As legend has it, dragon fruit was created thousands of years ago as the product of a fire breathing dragon. While this may not be true, this unique-looking fruit is high in antioxidants and nutrients. Learn about its health benefits and how to eat it.
What Is Dragon Fruit?
Dragon fruit is a stunning fruit that is found in several colors. The skin can vary from a deep magenta to a pinkish-red while the flesh is white or red. There is also a variety with yellow skin and white flesh. Dragon fruit looks almost as if it has scales or fins, a little like an artichoke .
It is also known as pitaya, pitahaya, or strawberry pear – all common names of a fruit produced by several different species in the cactus family (Cactaceae). The fruit grows on a vine with edible flowers that only bloom at night .
It is native to Southern Mexico and Central America and is thought to have been brought to Southeast Asia by the French around 1860. It is now grown all over the world in tropical and subtropical areas .
Historically, at least one species has been an important food source for some tribes of Native Americans. It is currently enjoyed in the culinary world for its uniqueness and is easy to spot in supermarkets.
Among many species of dragon fruit, the most common one you will find is called red pitaya (Hylocereus undatus) – pinkish-red on the outside with white flesh on the inside. Most of the research focused on the red-flesh variety, which is called red dragon fruit and is now also commonly sold as frozen, bite-sized cubes .
Evidence suggests it has many health benefits due to its antioxidants and nutrients.
What Does Dragon Fruit Taste Like?
While most dragon fruit tastes slightly sweet, some species can be tart. The texture resembles that of a melon, but there are small black seeds throughout that make it somewhat crunchy and similar to a kiwi.
Snapshot of Dragon Fruit
- Rich in antioxidants and nutrients
- Unique taste
- May help decrease cancer risk
- Supports gut health
- Protects the heart
- Helps fight diabetes
- Seed oil nourishes the hair and skin
- Nutritional values vary
- May be high in calories
- May have food-drug interactions
- Allergies are possible
Dragon Fruit Nutrition Facts
Because several species of dragon fruit are grown all around the world, nutrition values can vary depending on the variety, ripeness, when and how the fruit was grown, and how it was handled after harvesting.
- Calories: 60cal – 264cal
- Fat: 0
- Protein: 1.2g – 3.6g
- Carbohydrates: 12.9g – 82.1g
- Fiber: 1.8g – 2.9g
- Sugar: 7.7g – 82.1g
Although dragon fruit is often considered a low-calorie food, more ripe fruits can be high in calories and sugar. If you’re buying the frozen variety, check the product label for the exact calorie count.
Dragon Fruit Health Benefits
1) Rich in Antioxidants and Nutrients
Antioxidants can neutralize free radicals – unstable atoms that can contribute to aging and a host of diseases. Free radicals are also generated from exposure to pollution and toxins in our environment .
Your body has an amazing ability to get rid of toxins, but too much harmful influence can put a strain on these pathways. Antioxidants and nutrients like magnesium in dragon fruit support detox pathways and help neutralize the free radicals heavy metals produce [10, 11, 12].
2) May Help Prevent Cancer
Cell models suggest that extracts from dragon fruit peel (high in antioxidants) may decrease the risk of gastric cancer, prostate cancer, and breast cancer due to their ability to attack cancer cells .
In one cell study, the antioxidants from pitaya extract protected from breast cancer by reducing cancer cell growth and triggering cancer cell death .
Another study on human gut tissue revealed that short-chain fatty acids produced after eating dragon fruit might lower the risk of colon cancer .
While many observational studies show foods high in antioxidants lower the chance of disease, many clinical trials of antioxidant supplements have failed to show the same results. Eating foods high in antioxidants and other nutrients, like dragon fruit, may be better than taking supplements [18, 19].
3) Supports Gut Health
Having a healthy gut is important not only for good digestion, but it also supports weight control, mental health, and the immune system .
Dragon fruit contains non-digestible carbohydrates (oligosaccharides) which act as prebiotics. Along with probiotics, prebiotics are vital for gut health. They help your body take in calcium and feed the good bacteria in your gut .
In mice fed a high-fat diet, the betacyanins in dragon fruit protected them from obesity. The antioxidant activity of the fruit lowered inflammation and bad gut bacteria while increasing the good bacteria .
