You may not normally put a papaya in your grocery cart. But this fruit is a top pick if you want to step outside your comfort zone and look beyond your usual buys.
Papaya isn?t just a flavorful treat for the taste buds. It?s also full of nutrients and boasts several health benefits. Here?s what you need to know about papaya, including its history and nutritional facts, as well as tips for choosing and storing it!
What Is Papaya Exactly, and Where Does This Tropical Fruit Come From?
Papaya is a soft tropical fruit with a yellowish-orange color. This species of fruit ? which belongs to the Caricaceae family ? is round and plump and comes in larger and smaller sizes.
Its taste depends on whether you?re eating ripe or unripe papaya. When ripe, papaya is sweet and has a flavor comparable to a melon. Unripe papaya, on the other hand, may have little to no flavor. (1)
It?s believed that papaya is native to tropical America, with early origins in Mexico and South America. The fruit was brought into the Caribbean by indigenous people, and eventually made its way to Europe and the Pacific Islands before being introduced to Hawaii in the 1800s. (2)
Today, Hawaii is the only U.S. state to commercially produce papaya. (2)
Most papayas are from either Hawaii or Mexico. Mexican papayas can weigh up to 10 pounds (lb) and grow more than 15 inches long. Hawaiian papayas are smaller, averaging about 1 lb. (1)
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What?s in a Papaya? Nutrition Facts of the Yellow-Orange Fruit
Similar to other fruit, papaya is healthy when eaten as part of a balanced diet and is relatively low in calories, notes the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s MyPlate guidelines. One small papaya ? about 157 grams (g) ? has only 68 calories, according to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). (3)
Other nutritional facts for papaya:
2.7 g dietary fiber, or 10 percent DV
31 milligrams (mg) calcium, or 3.1 percent DV
33 mg magnesium, 8 percent DV
286 mg potassium, 6.08 percent DV
0.13 mg zinc, 0.9 percent DV
95.6 mg vitamin C, 106.2 percent DV
58 micrograms (mcg) folate, 14.5 percent DV
1,492 international units (IU) vitamin A, 30 percent DV
0.47 mg vitamin E, 2.4 percent DV
4.1 mcg vitamin K, 5.1, percent DV
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What Are the Potential Health Benefits of Papaya?
Healthy food choices can have a positive impact on your physical state. If you?re looking to add variety to your diet, here?s why you should eat more papaya.
May Help Reduce the Risk of Alzheimer?s Disease
Alzheimer?s disease is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that kills brain cells. It causes memory problems and a gradual loss of intellectual abilities.
The exact cause of Alzheimer?s disease is unknown. But it?s believed that oxidative stress plays a role in the condition. This is an imbalance in the body between antioxidants and free radicals, which are molecules that cause cell damage.
A study found that extracts of fermented papaya powder may help counteract the effects of oxidative stress in people living with Alzheimer?s disease and slow the progression of the illness, though the possible effects of whole papaya have not been studied for this benefit. (4)
Help Protect Against Certain Types of Cancer
Free radicals and oxidative stress are closely related to different types of cancer. Because papayas are rich in antioxidants, the fruit can help protect cells from damage and lower the risk of cancer. (5)
A lower cancer risk is also due to papaya’s lycopene, which has anti-cancer properties. Lycopene is a carotenoid and natural pigment that gives some vegetables and fruits their color. (6)
Additionally, papaya contains the antioxidant beta-carotene. One study found that beta-carotene offers protection from prostate cancer. (7)
Boosts Your Immune System
As an excellent source of vitamin C, eating papaya can boost your immune system and protect your body from a variety of illnesses and infections. (8)
Potentially Protects the Heart
Papaya contains vitamin C, potassium, antioxidants, and fiber, which helps keep your arteries healthy and promotes blood flow. This can also lower cholesterol and reduce your risk for heart disease, high blood pressure, and stroke. (8)
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Plays a Role in Fighting Inflammation
Papaya may also function as a natural painkiller because of the enzyme papain. This enzyme increases the body?s production of cytokines, which are a group of proteins that help regulate inflammation. The fruit may reduce pain caused by arthritis and similar conditions. (10)
May Help Protect the Eyes
Papaya contains a good amount of the nutrients lutein, zeaxanthin, vitamin C, and vitamin E, which can protect the eyes and help prevent eye diseases such as age-related macular degeneration. (10) Lutein and zeaxanthin are two antioxidants used in the eyes. (11)
The high water content of papaya can also help improve digestion by reducing bloating and easing constipation. The fiber in this fruit also encourages regular bowel activity, which may help lower the risk of colon cancer. (10)
Is Papaya a Good Food to Add to Your Diet for Weight Loss?
Thinking about dropping a few pounds? If so, it doesn?t hurt to add papaya to your daily menu.
Papaya is excellent for weight loss because of its low calorie count. Because the fruit is also a good source of fiber, papaya isn?t only physically satisfying ? it?ll also help you stay full longer. As a result, you may end up consuming fewer calories throughout the day.
Fiber in papaya also promotes healthy digestion. With improved digestion, you?ll feel and look less bloated, which can help flatten your stomach. (8,10)
How to Select and Store Papaya for the Best Quality and Taste
Because papaya comes from Hawaii or Mexico, chances are good you?ll be able to find this fruit in a grocery store year-round.
But just because papaya is available 12 months out of the year doesn?t mean that every selection is a perfect one. For the best-tasting papaya, only purchase the fruit when ripe, or hold off eating the fruit until it ripens. (12)
Unripe papaya has a color that?s a mixture of yellow and green. Ripe papaya, on the other hand, is bright yellow and firm (but it can feel soft with gentle pressure). If you?re buying a ripe papaya, avoid fruit that?s overly soft unless you plan to use it in a smoothie or as a puree. (12)
A good papaya also has little or no blemishes. An unripe papaya from the grocery store should ripen in a couple of days. After it?s ripe, store the fruit in the refrigerator to help slow down the ripening process.
If you have leftover papaya, it can be stored in the freezer for up to 10 months. Remove the seeds first and then cut the fruit into small pieces for storage. (12)
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Some Ideas for Preparing and Eating Papaya
One of the easiest ways to enjoy papaya is raw. Wait until the fruit ripens, and then remove the seeds (set them aside if using) and use a spoon or paring knife to scoop out the fruit.
Papaya can be eaten by itself, or added to salads, desserts, and smoothies. Several recipes also call for papaya if you?re looking to get a little creative with this week?s menu.
Here are a few options for preparing papaya:
Green Papaya Salad
Papaya Avocado Salad
Tropical Papaya Smoothie
Black Beans and Rice With Papaya and Red Onions
What Can You Do With Papaya Seeds?
Some people throw away papaya seeds after cutting the fruit. Keep in mind that the seeds are edible, too, so it?s perfectly okay to eat them.
The seeds have a crunchy texture and a slightly peppery flavor, making them the perfect seasoning for many dishes. Simply scoop out the seeds and save them for later.
Upon removing the seeds, use a strainer and rinse them in water. Rub the seeds with your hands to remove any residue, and then place them on a towel or a baking sheet on your kitchen counter to air-dry. You can crush or grind the seeds before adding them to food. (13)