Last Updated on October 12, 2020
Dragon fruit is a low-calorie, tropical fruit packed with lots of nutrients. It is known for its vibrant red skin and speckled flesh. The fruit is actually called as such because of the prominent scaly spikes and leather-like skin on the fruit’s exterior, which is similar to the skin of a dragon.
This superfood has long been popular among health enthusiasts and foodies because of the potential health benefits one can gain by adding it to their diet.
Let’s take a closer look at this exotic fruit and find out the surprising benefits it can provide.
What is Dragon Fruit?
Dragon fruit grows on the Hylocereus cactus, otherwise known as the “Honolulu Queen.” It is also called “Lady of the Night” because its noticeable white flowers tend to open only at night. The dragon fruit grows after the plant flowers.
According to an ancient legend, the dragon fruit was actually formed from the last breath exhaled by a dragon during a battle.
While dragon fruit used to be native to Mexico and Central America, this superfood is now being grown all over the world in various places like the United States, Israel, Australia, and in some Southeast Asian countries. Some of you may know it as pitaya, pitahaya, or strawberry pear.
Its taste is described as something of a cross between a kiwi and a pear. It has a subtle taste which is both refreshing and mildly sweet. It also comes in several varieties. One of the most common is the one with bright red skin, while the another has yellow skin with white pulp and black seeds. A less common variety has red pulp with black seeds.
Nevertheless, whatever its variety may be, the potential health benefits of each are the same.
Potential Health Benefits of Dragon Fruit
1. High in Antioxidants
Dragon fruit contains the antioxidants betacyanin and betaxanthin. According to one study, these antioxidants exhibit free radical scavenging properties. The antioxidants found in dragon fruit may also prevent the onset of inflammatory diseases such as gout and arthritis.
2. Rich in Nutrients and Minerals
Dragon fruit is also rich in essential nutrients. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, 100 grams of dragon fruit portioned into bite size cubes (with seeds) contains approximately:
- 60 calories
- 1.18 grams of protein
- 18 mg of calcium
- 2.9 g of total dietary fiber
- 40 mg of magnesium
- 59 IU of vitamin A
Aside from these nutrients, dragon fruit also contains plant compounds such as polyphenols and flavonoids, which have antioxidant properties.
In a study published in the Journal of Food Science, researchers studied the polyphenol and flavonoid content of the white and red dragon fruit.
They also looked at its antioxidant activity against free radicals and its inhibiting effect on cancer cells. The results suggested that dragon fruit may contain nutraceuticals, which are natural bioactive products that have promising therapeutic properties for certain diseases.
3. A Good Source of Fiber
It is a known fact that fiber is good for your digestive health. Having adequate fiber intake increases stool bulk and is beneficial for good digestion. It may also help you lose weight. In addition, dietary fiber can even reduce the risk of certain chronic diseases and cancer.
Dragon fruit is an excellent source of fiber. One cup can give you 7 grams of fiber—that’s almost ¼ of the recommended daily need.
4. Promotes Good Gut Health
If you want to have better gut health, then you can try adding dragon fruit to your diet. It is a good source of natural prebiotics, a type of fiber that promotes the growth of good bacteria in your gut.
Due to its oligosaccharide content, prebiotics have a potential to reduce the risk of colon cancer. Also, one study published in the journal Food Chemistry mentioned that dragon fruit promotes the growth of other probiotics such as lactobacilli and bifidobacteria.
5. Aids in Managing Diabetes and Boosts Cardiovascular Health
According to a study by Poolsup et.al, dragon fruit may help lower blood sugar, particularly for individuals with prediabetes. Although the study found that the fruit had no effect on those with type 2 diabetes, it nevertheless concluded that that the fruit’s effect on patients with prediabetes may potentially be of interest in diabetes prevention.
Additionally, dragon fruit may decrease the risk of cardiovascular diseases. Research shows that dragon fruit may be effective in decreasing the risk of cardiovascular complications.
In one study involving male mice, it was found that the peel of the red dragon fruit helped in improving the subjects’ blood lipid levels.
6. Helps in Combating Chronic Diseases
We can’t avoid free radicals in our daily lives. These harmful substances often wreak havoc to cells, thus causing damage that may lead to inflammation and certain diseases.
If you want to counter the effects of free radicals, then you should try making antioxidant-rich foods like dragon fruit a regular part of your diet. These antioxidants may help prevent chronic diseases such as cancer, arthritis, and diabetes.
7. Strengthens Your Immune System
Dragon fruit, with its supply of vitamin C and carotenoids, may help boost your immune system. According to the Journal of Nutrition, carotenoids, as well as vitamin C, play a crucial role in regulating immune function.
Aside from protecting your cells from damage, these compounds can eliminate free radicals which can cause serious damage to the body.
Incorporating Dragon Fruit into Your Diet
Dragon fruit is low-sugar and low-carb, making it a great addition to your diet. If you’re looking to spice up your dessert menu, or perhaps you’ve always been curious about what this exotic fruit tastes like, then maybe it’s time to give dragon fruit a try.
Before adding dragon fruit to your diet, you need to know how to choose ripe ones first so that you can get the most out of it. Here are some pointers to help you choose whether a dragon fruit is ripe or not:
- Choose dragon fruit that is bright pink or yellow. Check that the spines are soft.
- Smell the fruit. Ideally, it should have a fruity scent like that of other tropical fruits.
- The fruit should yield slightly to gentle pressure.
- Check for brown or soft spots on the skin—these are a no-go as these indicate that the fruit may be overripe.
Once you’ve selected a ripe fruit that yields to gentle pressure when squeezed, use a sharp knife and cut it in half. Afterward, use a spoon to scoop out the flesh.
You can eat it as it is or throw it in a bowl along with some nuts and yogurt. You can also incorporate it in smoothies, shakes, and even salads! This versatile ingredient can also be added to cocktails. Aside from these, you can also try it in cheesecake bars, jams, and macaroons.
The dragon fruit may look intimidating, but beyond its appearance, this superfood holds a lot of potential health benefits as mentioned above. Given its reputation in the health food world and its versatility as an ingredient, this fruit is worth trying!