You’ve heard of dragon eggs and dragon fire, but have you ever heard of dragon fruit? If you haven’t, you need to learn all about this “mythical” fruit. Why? Because dragon fruit benefits may surprise you.
Dragon fruit — also called dragon pearl fruit, cactus fruits, pitahaya or pitaya — is a tropical, delicious superfood that can do a lot for your health. In fact, dragon fruit benefits include anti-aging, immune system boosting and sugar stabilization, which is helpful for those with diabetes, among others.
So while dragons may not be real, the namesake fruit most certainly is. Let’s take a look at just how dragon fruit benefits the human body.
Dragon Fruit Benefits
1. Immune Booster
Dragon fruit is jam-packed with flavonoids and flu-fighting vitamin C, which is great for the immune system. In fact, it contains more vitamin C than a carrot, making the dragon fruit one of the top vitamin C foods around.
Dragon fruit also ranks high on the antioxidant list, which helps kick those free radicals to the curb. And even more support steps up from vitamins B1, B2, B3, as well as calcium, phosphorous, iron, protein, niacin and fiber teaming up to keep that immune system in tip-top shape.
The micronutrients in dragon fruit are also impressive. A study published in the Journal of Food Science observed polyphenol and flavonoid content and effects on several cancer cell lines from the extracts of the flesh and peel of the white and red dragon fruit. Both extracts revealed anticancer activity and a direct correlation between the phenolic content and antioxidant effect, suggesting that this extract may be a valuable ingredient in foods as well as cosmetics, nutraceuticals and even pharmaceutical applications. (1) All of this is because of the fruit’s immune-boosting ability, which is one of the top dragon fruit benefits.
2. Digestion Helper
We know that fiber aids in digestion and the best way to get fiber is through fruits and vegetables. Dragon fruit contains a good bit of fiber, which can help with that morning bowel movement. It can even help eliminate constipation and IBS issues.
Dragon fruit contains about one gram of fiber per 100 grams for the fresh version and about 10 grams per 100 grams of the dried version, making it a high-fiber food. To get a bit more fiber, you can even eat the skin of the pitaya.
Another reason dragon fruit benefits digestion is due to the oligosaccharides it contains. These oligosaccharides work as prebiotics, which in turn improves gut health and digestion. (2) And that’s not all prebiotics can do.
According to research published in the journal 3 Biotech, “the introduction of functional compounds like prebiotics in the diet seems to be an attractive alternative to ameliorate the quality of life ridden with obesity, cancer, hypersensitivity, vascular diseases and degenerative ailments.” (3)
3. Diabetes Treatment and Prevention
I noted the fiber content and how that helps with digestion, but fiber can also help stabilize blood sugar levels and maintain normal blood sugar. The dragon fruit can help by preventing sugar spikes after eating high glycemic index foods.
A study published in the Journal of Pharmacognosy Research found that dragon fruit had positive results on the oxidative stress on tested subjects, suggesting its consumption as beneficial in reducing some issues that may be associated with diabetes. (4) Further research examining the way dragon fruit benefits insulin resistance on obese mice found that eating dragon fruit can help reduce the risk for diabetes and diabetes symptoms. (5)
The same study noted above on dragon fruit benefits in relation to diabetes and oxidative stress also evaluated effects that dragon fruit may have on the heart. The numbers are astounding regarding how many people die each year from cardiovascular diseases like coronary heart disease. It’s estimated that 175 million die annually from heart problems — about 31 percent of all deaths worldwide. (6)
The study published in the Journal of Pharmacognosy Research showed that dragon fruit may help decrease bad cholesterol while improving the good cholesterol, making dragon fruit an excellent cholesterol-lowering food. In addition, because it’s an excellent source of monounsaturated fats, it can help keep the heart in good shape.
And let’s not forget those little black seeds inside the dragon fruit. They’re big in delivering omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. Research shows that these omega-3s and omega-6s can drop problematic triglycerides, decreasing the risk of cardiovascular disease.
5. Keeps You Looking Youthful
While antioxidants are awesome at keeping the inside of the body in good order, those amazing little antioxidants pack a powerful punch for the skin too. Antioxidants, in this case due to the vitamin C content, do a great job of keeping the skin tight and firm, which can offer a youthful appearance.