In an animal study, the prebiotic fiber in dragon fruit absorbed more water in the gut, acting as a bulk-forming laxative, as well as a stimulant laxative. It may act as a mild laxative food in people with occasional constipation .
In a study on gut tissue, dragon fruit increased beneficial bacteria (bifidobacteria and lactobacillus) .
4) May Protect the Heart
Many diabetic patients have heart disease as well. In one study on diabetic rats with high blood pressure, dragon fruit extract protected the artery that carries blood from the heart to the rest of the body (aorta). It worked by boosting antioxidant defense .
In another animal study, antioxidants like hydrocinnamic acid (found in dragon fruit) lowered cholesterol levels and reduced obesity .
Additionally, dragon fruit is a decent source of magnesium. A 100g serving of dragon fruit contains 10 – 13% of the recommended daily intake (RDI) or 40mg. Numerous studies attest to magnesium’s benefits for the heart. In one study of 20 people, magnesium significantly decreased high blood pressure [28, 29].
Dragon fruit also contains 3-4% of RDI for omega-3 fatty acids. That doesn’t sound like much, but it is significant for a fruit. Plus, the seeds are rich in these fatty acids, unlike the fruit. They make up half of the oil extracted from the seeds [13, 14].
5) Helps Fight Diabetes
In one analysis of human trials, dragon fruit did not improve type 2 diabetes, but eating larger amounts of dragon fruit did show a trend toward lowering blood sugar. This may be important in prediabetes – a condition with borderline-high blood sugar that’s not quite diabetes yet .
The peel of dragon fruit is typically neglected and tossed away. But it may be packed with beneficial compounds. An extract from the peel improved insulin resistance, obesity, and fatty liver in several animal studies. Few people know that you can purchase the powdered peel and add it to smoothies or other drinks [31, 22, 32].
Plus, the magnesium content in dragon fruit can add to your total daily magnesium intake. Sufficient magnesium intake reduces heart disease risk in people with type 2 diabetes .
6) Hair and Skin Benefits
Skin cells and cells of the hair follicle have a high rate of turnover and require a good supply of nutrients, such as the ones found in dragon fruit (antioxidants, vitamins, and fatty acids) [34, 35, 36, 13].
Since oil from the seeds is especially rich in beneficial fatty acids, it would be the best choice for nourishing the hair and skin. Unfortunately, the seed oil is hard to find. Eating the fruit may also support skin and hair health. Plus, skincare products with the fruit extract are available [34, 35, 36, 13].
Dragon Fruit Side Effects
There are not many risks associated with eating dragon fruit. One concern is that it does contain sugar and eating too much can be detrimental to your health.
While rare, there has been at least one allergy to dragon fruit reported and confirmed by skin testing .
Dragon fruit may inhibit an enzyme used by the liver to break down medications (cytochrome P450). Talk to your healthcare provider or pharmacist about eating a lot of dragon fruit with any medications you take [38, 39+].
Limitations and Caveats
There are not many studies on dragon fruit and those studies that involve dragon fruit are on animals or cells.
More human studies are needed to show significant results in benefiting diseases like diabetes, high blood pressure, as well as preventing cancer.
How to Eat Dragon Fruit
Dragon fruit may look difficult to eat, but it is very easy to prepare:
- Using a sharp knife, cut it in half lengthwise.
- You can either use your fingers to peel the skin away from the flesh or take a spoon to scoop the flesh out. The skin appears leathery but is actually fairly soft.
Dragon fruit is delicious on its own, but it can be added to salads, yogurt, or smoothies.
Like most fruits, once cut it is best consumed right away.
Buy Dragon Fruit
Head to your local market to buy fresh dragon fruit. Otherwise, the fruit powder, dried fruit, and cosmetic products with the extract are available online.
- Freeze Dried Dragon Fruit Powder on iHerb or Amazon
- Red Dragon Fruit Chips on iHerb
- Dragon fruit herbal tea on Amazon
Pore pack with dragon fruit extract on Amazon
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Dragon fruit is more than just a novelty – it has many health benefits. This succulent fruit is rich in healthy antioxidants and nutrients. Its high fiber content helps you to feel full longer and supports your gut health.
The only drawback to have in mind is that ripe dragon fruit can be high in sugar, so consume it in moderation. Allergies are also possible, although rare. Besides, it can be a delicious and unique addition to your diet.