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Dragon fruit, also called pitaya or pitahaya, is a tropical fruit that has gained popularity worldwide in the last few years. It has a vibrant outer skin that makes it look like a dragon’s egg and a seed-spotted white or pink interior, depending on the species.
While variations occur in the content of antioxidant and biological compounds depending on species, the major benefits remain to be same regardless. The fruit tastes similar to a kiwi, although it varies from fruit to fruit.
Dragon fruit boasts a wide variety of nutrients. It comprises 80% water, making it a low-density fruit, especially with its absence of fat. It is a rich source of phenolic compounds that act as antioxidants, along with several vitamins and minerals. (1)
Nutritional Information About Dragon Fruit
A hundred grams of dragon fruit, which is roughly one medium-sized fruit, has 60 calories and 1.18 g of protein.
It has 12.94 g of carbohydrate and 7.65 g of sugar. It also provides 2.5 mg of vitamin C and 18 mg of calcium. The fruit has zero fat and is a great low-calorie fruit option. (2)
Health Benefits of Dragon Fruit
Consuming a dragon fruit will provide the following benefits:
1. Is replete with antioxidants
Antioxidants play a cardioprotective role in the human body by fighting against oxidative damage. (4) This mechanism is critical in conditions such as heart diseases, diabetes, obesity, and cancer.
In one study, post-exercise free radical release was curbed due to the active biological compounds found within dragon fruit. (5) Dragon fruit can be an excellent hydration choice for athletes, especially with its high moisture content and other benefits.
The fruit also has a high potential to protect against age-related diseases such as Parkinson’s disease or Alzheimer’s disease. (5)
2. Beneficial in diabetes management
Studies have indicated the role of dragon fruit (specifically the species with the red flesh) to have potential as a diabetes treatment. It helps in regenerating the cells of the pancreas, the organ where insulin is made. (6)
In one study, the antioxidant capacity and fiber content of dragon fruit also exhibited some anti-insulin resistant activities by which free blood glucose is reduced. (5)
While the results in several studies seem promising, extensive clinical trials need to be conducted to establish conclusive results.
3. Possesses antimicrobial properties
Research has shown that dragon fruit and its peel exhibit some toxic behavior toward certain types of bacteria. It is also useful for the treatment of parasite and parasitic infections. (7)
Its antimicrobial activity is a result of its active biological compounds such as polyphenols, fatty acids, and tannins, among others. (5)
4. Assists in wound healing
Dragon fruit also shows a beneficial effect on healing wounds. Ancients Mayans have been reported to use dragon fruit as a wound disinfectant. (7)
A study revealed that the extracts of the leaves, peel, and fruit when topically applied increased the total proteins, DNA collagen production, and strength of wounds in diabetic rats where wound healing is typically delayed. (8)
There is no clear mechanism by which dragon fruit exhibits its effect on wound healing. However, its antimicrobial and antioxidant effect can be the reasons for its potential in hastening wound healing.
5. Aids in weight management
Generally, fruits low in calories and fats and high in water are beneficial as dietary interventions for weight management. Dragon fruit has high water content and therefore can be included in the diet of individuals with obesity or overweight.
Furthermore, its fiber content can help a person achieve satiety and prevent overeating.
In a study done on male rats, the group fed with high-fat diets was treated with dragon fruit juice. Insulin resistance and liver functions were significantly improved in the test group. This directly impacted fat digestion and reduced the production of cholesterol and triglycerides. (7)
Although in the study there was no anti-obesity effect observed, the consequences of a high-fat diet were reduced, indicating dragon fruit to be beneficial for the management of weight and as part of a weight reduction treatment plan.
6. Helps manage anemia
With its significant iron content, dragon fruit has been studied for its role in managing anemia.
Pregnant women are most susceptible to anemia. In a study done on 34 women divided into groups, the group receiving dragon fruit juice for 7 days showed significantly elevated levels of hemoglobin and erythrocyte, the red blood cell that carries hemoglobin. (9)
The studies on this topic are very limited in their scope, and more research is needed, but dragon fruit may prove to be beneficial in managing anemia in pregnant women and others suffering from it.
7. Can aid in cancer prevention
Dragon fruit, through its antioxidant capacity, exhibits beneficial influence on cancer cells. In a study to evaluate the use of dragon fruit extract on breast cancer cells, it was observed that the fruit extract prevented the cells from multiplying by interfering at the different stages of the cell cycle. (10)
Another study evaluated two different species of dragon fruit and their effect on cancer cells. Both species exhibited some amount of anticancer activities due to the presence of certain active biological compounds that also function as antioxidants. (11)
Although dragon fruit shows some promise in the prevention of cancer, data is not sufficient, encouraging further studies.
How to Consume
Dragon fruit can be eaten as a snack by itself or added to fruit salads. It can also be included in desserts, jellies, or ice desserts.
Dragon fruit can be juiced and consumed without removing the fiber.
Precautions to Consider
Dragon fruit is largely grown in tropical countries. While its benefits are plenty and promising, it is critical to remember that not all of its benefits have been studied in humans or extensively enough to establish conclusive results.
Thus, it is recommended not to go over the recommended amount of serving for the day (roughly 1 fruit). Consumption of fruit is always better than having fruit juices, which usually have lost most of the fruit’s fiber and some of its beneficial compounds.
Most-Asked Questions About Dragon Fruit
How does dragon fruit taste?
Dragon fruit generally has a slightly sweet taste. You will know the fruit is ready to eat when the outer spikes are green while the peel is pink. It is also soft when you press it slightly with your finger, much like any other tropical fruit.
What are the side effects of consuming dragon fruit?
Overconsumption of dragon fruit may result in diarrhea because the fruit is high in fiber.
What is the best time to eat dragon fruit?
The best time to eat any fruit is in the morning or afternoon. Avoid having any fruit on an empty stomach first thing in the morning.
Dragon fruit promises several health benefits due to its impressive antioxidant profile. However, most of the dragon fruit available worldwide is grown in tropical regions, making it an expensive fruit due to the added shipping costs.
Although the fruit has great potential in managing several illnesses and conditions, the exact mechanism by which it exerts these benefits is still unclear.
The large amounts of polyphenolic and flavonoid content of the fruit are credited for most of its benefits. However, more research is needed to establish its beneficial effects.
Nonetheless, the fruit with its unique appearance is a great addition to your diet, making meals and salads nourishing and fun.