While papaya's exact origins remain elusive, it's believed to have first grown in Central America and Mexico, notes Purdue University. It has long been used as a source of nutrition, and papaya's cultivation dates back to the early 1500s. Like other fruits, papaya is relatively low in calories -- one cup of mashed papaya contain 99 calories -- so it's easy to include in a calorie-conscious meal plan. Because it serves as an excellent source of nutrients, and has no nutritional disadvantages, papaya makes a worthwhile addition to your diet.
Full of Fiber
Papayas make healthful additions to your diet, because they boost your fiber intake. A cup of mashed papaya boasts 3.9 grams of dietary fiber, which is approximately 10 and 15 percent of the daily fiber needs for men and women, respectively, according to the Institute of Medicine. Fiber promotes regular bowel movements, preventing and treating constipation, and also helps control other digestive issues, such as diverticular disease. Eating fiber-rich foods also benefits your heart -- some types of fiber increase cholesterol excretion, which lowers your blood cholesterol levels.
Packed with Vitamin C and Lycopene
Papaya also boasts an impressive amount of lycopene and vitamin C, two beneficial antioxidants. Your cells need antioxidants to prevent oxidative damage -- a type of damage that contributes to gene mutations and harms your cell membranes and proteins. Vitamin C also offers health benefits, because it contributes to brain function and strengthens connective tissues. A cup of mashed papaya provides 140 milligrams of vitamin C -- your entire daily requirement, established by the IoM. Each serving also boasts 4.2 milligrams of lycopene, which makes papaya one of the richest lycopene sources, behind tomatoes and watermelon.
Rich in Vitamin A
Papaya also proves beneficial because of it provides a generous amount of vitamin A. Eating a cup of mashed papaya boosts your vitamin A intake by 2,185 international units -- 94 and 73 percent of the recommended daily intakes set for women and men, respectively, by the IoM. Vitamin A combats infectious disease by helping your body make white blood cells -- the cells that destroy infectious agents -- and by keeping your skin healthy, so it can act as a barrier to keep pathogens out. You also need vitamin A for healthy vision, and rely on it for red blood cell production.
Great in Smoothies, Salads and More
Papaya works well in a range of nutritious dishes, which makes it easy to enjoy its health benefits. Add chopped papaya to spinach salads, or pair it with lean grilled steak, toasted coconut and cilantro on a bed of chopped romaine for a healthful, Thai-inspired lunch. Mix mashed papaya into your morning oatmeal for healthful "tropical" oats, or freeze mashed papaya in an ice cube tray and use it for frozen fruit smoothies.