It is bright pink, has scales like a dragon and is crunchy in texture. We’re talking about dragon fruit, a unique looking tropical fruit which is known for its superfood powers.
Also known as pitaya, this fruit is actually the succulent stem of the cactus. Dragon fruit is loaded with nutrients which provide various health benefits like stronger bones, healthier immune system, and reduced risk of respiratory problems.
Read on to know more about how dragon fruit benefits the body.
What is dragon fruit?
Dragon fruit, also known as pitaya, pitahaya, and strawberry pear, is a tropical superfood known for its numerous health benefits. It is indigenous to Central and South America but is grown and exported from many Southeast Asian countries like Thailand and Vietnam.
Dragon fruit looks like a soft pineapple with spikes, and it can have bright pink, red or yellow skin, with white or red flesh with tiny black seeds inside. Dragon fruit has a slightly sweet taste like that of a kiwi or a pear and has a crunchy texture.
History of dragon fruit
Dragon fruit originated in Southeast Asia and is a part of the cactus family. Now, this fruit is grown in South Florida, the Caribbean, Hawai, Taiwan, and Malaysia.
According to the Aztec literature, the history of dragon fruit dates back to the 13th century. The dragon fruit was introduced to Vietnam over a century ago when the French brought it there.
When the Vietnamese realized how delicious the plant was, they encouraged its cultivation. This fruit was then grown commercially and even exported.
The dragon flower grows in warm climate around the good organic soil. It produces large white flowers that have a sweet fragrance.
The flowers of this plant glow only at night and have earned nicknames like moonflower or lady of the night. The plant has up to six fruit producing cycles annually.
Dragon fruit nutrition
Dragon fruit is a rich source of phytonutrients and antioxidants. In fact, even the peel of this fruit is found to be useful in pharmaceutical, cosmetic and nutraceutical industry.
Nutritional values of dragon fruit – A 100 gram serving of white fleshed dragonfruit contains (1) –
- Calories: 50
- Carbs: 11 grams (3.4% of DV)
- Fiber: 3 grams (12% of DV)
- Proteins: 1.1 grams (2.1% of DV)
- Fat: 0.4 grams
- Vitamin C: 20.5 mg (34.2% of DV)
- Iron: 1.9 mg (10.6% of DV)
- Vitamin B2: 0.05 (2.9% of DV)
- Vitamin B1: 0.04 (2.7% of DV)
- Vitamin B3: 0.16 (.8% of DV)
Dragon fruit benefits
The antioxidant and antibacterial properties of dragon fruit provide its many health benefits. Here are some of the best health benefits of dragon fruit.
1. Prevents cancer
Dragon fruits are rich in carotene and lycopene, which are known to have anti-carcinogenic properties (2, 3). Lycopene helps provide chemopreventive properties for prostate, breast, lung, liver, and skin cancer.
According to a study published in Nutrition and Cancer, lycopene treatment leads to a decrease in cancerous cells (4).
Dragon fruit also contains phytoalbumin and vitamin C, which together help in preventing colon cancer (5).
2. Boosts immunity
Dragon fruit is rich in immunity fighting vitamin C and flavonoids. This fruit contains in anti-oxidants, which prevent cell damage and inflammation. Studies have shown that antioxidants help prevent chronic diseases like heart disease, cancer, diabetes and arthritis (6).
Other nutrients of dragon fruit like Vitamin B1, B2, B3, calcium, phosphorus, iron, protein, niacin and fiber also contribute to boosting immunity.
According to a study published in the Journal of Food and Science, the flesh and the peel of the red and white dragon fruit have high flavonoid and polyphenol content, which help eliminate free radicals.
They also help prevent the proliferation of cancer cells. The antioxidants also help in increasing the platelet count, which treats dengue and help in recovering from it faster (7).
3. Prevents and treats diabetes
Dragon fruit is rich in fiber, which helps stabilize blood sugar levels, which is beneficial for type 2 diabetics and prediabetics. Dragon fruit helps prevent blood sugar spikes after eating high glycemic index foods.
According to a 2017 study, prediabetics who ate dragon fruit showed a higher reduction in blood sugar levels when compared to people who had not eaten this beneficial fruit (8).
During another animal-based study, researchers found that when obese mice ate dragon fruit, it helped reduce the risk of diabetes and the symptoms of diabetes (9).
