The papaya is a tropical fruit native to Mexico or Central America that grows today in most tropical regions, including Hawaii, Mexico, Africa and India. A mature fruit weighs about 1 lb. and its flesh color is a variation of orange and pink. It has a sweet, spicy flavor that pairs well with yogurt, salad greens and seafood. The papaya offers a variety of nutrients that provide health benefits.
A small, 5.5-oz. papaya provides 1,492 international units of vitamin A, or 30 percent of the 5,000 IU Food and Drug Administration daily value. Vitamin A is a nutrient that stimulates the production of white blood cells that the immune system uses to fight against infections. Pregnant and breastfeeding women particularly need to meet the daily vitamin A requirement, because it controls cell growth and division important for fetal development.
The fiber content in one small papaya is 2.7 g, or 11 percent of the 25 g daily value. Fiber is a component of plant-based foods that provides the bulk of stool, absorbing dead cells and metabolic waste in the intestinal tract and removing it in the process of elimination. Meeting the daily fiber requirement is important for removing harmful waste quickly that would otherwise pass through the intestinal wall and damage healthy cells in the body.
A small papaya contains 2.9 mg of lycopene. The Mayo Clinic website recommends 2 to 30 mg per day for disease prevention. Lycopene, an antioxidant comparable in its effectiveness to vitamin C, protects healthy cells from byproducts of normal metabolism that often cause cell DNA and structural damage that can eventually lead to disease and symptoms of premature aging, such as wrinkles.
The vitamin C content in one small papaya is 96 mg, or 160 percent of the 60 mg FDA daily value. Vitamin C is a nutrient that protects the cells in the blood vessel walls from oxidation. Oxidation damages healthy cell walls by altering the chemical composition of the cholesterol structural component. In the process of repairing the damaged cells, saturated fats become trapped in the bloodstream, blocking blood flow and causing the potential for cardiac arrest.