Papaya Doesn't Just Taste Like Paradise—It's Packed With Fiber, Antioxidants, and More Sweet Benefits

Don't be turned off its distinctive scent—here are all the nutritious benefits you'll get from eating papaya.

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Papaya health benefits and nutrition: ripe papaya cross-section on a pink background
Photo: okeykat/Getty Images

Papayas are a tropical fruit that most likely makes you think of a warm weather vacation. This fruit is not native to the U.S., and most of the papayas you'll find here are imported from Mexico. However, it's also grown in limited supply in Hawaii, California, Texas, and Southern Florida, and Florida is the only place where papaya can grow year round.

Papayas are known for their unpleasant, nose-wrinkling scent and their sweet and vibrant orange flesh—both of which hint at the plentiful nutrients that they contain. Papayas have long been used for medicinal purposes to treat a wide range of ailments including menstrual pain and irregularity, ringworm, and even malaria. While the effectiveness of these particular remedial uses haven't been scientifically proven, there's no doubt that this fruit has some powerful health benefits.

Even more, it's a scrumptious and versatile fruit you can eat fresh, dried, and added to savory chicken and seafood dishes or salads. The fact that papayas are incredibly nutritious is a lucky bonus. Here are some of the top healthy reasons to pick up papaya on your next supermarket run.

Papaya Nutrition and Health Benefits

Papayas provide fiber to promote gut health.

Papayas are a good source of fiber, which is essential for regulating digestion and promoting feelings of satiety (so you're more likely to stop eating when you're full and happy—not sick and stuffed). Papayas are also 88 percent water, which helps with motility (check out more healthy foods that can keep you hydrated and regular). A high-fiber diet is also known to support healthy blood sugar, making papaya even more helpful for lowering cholesterol levels. Plus, your immune system is also housed in your gut, so a healthy gut can keep you healthy overall.

Papayas are immune system boosters.

Speaking of supporting a healthy immune system, papaya has been heralded as an immunostimulant (quite literally, substances that help activate the immune system). They're a great source of beta carotene, an antioxidant that's been shown to support immune health.

"Papayas are loaded with key nutrients that help support an overall healthy lifestyle," says Lauren Manaker MS, RDN, LD, a Charleston-based nutritionist. "In fact, one small papaya provides more than 100 percent of the recommended dietary intake (RDI) of vitamin C people need in one day."

Papayas are rich in antioxidants.

This bright orange fruit has impressive levels of antioxidants, including vitamins A, C, and E, that work together to reduce the risk of heart disease and prevent oxidation of cholesterol, which increases the risk of plaque formation in your arteries. These can also reduce inflammation, making papayas a smart addition to an anti-arthritic diet.

Papaya may protect against certain cancers.

"Like other foods that are naturally red or pink in color—think watermelon and tomatoes—papayas contain a carotenoid called lycopene," Manaker says. "Lycopene intake is linked to a slew of health benefits, including that it may reduce the risk of developing certain types of cancers." A number of studies show that lycopene can prevent the growth of cancer cells, especially lung cancer, and it can help fight breast, stomach, and colon cancer cells.

Papaya is a natural meat tenderizer.

Papaya contains the enzyme papain, which can naturally break down tough meat fibers. (P.S. papain is the reason why papayas smell so bad!) With the added antimicrobial benefits, papaya extract or leaf are considered ideal for tenderizing meat.

Papaya Risk Factors

If you have a latex allergy, eating papayas may cause an allergic reaction, too. Certain fruits—including papayas—have been found to contain similar allergen proteins to those found in latex (which comes from the sap of the rubber tree, Hevea brasiliensis). According to a 2021 scientific paper published in the World Allergy Organization Journal, 21 to 58 percent of people with a natural rubber latex allergy have "latex-fruit syndrome."

Easy Papaya Recipes

Sure, you can enjoy papaya all on its own, but these delicious dishes featuring papaya take it up a notch.

Papaya and Jicama Aguachile

Papaya and Jicama Agachile
Victor Protasio

Aguachile is a Mexican dish traditionally prepared with either raw shrimp or white-fleshed fish cured gently in a bright, acidic marinade (similar to ceviche). This vegetarian take on aguachile features crisp jicama and tender papaya fruit instead of the usual seafood—and it's insanely refreshing and delicious.

Tropical Fruit Salad

Tropical Fruit Salad
Victor Protasio

Whisk yourself away to somewhere warm, relaxing, and lined with palm trees—simply by indulging in this colorful tropical fruit salad.

No-Churn Papaya Ice Cream

Victor Protasio

No ice cream maker? No problem. Whip heavy cream together with sweetened condensed milk, then fold in some juicy papaya for a mouthwatering, no-churn dessert. Top with roasted pineapple, toasted coconut flakes, and a sprinkle of flaky sea salt.

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