What is the best fruit for long life? The No. 1 choice for some centenarians

The Today Show

Papaya has such a reputation for a host of health benefits that it is called the “fruit of long life.”

It has been listed as one of the “life-extending superfoods” eaten in Blue Zones – places around the world where people live extraordinarily long and healthy lives.

Headlines have called it “the No. 1 fruit eaten by the world’s elderly.”

Pearl Taylor, a 103-year-old woman who lives independently in Dayton, Ohio, and offers life advice on TikTok, says she has been eating papaya every morning for years.

“More people need to learn about papaya,” she told TODAY.com. “Papaya is an excellent fruit.”

What is papaya?

Papaya is a tropical fruit with vibrant yellow or orange flesh and black seeds. They are “aromatic and juicy with a mild, sweet flavor,” notes the Florida Department of Agriculture.

The American Heart Association adds that its milky, buttery texture is ideal for smoothies.

In the United States, papaya is grown in Hawaii, California, Texas and Florida, but most of the fruit sold in stores is imported from Mexico, according to the Western Institute for Food Safety and Security.

Papaya nutrition

One cup of papaya cut into small pieces contains the following, according to the USDA:

Papaya contains no cholesterol and contains less than 1 gram of fat or protein per serving.

They’re packed with nutrients including magnesium, potassium, folate, lycopene, and vitamins A, C, E and K. It also contains a little iron and calcium.

What are the benefits of eating papaya?

Papaya is “a great choice in terms of fruit,” says registered dietitian Maya Feller of Brooklyn-based Maya Feller Nutrition and author of Eating From Our Roots: More than 80 Healthy Home-Cooked Foods from Cultures Around the World.

“Papaya is a great source of various phenolic compounds and flavonoids,” Feller tells TODAY.com, referring to bioactive molecules found in plants that are anti-inflammatory and considered beneficial to human health.

“They have antioxidant activity which is pretty cool… Antioxidants really help mitigate the effect of free radical damage.”

Free radicals are harmful molecules that are generated when the body performs regular processes necessary for life. The National Cancer Institute notes that this damage can lead to inflammation and may increase the risk of cancer and other diseases, but antioxidants can protect cells from it.

Feller points out that the distinctive yellow or orange color of papaya is the result of carotenoids, such as beta-carotene, a chemical that helps form vitamin A, which acts as antioxidants.

Another carotenoid found in papaya is lycopene, which may reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke, according to the American Heart Association.

Studies have found that carotenoids can be protective against cancer as well. A study found that papaya is more bioavailable, meaning the body absorbs and uses it better, than tomatoes and carrots in humans.

Fruit contains fiber, which supports gut health and can help lower cholesterol.

Feller adds that it is high in potassium, which can lower blood pressure and can have a beneficial effect on cardiovascular health.

She notes that there is also thought to be some potential for anti-diabetic activity in people who eat papaya because of how the fruit affects glucose and insulin response.

Is papaya considered a superfood?

Feller says she doesn’t call anything a superfood.

“All of the produce pieces have great properties and work best synergistically and when consumed across a broad spectrum, which means there is a lot of diversity in a person’s eating pattern,” she points out.

“If we tell people that papaya is a superfood and they all switch to eating it, but they were eating oranges, lemons, limes, kiwis, bananas and pineapples before, and they only ate papaya, they will miss out on the next opportunity.” Nutrients found in those other foods.

Is it good to eat papaya every day?

Yes, says Feller. She adds that her family is of Afro-Caribbean descent, they eat it every day, and they all have excellent Labs.

But she points out that it also depends on how people approach their diet.

“If there is papaya in your area that is ripe and delicious, go for it.”

Is it good to eat papaya seeds?

People usually choose to extract the seeds, which are a bit bitter, peppery, and “not very flavorful,” notes Feller.

She adds that they are edible and nutritious. A study showed that eating dried papaya seeds can eliminate intestinal parasites in humans.

Papaya dangers

Avoid unripe papaya because it contains papain, an enzyme that breaks down proteins, carbohydrates and fats, and can damage the esophagus or harm the fetus if a pregnant woman eats it, according to the National Library of Medicine.

Ripe fruit does not contain the enzyme.

The agency warns that unripe papaya also contains latex, which may cause a reaction in people with a latex allergy.

How to choose papaya

The fruit can be found in stores year-round, but is at its peak season in the summer and early fall, advises the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

Choose smaller papayas—they tend to taste better than larger types—with skin that has already begun to change from green to yellow or orange, or has already reached peak color, recommends the Martha Stewart website.

She notes that papayas are ripe when they are tender and smell “rich and slightly musky.”

This article was originally published on TODAY.com

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