Papaya is a sweet, tropical fruit that has so much flavor, but even more health benefits. It’s a unique looking fruit that’s large in size and has an inside full of small round black seeds. When it’s sliced in half lengthwise it looks like a boat! The inside is bright orange and the outside is green when it’s unripe but turns yellow as it ripens. It’s juicy and sweet and everything but the skin is edible! Even the seeds, although they are pretty bitter in flavor. Papayas can get up to 20 inches long and they are shaped similar to a pear. Now that you know the physical appearance of the papaya, let’s get into some of the health benefits of papaya.
1. Vitamin C Powerhouse
Papaya is a great source of vitamin C. It’s impressive. One large papaya contains 391 percent of the daily requirement for vitamin C. Wow! Now it’s not likely that you will eat a large papaya in one sitting, so putting it into perspective, one cup of papaya still contains 144 percent of the daily requirement for vitamin C. Still just as amazing!
Vitamin C is beneficial for immunity as you may already know, but it’s also helpful for reducing the frequency of heart disease and lowering blood pressure. Bonus: vitamin C also helps the body absorb iron better. In one study, vitamin C supplementation was shown to help children control their anemia.
So whether you’re looking to boost your immune system, reduce heart disease, control blood pressure, or manage low iron, papaya is the way to go with its high levels of vitamin C.
2. Kick Those Free Radicals
Papayas have antioxidant properties that help to neutralize free radicals in the body. Free radicals induce oxidative stress, which can lead to illness and disease. The antioxidants found in papayas, known as carotenoids—and specifically lycopene—have been shown to be bioavailable in papayas. That means the body can absorb them better from papaya than other fruits and vegetables that contain them like tomatoes and carrots. Papaya fruit benefits for the win!
Interestingly enough, fermented papaya is even more beneficial when it comes to kicking those free radicals. One study showed that fermented papaya powder significantly reduced oxidative damage in Alzheimer’s patients. Fermented papaya has also been shown to have those same effects in older adults to slow the aging process. Fresh papaya or fermented papaya are both great sources of antioxidants to fight the free radicals to keep the body strong against illness and disease.
3. Digestion Booster
Is there anyone who wouldn’t want better digestion? A happy belly is always good. And papaya works wonders on the digestive system. Papaya contains an enzyme known as papain. Papain helps the body to digest meat because it breaks the proteins down into smaller fragments known as amino acids. This aids the body’s digestion process when consuming tough meat proteins. It’s actually a common ingredient in meat tenderizers because of its effects! So cool. Anytime you can help aid your body’s ability to digest food, it will streamline the process.
Not only does papaya help with the digestion of proteins, but it’s also great for the digestive system as a whole. Specifically, with IBS (irritable bowel syndrome) symptoms like bloating and constipation. One study showed that papaya had positive effects on heartburn, constipation, and overall symptoms of IBS. And in animal studies, the little black papaya seeds found inside the fruit have been shown to treat ulcers. It’s a powerful fruit in every way! Next time you think about what you can do to improve your digestive system, grab a ripe papaya and eat away.
What to Look for in a Papaya
The most common types of papaya that you find in grocery stores are Mexican and Hawaiian. The Mexican varieties can weigh up to 10 pounds! They have both red and yellow flesh, but red is the most common. They aren’t as sweet as Hawaiian papayas but still pack all the benefits. The most common papayas from Hawaii are the sunrise and sunset papayas. These are the sweetest varieties and have a red-orange flesh color.
When purchasing papaya, look for the skin to be mostly yellow with a little bit of green. It will finish ripening once you bring it home. Nobody likes an unripe papaya, so avoid papayas that are completely green in color because they won’t fully ripen—they were picked too early. Once you start looking for papayas and purchasing them, you’ll soon discover which are your favorites and how to find the perfect one.
They ripen quickly once they are yellow; they need to be eaten as soon as they are fully ripe. They can mold quickly, so if you have a ripe papaya that you aren’t ready to eat, remove the skin and seeds, then chop it up and freeze it. You can use the frozen papaya in smoothies or smoothie bowls! Or you can let it defrost and use it in fresh preparations.
