Papaya During Pregnancy: Ripe, Fresh, Dried, and Enzymes

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Written by Amy Kaczor RDN

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Papaya is a tropical fruit famous for its juicy and buttery flavor. Pregnant women often worry about it when it’s not ripe, but you may also wonder if ripe papaya is safe to eat during pregnancy?

While unripe or raw papaya is very dangerous for pregnant women, ripe and fresh papaya is a nutritious fruit safe to eat during pregnancy, as long as the fruit is thoroughly washed. 

From ripe and fresh to dried and even papaya enzymes and leaves, let’s discuss the ins and outs of papaya consumption during pregnancy. 

Is Ripe (Fresh) Papaya Safe During Pregnancy? 

Sweet and juicy papaya is a beloved fruit in salads, drinks, salsas, and more! Many believe papaya is good for treating cancer, diabetes, and more, however, there is no evidence to support these claims (source: National Library of Medicine & U.S. Department of Health and Human Services). But, it is still a nutrient-rich fruit bursting with flavor!

a plate of sliced ripe papaya on papaya leaf

You may have been warned to stay away from any and all papaya during your pregnancy. But what is the basis for this warning?

First, it is essential to note that unripe, raw, or “green” papaya is not safe and should be avoided entirely by pregnant women. This recommendation applies to even slightly ripe papaya. 

Unripe papaya contains a chemical called papain that has the potential to cause congenital disabilities and may be toxic to the developing baby (source: National Library of Medicine & U.S. Department of Health and Human Services).

Additionally, unripe papaya contains latex which can contribute to uterine contractions that may result in preterm labor (source: British Journal of Nutrition). 

Check out this article to learn more about consuming unripe or raw papaya during pregnancy. Note that semi-ripe papaya still contains an unsafe amount of papain and latex.

As the papaya ripens and yields to a classic golden yellow peel, the amount of papain and latex decreases to negligible. Furthermore, according to a study published in the British Journal of Nutrition, pregnant rats who received a ripe papaya blend had no significant adverse effects and the ripe papaya was deemed safe to consume by researchers. 

Additionally, as with all fresh fruits, vegetables, and herbs, ensure your ripened papaya has been washed. Proper cleansing includes washing the fruit with running water and scrubbing with a clean vegetable brush (source: U.S. Food & Drug Administration [FDA]). Cut off any bruises the fruit may have, and completely discard if the papaya is rotten.

In other words, eating ripe papaya is safe during healthy pregnancy as long as it has been adequately washed – but ensure it really is ripe.  

Are Papaya Seeds Safe for Pregnancy?

So, what about the seeds of the papaya? The crunchy and nutritious seeds are known for their healthy fats, including monounsaturated fatty acids that can improve heart health (source: Journal of Food Lipids). 

However, in a study published in the Nigerian Postgraduate Medical Journal, pregnant laboratory rats that received an extract from papaya seeds in very large amounts experienced altered fetal development. Therefore, since there is no conclusive evidence of papaya seed consumption’s safety in humans, it is best to avoid consuming papaya seeds during pregnancy. 

You may accidentally eat a seed or two when consuming fresh, ripe papaya. Is this a problem?

In the previously mentioned study, a low dose did not cause any negative effects in the baby. 

So, if you accidentally consume a few seeds, do not worry, as it is very unlikely to cause any harm. However, take utmost care to avoid eating too many papaya seeds while pregnant.

ripe papaya with seeds

Can Ripe Papaya Stop Pregnancy or Cause Miscarriage?

While eating unripe, or even semi-ripe, papaya can have adverse effects on pregnancy, there is no evidence to support that consuming ripe papaya during pregnancy can cause an abortion or miscarriage (source: British Journal of Nutrition). 

When shopping for papayas at the grocery store, look for yellow skin, a sweet odor, and a slight softness to the touch. Avoid papayas with any bruises or broken skin. 

If you feel you are not sure if your papaya is ripe or not, the best bet is to avoid consuming it during your pregnancy. 

Are Papaya Enzymes Safe During Pregnancy?

Papaya enzymes are commonly used to treat pregnancy-related nausea or heartburn.

A study published in the journal Neuroendocrinology Letters examined the use of papaya enzymes for digestive issues. Researchers found a benefit to the enzymes; however, the study did not include pregnant women, likely due to ethical concerns about experimenting on pregnant women and their babies. Therefore, since there is no conclusive research that papaya enzymes are safe, it is best to avoid them during pregnancy. 

Additionally, non-food supplements, such as papaya enzymes, are not approved by the FDA before they hit the shelves (source: FDA). However, the FDA does monitor any adverse health effects that may occur after someone has already taken the food supplement. Therefore, exercise caution when consuming dietary supplements during pregnancy and speak with your physician before use.

Can I Have Dried Papaya When Pregnant?

Whether in trail mix, cereal bars, tropical snack mixes, or just on its own, dried papaya is a popular sweet snack on the grocery store shelves. However, is it safe for pregnancy?

Unfortunately, store-bought dried papaya does not often specify if the papaya fruit is ripe, unripe, or even semi-ripe. There also is a lack of studies examining if dried unripe papaya still contains dangerous chemicals, including papain and latex. 

Therefore, avoid consuming store-bought dried papaya out of an abundance of caution. However, homemade dried papaya can be safely consumed if you ensure that the papaya used is ripe, fresh, and appropriately washed.

Another concern of dried papaya and many other dried fruits is the high sugar content. According to the journal Nutrients, consuming excessive sugary foods during pregnancy can contribute to obesity, increasing the risk of high blood pressure, preeclampsia, gestational diabetes mellitus, and more. 

two glasses of papaya juice with fresh ripe papaya

Is Papaya Juice Bad for Pregnancy? Is it Safe?

Regarding papaya juice, safety is once again determined by whether the specified juice is made from ripe or unripe papaya fruits. Unfortunately, like dried papaya, many nutrition facts labels of commercially-made papaya juices do not specify if the papayas are ripe or unripe.

While they are likely ripe and the risk of harm is relatively low, ripe papaya juice should be avoided during pregnancy. In addition, ripe papaya juice is often high in sugar, which — as mentioned above — can contribute to chronic health conditions, including gestational diabetes, when consumed in excess. 

Regarding all fruit juices, the FDA recommends only consuming pasteurized juices during pregnancy. Pasteurization is the process of heating to high temperatures that kill any potential bacteria that may be present.

While most store-bought juices that are commercially made are pasteurized, avoid any juice from health markets, farmer’s markets, and juice stands that have not been pasteurized.

Is Papaya Leaf Safe When Pregnant?

Papaya leaf, leaf extract, or tea made from the leaves has not been extensively researched in humans, especially in pregnant women. However, some animal studies have proposed the potential for papaya leaf to have toxic effects during pregnancy (Source: Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center). 

Therefore, do not consume papaya leaf products, leaf extract, or papaya leaf tea during pregnancy.

I hope you found this article helpful in breaking down the facts about eating papaya while you are pregnant. If you want full details about unripe papaya in pregnancy, you can find that here.