||Vitamin C Content (mg/100 g-1 fresh weight)|
|Tainung 01 Formosa||59.9-68.2|
|Baixinho do Santa Amelia||147-151|
Papaya is an excellent source of provitamin A (carotenoids), which is important for good eye health, helping further to prevent early blindness in children. It also has more carotene than apples, guava, and plantain, which help in preventing cell damage from free radicals. The antioxidant activity of fermented papaya is highly appreciated due to its nutraceutical properties.
Aside from ranking first in terms of vitamin C and A content, it also offers large amounts of riboflavin, folate, calcium, thiamine, iron, niacin, potassium, and fiber. The latter is helpful to people who are into weight-reducing regimes since it has low fat, carbohydrate, and calorie content.
What Are The Benefits Of Eating Papaya?
Like any other fruits, papayas also offer a wide array of benefits. Classically, they have been used as meat tenderizers, purgatives, antibacterials, and even induce abortion. It also offers auspicious medical advantages and effects. Here are some of its uses ⎻ traditionally and in evidence-based medicine:
Roots are used to expel parasitic helminths. The leaves also function as a vermifuge while leaf decoctions are administered as tea. The dried leaf infusion is used for stomach troubles in Ghana, and some claim that it functions as a purgative and may be abortifacient when ingested or when injected as an enema. Dried leaves have been smoked to relieve asthma or utilized as a tobacco substitute.
Green Papaya And Papain
Though the green papaya may not be fully ripe, it is still good for you. It contains saponins and cardiac glycosides that strengthen the heart muscles and prevent heart failure. They also maintain blood sugar levels and stimulate pancreatic β-cells to release insulin.
The latex of the papaya plant and its green fruits contains two proteolytic enzymes, the papain and chymopapain. The latter is most abundant in the plant but papain is twice as potent. Because of its high papain content, green papayas are often used as meat tenderizers.
It has also been injected into beef cattle a half-hour before slaughtering to tenderize more its meat. It can also be found in pharmaceutical preparations to help in digestion. Papain is still used as a meat tenderizer up until today. More in-depth benefits of papain are listed below.
The small, black peppery seeds of papaya act as a carminative (relieves flatulence) and have antioxidant properties. They can also act as an antifertility agent in males. The consumption of seed juice helps in managing bleeding piles (hemorrhoids) and liver enlargement. Papaya seed paste can be applied externally to manage some skin conditions like ringworm, psoriasis, and other helminthosis.
As a natural pigment, lycopene is commonly found in foods that are colored red or orange like tomatoes and watermelon. Lycopene, along with the antioxidants like vitamins A, C, and E, are found in papaya which helps in preventing heart diseases. Diets rich in antioxidants help in reducing the risks of developing heart diseases.
Similarly, the antioxidants found in papayas could prevent cholesterol oxidation that ultimately contributes to the development of plaques leading to the disease of the heart. It may help protect your heart and enhance the protective effects of the ‘good’ cholesterol (high-density lipoprotein). In one study, people who took that fermented papaya supplement for 14 weeks had lesser inflammation and a better ratio of good cholesterol to bad cholesterol (low-density lipoprotein) than those people under a placebo.
Papaya also has high fiber content which may reduce the risk of heart disease. High-fiber diets can help decrease also cholesterol levels. Additionally, papaya has folic acid which is vital in converting the amino acid homocysteine into less harmful amino acids since high levels of homocysteine, which are primarily found in meat products, are a risk factor for heart disease.
Digestive Problems And Reduced Inflammation
Carotenoids, papain, and chymopapain help in digestion and reduce inflammation. These molecules help in treating acute pain (such as those from burns and bruises) and chronic inflammatory conditions (including arthritis and asthma). The antioxidants in papaya help in reducing several inflammatory markers, such as the C-reactive protein (CRP), interleukin 6 (IL-6), interferons (IFN-γ+), and a cluster of differentiation 4 (CD4+).