Speaking of eating, below are a few recipes that you can use to incorporate and eat papaya in your daily life. It’s so sweet and delicious, don’t be surprised if you want to eat it every day!
Papaya Fruit Boats
This is a quick and easy way to eat papaya for breakfast or a refreshing snack. It’s simple to prepare and lets the fruit bask in its unadulterated glory.
- 1 papaya, sliced in half lengthwise
- 1/2 cup raspberries
- 1/2 cup blueberries
- 1 banana, sliced
- 1 lemon
Use a spoon to remove all the black seeds from the papaya. Divide the rest of the ingredients among both halves of the papaya.
Juice half a lemon over each papaya boat. Grab a spoon and enjoy!
Talk about a refreshing smoothie! And one that helps reduce bloating, too? That’s a double win. You can enjoy this for breakfast or a midday snack and reap all the digestive benefits of the fresh papaya.
- 1 cup coconut water
- Handful of spinach
- 1/2 cup papaya
- 1/2 cup pineapple
- 1/4 cup mint leaves
- 1 tablespoon chia seeds
Add all your ingredients to a blender and blend on high until smooth. Drink up and enjoy!
Healing Smoothie Bowl
Who said you have to drink your smoothies? This smoothie bowl is sweet and decadent like you’re eating a bowl of fruity ice cream. It’s the perfect way to sneak more papaya into your diet.
- 1/3 cup water
- Handful of cilantro
- 1/2 frozen banana
- 1 cup frozen papaya
- 3 frozen strawberries
- 1 teaspoon Manuka honey
Add all ingredients to a blender and blend until smooth. It will be thick and that’s exactly what you want!
Top with hemp seed, shredded coconut, more honey, or fresh fruit. Make it your own.
Chicken and Papaya Salad
Papaya in a salad? With chicken? Yes! It’s the perfect sweet component to a savory dish like a salad. Just think of salads that have strawberries or fruits like apples and pears. Why not papaya in a salad? And with the papain to help break down the proteins in the chicken, it’s a boost to your taste buds and your digestion!
- 2 boneless skinless chicken breasts
- 2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil
- 1/4 teaspoon Himalayan pink salt
- 1/8 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1/8 teaspoon dried thyme
- 1/8 teaspoon dried oregano
- 4 cups mixed greens
- 1 Persian cucumber, sliced thin
- 1 avocado, skin and seed removed and sliced
- 1/2 papaya, skin and seeds removed and sliced
- 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
- 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
- 2 teaspoons dried oregano
- 1 teaspoon Himalayan pink salt
- 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
Preheat your oven to 425 degrees. Add your chicken breasts to a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Drizzle the olive oil and spices to coat both sides of the chicken. Roast the chicken in the oven for 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, whisk together your dressing ingredients in a small bowl and set aside.
In a large bowl add in your salad ingredients.
When the chicken is done, remove from the oven and let cool. Slice each breast and add to the salad.
Toss the dressing with the salad and serve!
Sweet and Spicy Roasted Papaya
Fruit for dessert? There’s nothing better than using nature’s sweet fruits to satisfy your sweet tooth. And this recipe is extremely easy to prepare. It’s a dessert that requires no flour or dough or mixing. Easy peasy!
- 1 papaya, sliced in half lengthwise and seeds removed
- 1 tablespoon coconut sugar
- 1/8 teaspoon ground ginger
- 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
Preheat your oven to 450 degrees. Mix together the coconut sugar, ground ginger, and cayenne pepper. Sprinkle the mixture over both halves of the papaya and bake in the oven for about 30 minutes until the papaya begins to caramelize from the sugar.
You can serve the papaya with a lemon or lime wedge to give it a kick of citrus.
Between the delicious flavor of the papaya fruit and the numerous health benefits, it’s a food you don’t want to ignore! Most grocery stores carry a small inventory of papayas, so keep your eye out next time you’re grocery shopping and grab one or two to take full advantage of the benefits of eating papaya!
*Editor’s Note: The information in this article is intended for your educational use only; does not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Chopra Center's Mind-Body Medical Group; and is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health providers with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition and before undertaking any diet, supplement, fitness, or other health program.