Dragon Fruit: Facts and Benefits
Dragon fruit, also known as pitaya, pithaya, or strawberry pear, is a tropical cactus fruit that has become popular in North America and Europe. All species belong to either the genus Selenicereus (formerly Hylocereus) or Stenocereus. Dragon fruits are rich in nutrients such as vitamin C and antioxidants which can help to promote healthier skin and hair. There are many benefits to eating dragon fruit such as helping with weight loss, improving the immune system, promoting heart health, and more.
Dragon fruit is an exotic fruit that has a unique shape and vibrant, usually red, color and is packed with nutrients. Its appearance is striking, with red or pink skin of spiky scales that conceal a bright-white flesh. The inside of the fruit is filled with small edible black seeds. Dragon fruit is a tropical and subtropical fruit that belongs to the same family as pineapples, avocados, and bananas. It is indigenous to the Americas and especially South America and Central America in countries such as Mexico, Costa Rica, Colombia, Brazil, and more but it is now grown in tropical and subtropical regions throughout the world. Dragon fruit has been around for centuries but only recently has become popular in most parts of the United States and Europe. Its name is derived from the dragon-like or scaled appearance of the fruit's exterior. It is a cacti plant and there are several different species including Selenicereus undatus, Selenicereus costaricensis, and Stenocereus gummosus among types of dragon fruits.
Dragon fruit is a nutrient-dense paleo food that can help provide the body with essential nutrients. It is low in calories and fat, but high in vitamin C, fiber, magnesium, and calcium. One serving of dragon fruit, which is 100g and roughly the size of one fruit, contains 260 kcal or 1,100 kilojoules which makes it a great energy booster. The water content also contributes to its low-calorie content. Dragon fruit is also rich in vitamin C, providing 11% of the daily recommended value per 100g serving. Vitamin C aids in the production of collagen and helps with iron absorption. The fruit is also a great source of dietary fiber which can help improve digestion, reduce cholesterol levels, and lower blood pressure all while promoting weight loss.
According to the USDA, or United States Department of Agriculture, the nutritional value of one serving of dragon fruit is as follows:
Nutritional value per 100 g (3.5 oz)
Energy 1,100 kJ (260 kcal)
Carbohydrates 82.14 g
Sugars 82.14 g
Dietary fiber 1.8 g
Protein 3.57 g
Vitamins Quantity %DV†
Vitamin C 9.2 mg 11%
Minerals Quantity %DV†
Calcium 107 mg 11%
Sodium 39 mg 3%
Dragon fruit can provide numerous health benefits to those who eat it. Some of the effects of dragon fruit include:
Dragon fruit is rich in antioxidants which can help prevent cell damage. These nutrients are also known to be great for boosting the immune system, can be anticancer as they have been shown to protect against various cancers and chronic diseases, slowing down aging signs like wrinkles, dark spots, etc., improving mental function, reducing inflammation throughout the body especially sore muscles after a workout or illness which causes swelling of tissues, and lowering the risk of heart disease.
There are three main antioxidants that are provided by the dragon fruit and they are betalains, hydroxycinnamates, and flavinoids. Betalains, which are a red pigment and are also found in beets, are found in the pulp of the fruit and have demonstrated the ability to prevent oxidation of LDL cholesterol. Hydroxycinnamates have been shown in some lab studies to have anticancer properties while flavonoids have been shown to improve brain health and help your heart by reducing your risk for heart disease.
Dragon fruit when given to mice in studies has been shown to reduce insulin resistance. This means the cells are more likely to accept insulin which is very beneficial and may have future use with diabetes.
In another study, dragon fruit was shown to be a probiotic that introduces beneficial bacteria to your gut which may help with your metabolism.
Free radicals are unstable atoms in the body that can damage cells. Free radical damage is thought to be the precursor to several diseases and to cause wrinkles and aging. Rats in one study had 35% less of the compound that can mark free radical damage. This could potentially benefit your aging processes and also help prevent diseases.
Eating dragon fruit may also strengthen your immune system thanks to vitamin C and carotenoids, which are helping provide pigmentation. They have been shown to be beneficial in helping your white blood cells. Your white blood cells are one of the primary immune system defenses and they attack anything foreign in your body. These two antioxidants help protect your white blood cells which then strengthens your immune system.
Dragon fruit is a good source of magnesium too. Magnesium is needed to perform biochemical reactions in the body. It also helps your muscles, heart, bones, and even your glucose levels.
Fiber is very beneficial for digestion and dragon fruit is a great source for it. High fiber diets have also been shown to possibly help prevent colon cancer.
Please note that none of the studies listed above were on humans so dragon fruit needs to be studied more to determine the benefits it provides for us.
Are there any risks of eating dragon fruit?
There are no perceived risks of eating dragon fruit except for the chance of an allergic reaction. To date, only two people have ever been documented having an allergic reaction to dragon fruit. Both had anaphylactic reactions, meaning that they had an allergic reaction to the fruit.
Dragon fruit is usually eaten raw. It can also be served in a salad or cooked into dishes. There are several recipes online for dragon fruit desserts, fruit salads, and even wine. The most common method to eat the fruit is simply slicing it down the middle and then eating each half directly out of the fruit with a spoon.
Can I store dragon fruit?
Yes, you can store fresh dragon fruits for up to five days if kept refrigerated. You should still consume the dragon fruit within a few days of opening it. The skin is a very thin layer and can be easily pierced with its spiky thorns, so you should always handle the dragon fruit carefully. If you plan on freezing it, fresh dragon fruit can last up to three months in the freezer.
Dragon fruit is an indigenous fruit to the Americas that has had a recent surge in popularity in Western culture. There are many benefits of dragon fruit to your health and diet as it provides fiber, vitamin C, and has no fat. It is loaded with antioxidants and could possibly help with your immune system, preventing certain diseases or cancers, preventing wrinkles and aging, and even with diabetes. It should be noted that all the above benefits and studies were all done on mice or rats and it still needs to be studied further to guarantee any of the benefits listed. Dragon fruit is generally very safe to eat, although there are two recorded cases of people having an allergic reaction to it. Eating a dragon fruit is very simple, as you simply slice it down the middle and then eat the fruit in the middle with a spoon. If you are looking to store dragon fruit, the ripe fruit can last for up to five days in the fridge or three months in the freezer. Thank you for reading our article on dragon fruit, we hope to have answered your questions. Should you be thinking about adding it to your diet and still have questions, we recommend that you talk to your healthcare provider or nutritionist.
References and Sources:
- Effect of dragon fruit on glycemic control in prediabetes and type 2 diabetes: A systematic review and meta-analysis