Papain is found in several over-the-counter digestive supplements which help in curing minor abdominal upset. People in the tropics used papaya as a remedy for constipation and other symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
According to one study, people who took a papaya-based formula for 40 days improved their constipation and bloating significantly. The seeds, leaves, and roots have been shown to treat ulcers both in humans, as well as animals.
Another potential benefit but although not enough scientific evidence is available, papaya is said to manage hemorrhoids by improving the conditions of constipation. It can also be useful in managing diarrhea due to its antihelminthic property by inhibiting the growth of intestinal parasites.
Another note is that papain is effective in reducing joint pain and stiffness while chymopapain acts as a mediator during inflammation by raising prostaglandin levels. Prostaglandins are a group of lipids that control inflammation, blood flow, and thrombosis.
Immunity And Oxidative Stress
Papaya is an excellent source of vitamin C which could boost our immunity and help in fighting bacterial and viral microorganisms. Also, as stated above, papaya has several antioxidants which aid in a functional and healthy immune system.
Carotenoids, another class of antioxidants, which are also found in papayas, can neutralize free radicals. Your body absorbs these beneficial antioxidants better from papayas than any other vegetables and fruits.
Studies using fermented papaya reduce oxidative stress in older adults and people with prediabetes, mild hypothyroidism, and liver diseases. In another study, fermented papaya extract was used in people with Alzheimer’s disease which experienced a 40% drop in a biomarker that indicates oxidative damage to our cells, which is also linked to aging and cancer.
Extracts of ripe and unripe papaya fruits and of seeds are active against gram-positive bacteria. Furthermore, according to studies published at the University of Nigeria, strong doses are also effective against gram-negative bacteria. The freshly crushed seeds yield the aglycone of glucotropaeolin benzyl isothiocyanate (BITC) which is bacteriostatic, bactericidal, and fungicidal. A single effective dose is 4-5 grams of seeds, about 25-30 milligrams of BITC.
Furthermore, according to Morton, in a London hospital way back in 1977, a post-operative infection in a kidney-transplant patient was cured by strips of papaya laid on the wound and was left for around 48 hours. This was probably the last resort used by doctors after all modern medications had failed, but it was deemed effective in that particular surgery.
People are always on the hunt for a weight loss miracle that will help them lose their additional weight. Since papaya has an overflowing supply of antioxidants and minerals, it may aid in losing weight. Additionally, papaya is a good fiber source and is low in calories that make you feel full for a long time, thus reducing your food cravings.
Papain also promotes the burning of fat. It may help in digestion and metabolism, thereby supporting its weight loss effect. It would be best to eat the papaya fruit for 2 -3 days a week for a few months to achieve better results.
As mentioned earlier, papaya has enormous amounts of fiber that could help prevent blood sugar from rising in people with diabetes. According to several studies, papaya has a hypoglycemic effect on the body. Other antioxidants found in papaya are called flavonoids, which could also lower your blood sugar levels.
Every woman can certainly testify that menstrual cramps are the most dreaded time of the month. Well, here’s some good news for ladies: women who suffer from severe dysmenorrhea may benefit from consuming papaya regularly by helping menstrual blood flow. Papain also helps in the smooth passing out of blood from your uterus, as well.
Papaya has powerful antioxidants great for improving your eyesight too. It converts carotenoids like beta-carotene into vitamin A. This vitamin end-product prevents dry eyes and night blindness. It could even ward off age-related macular degeneration in the elderly.
Aside from carotenoids, papaya also has lutein and zeaxanthin. The first compound reduces eye inflammation, fights off free radicals, decreases oxidative stress, and boosts the sharpness of vision. The latter filters out harmful blue light rays and helps build the yellow-colored pigment shield which protects the eye cells from the harmful effects of light sources, like the sun.
Papayas are also good sources of lycopene. Experts believe that eating more lycopene could potentially lower the risk of prostate cancer. Papaya may work by decreasing the free radicals that lead to cancer.