4. Improves digestion
Dragon fruits have high fiber content which helps in the bowel movements and facilitates their smooth passage through the digestive tract.
The high fiber content thus helps prevent constipation and irritable bowel syndrome. With three grams of fiber in a 100-gram serving, it is an excellent source of fiber.
Dragon fruit also contains oligosaccharides, which are highly beneficial for digestive health. Oligosaccharides are prebiotics which helps improve gut health (10).
According to studies, prebiotics stimulates the growth of bifidogenic and lactic acid bacteria in the gastrointestinal tract which also helps in the reduction of risk of infection in the digestive tract and diarrhea.
5. Improves cardiovascular health
Dragon fruit is an excellent source of magnesium and does not contain any unhealthy saturated fats (11). So, eating dragon fruit improves HDL cholesterol land decreases the elves of LDL or bad cholesterol.
According to a study published in the Journal of Pharmacognosy research, dragon fruit is an excellent cholesterol-lowering fruit. The monounsaturated fats present in this tropical fruit keep the heart in good shape.
The tiny black seeds present inside the dragon fruit also help in keeping the heart healthy as they contain omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. These fatty acids lower the levels of triglycerides and decrease the risk of cardiovascular disease.
6. Prevents anemia
Dragon fruit is one of the few iron-rich fresh fruits. The iron content of dragon fruit is excellent for boosting the hemoglobin levels in people with anemia.
In fact, a 100 grams serving of dragon fruit contains 10.6 percent of our daily need for iron. The vitamin C present in this fruit helps the body absorb the iron better.
Deficiency of iron is one of the most common deficiencies worldwide, with an estimated 30 percent of the world population deficient in iron (12).
7. Prevents premature aging
The rich antioxidant properties of dragon fruit help in reducing the signs of premature aging by fighting the damage caused by free radicals.
They aid in treating acne, sunburn and dry skin. The high vitamin C content of dragon fruit is especially helpful in making the skin tight, bright and youthful.
Dragon fruit also contains phosphorus which is an essential mineral for the body. In fact, it makes up one percent of our body weight (13).
It is vital for the growth, maintenance, and repair of our cells and tissues and this helps in preventing premature aging.
Dragon fruit is a good source of protein. Protein is essential for overall health as it helps to build and maintain bones, blood vessels, hair, teeth, and tissue.
When we consume protein-rich foods, the enzymes metabolize and transform it into proteins to help to speed up cell repair and improve strength and metabolism. It thus helps increase muscle mass and leads to weight loss.
9. Good for eyes
Dragon fruit also helps to maintain and improve the eyes. The beta-carotene found in this fruit helps the eye membrane create a barrier so that the bacteria can not enter the eye. This property helps reduce the risk of eye infection significantly (14).
Dragon fruit also helps in inhibiting the growth of human cytochrome P450, a protein found in the liver. This protein is often linked to the occurrence of congenital glaucoma.
10. Helps to strengthen bones and teeth
Dragon fruit is packed with calcium, vitamin D and phosphorus, which are essential for stronger bones and teeth. These nutrients improve bone mineral density and prevent osteoporosis. Thus, eating dragon fruit helps keep bones and teeth healthy.
How to buy and use dragon fruit
You can purchase fresh dragon fruit from your local supermarket and even online. Make sure the fruit is not too soft and does not have any brown spots.
There are three different varieties of dragon fruit that you can choose from – red skin with red flesh, red skin with white meat and yellow skin with white flesh.
To eat, slice this fruit into quarters and peel off the flesh. Eat only the fleshy part as the skin can be quite bitter.
Since dragon fruits are seasonal, you can use freeze-dried dragon fruit powder to add to smoothies, yogurts, and desserts. Even dragon fruit chips are a healthy option.
The meat of the dragon fruit can be used to make juice or wine. Its leaves can be steeped to make tea.
Dragon fruit is a delicious and nutritious tropical fruit. It is low in calories, carbs, and fats, and rich in many nutrients including.
This fruit is a rich source of phytonutrients and antioxidants. It is also high in proteins, vitamin C, and iron. The benefits of dragon fruit include cancer prevention, improved heart health, and better immunity.
It also helps prevent premature aging, strengthens bones and teeth and helps treat anemia. Add dragon fruit to your diet to enjoy its numerous health benefits.