One study also demonstrated that it has anticancer activity against breast cancer cells. Fermented papaya preparation also displayed promising effects in reducing oxidative damage in one small study with older adults with inflammation and precancerous stomach conditions, however, the results of these prostate and breast cancer studies are still contradicting.
Consuming adequate amounts of vitamin K found in papaya is also important for good bone health since it improves the absorption of calcium and reduces urinary excretion of calcium. So the remaining absorbed and unabsorbed calcium in the body helps in strengthening and rebuilding bones.
Skin And Hair
The papaya’s vitamin C and lycopene may aid in skin protection, whiten the skin, help reduce signs of aging, and help in making the skin more youthful and brighter. In one study, older women who consumed a mixture of lycopene, vitamin C, and other antioxidants for two weeks had a visible and measurable reduction in the depth of facial wrinkles. Another study supported these findings where supplementing people with lycopene from papaya for a period of 10-12 weeks decreased significantly skin redness after sun exposure.
The vitamin A in papaya is can be used for sebum production to keep hair moisturized. As support to vitamin A’s helpful action in the growth of all body tissues, it could also help in skin and hair. Papaya’s vitamin C also is advantageous in building and maintaining collagen, which provides the skin’s structure.
According to Medical News Today, mashed papaya when used topically appears to be beneficial for promoting wound healing infection of burned areas. Experts believe that these effects are due to the papain and chymopapain content of papaya. Ointments that contain papain have also been used to cure bedsores (decubitus ulcers).
The papaya’s flavonoids could inhibit the growth of the dengue virus. A study using aqueous papaya leaf extract administered to a 45-year-old patient bitten by a carrier mosquito was found to be effective in increasing the platelet count. A similar study was also found to be effective by increasing the platelets of patients with dengue fever (DHF) and dengue hemorrhagic fever (DHF).
What Is The Best Time To Eat Papaya?
The best and perfect time to eat the papaya is when it is fully ripe with a characteristic red or orange skin that is soft to touch. You can simply cut it open, scoop out the seeds, and eat the fleshy orange interior out of its rind with a spoon. So, ripeness is the key! The skin and seeds are not poisonous but they may have a bitter, peppery taste, however, most people simply just don’t eat them.
As it is one of the best versatile foods, papaya can be eaten fresh or can be incorporated with other foods that complement and enhance its sweet flavor. Papaya can be made and used in salsa, jams, smoothies, relishes, salads, yogurts, appetizers, desserts, or even mixed fruit bowls. Its flavor is best when cold, so it would be a great idea to keep it refrigerated.
In addition, according to both Ayurvedic and modern scientific views, it is advisable to eat papaya at night since it acts as a laxative and cleanses the colon. However, fruits should be avoided at least 4-5 hours after meals, so it would be best to plan your dinner accordingly.
Is It Good To Eat Papaya In An Empty Stomach?
Yes, definitely. Eating fiber-rich papaya on an empty stomach is considered to be an ideal choice in the morning to start your day right since it cleans the toxins from the body and promotes bowel movements. Papaya’s antioxidants also help in lowering bad cholesterol, fighting free radicals, and preventing damage to our cells. It is also advised to avoid anything after eating papayas for at least an hour.
Where Can You Get Fresh Papaya?
Papaya is found everywhere, from supermarkets and online stores. You can buy fresh papayas from the nearest physical stores near you or you may shop online for a more convenient way and order various papaya varieties from Amazon, Walmart, Kroger, H-E-B, and Costco.
Papaya is a delicious and nutritious food best enjoyed ripe. It can be eaten alone or easily combined with other foods. Its high lycopene and vitamin C content are so beneficial in reducing inflammation and risks of many diseases. Papaya may also help in our health digestion, and skin, and displays outstanding anticancer properties.
So, what are you waiting for? Try adding this yummy papaya to your diet today to add a sweet and unique taste to your dishes. Plus, not to mention that it has many amazing health benefits that you can get!
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