Additionally, the phosphorus in dragon fruit provides a boost in the anti-aging department. Phosphorus, an important mineral found in every cell of the body, makes up about 1 percent of your total bodyweight. Because it’s found in every cell, its effect on the repair of those cells is important to the youthfulness of our skin and prevention of premature aging. (7)
6. Potential Cancer Prevention
Dragon fruit contains phytoalbumin, and phytoalbumin, combined with the vitamin C and minerals it hosts, makes the dragon fruit highly valued for its antioxidant properties and cancer-preventing qualities. There is yet another characteristic that may help in cancer prevention — the lycopene it contains. The lycopene, also found in tomatoes, offers the rich color, and results from studies show that it may contain “chemopreventive effects for prostate, breast, lung, liver and skin cancer.” (8, 9)
Another study published in Nutrition and Cancer indicates that cancerous cells had difficulty living and were significantly reduced when treated with lycopene. Ovarian cancer evaluation showed a decrease in cancerous cell numbers after lycopene treatment, and given dragon fruit’s lycopene content, it may be a potential cancer-fighting food. (10)
Dragon Fruit Nutrition Facts
100 grams of dragon fruit contains about: (11)
- 50 calories
- 11 grams carbohydrates
- 1.1 grams protein
- 0.4 gram fat
- 3 grams fiber
- 20.5 milligrams vitamin C (34 percent DV)
- 1.9 milligrams iron (11 percent DV)
- 0.05 milligram vitamin B2 (3 percent DV)
- 0.04 milligram vitamin B1 (3 perent DV)
- 22.5 milligrams phosphorus (2 percent DV)
- 8.5 milligrams calcium (1 percent DV)
- 0.16 milligram vitamin B3 (1 percent DV)
Dragon Fruit Recipes
Dragon fruit can be found fresh or dried at many grocery stores. Just make sure to buy organic when possible.
In order to get all these wonderful dragon fruit benefits, try the following dragon fruit recipes, beginning with the following.
Dragon Fruit and Coconut Power Smoothie
- 1 dragon fruit (scoop out the insides)
- 1 small banana
- ½ cup blueberries
- 1 teaspoon unrefined coconut oil
- 1 teaspoon chia seeds
- 1 teaspoon ground flaxseeds
- Large handful pumpkin seeds
- 1 scoop vanilla bone broth
- 1.75 cups of water
- Using a blender, combine the dragon fruit, banana, blueberries and water, and blend well.
- Then add the coconut oil, chia seeds, bone broth and flaxseeeds, and blend again until smooth. You can add a couple of cubes of ice if you prefer it chilled or use frozen bananas for a thicker smoothie.
- Top with pumpkin seeds and serve.
Here are a couple more dragon fruit recipes to try:
History of Dragon Fruit
If dragon fruit sounds exotic, that’s because it is. Originating in Southeast Asia, it’s actually part of the cactus family, which makes sense given its spiky outer layer. Dragon fruit comes from a plant that looks like a climbing vine, growing best in dry areas.
Being an epiphyte, the dragon fruit thrives around good organic soil. It yields large and ornate white flowers that produce a sweet fragrance when in bloom, but you might miss that special effect since the flowers bloom for only one night, pollinated by bats and moths — however, the plant may have up to six fruit-producing cycles annually.
This fruit can be rather intimidating upon first glance, but it peels quite easily. It’s usually oval, elliptical or pear-shaped and contains a sweet, sometimes sour taste. The inside is typically white or red with little seeds that look a lot like sesame seeds with a similar crunch as the seeds found in a kiwi. (12)
Today, distribution mainly comes from South Florida, the Caribbean, Hawaii, Taiwan and Malaysia, but the fruit is native to Central America. It’s known as Pitahaya in Mexico and as Pitaya roja in Central America and northern South America. Pitahaya is the Spanish name for fruiting vines of Central America.
The dragon fruit may have first been introduced over a century ago when the French brought it to Vietnam. Native to Central America, Aztec literature claims that the fruit dates back to the 13th century. However, it’s thought to have been taken to Nicaragua and Colombia, while some suggest it came from Guyana, South America, in 1870 as an ornamental plant due to its large flowers. The fact that these large flowers only bloom at night gives way to nicknames “moonflower” or “lady of the night.” Its genus name, Hylocerus, comes from cerus or the Latin word cera, meaning “wax” or “torch-like.”
It wasn’t long before the Vietnamese realized just how delicious the fruit is, which encouraged cultivation. Now considered indigenous, especially the white flesh variety, Hylocereus undatus, also called blue dragon or thanh long by the Vietnamese, the fruit was eventually grown in Vietnam commercially, resulting in a profit-producing crop. It was introduced as recently as 1999 in the Sitiawan, Johor and Kuala Pilah regions, with Colombia and Nicaragua growing it for commercial use, making it clear that the dragon fruit prefers to grow in warmer climates. It’s now exported throughout Southeast Asia and becoming even more popular in places like Thailand, New Zealand, Australia and Hawaii. It’s known for use in flavorings for juices, wines, medicinally, and simply eaten fresh or dried.
There are no known risks of dragon fruit — however, if you have any side effects, stop eating it immediately.
Final Thoughts on Dragon Fruit
- Dragon fruit may sound strange, but it’s a real fruit with real benefits that can make a great addition to any smoothie, salsa or salad, in addition to eating on its own.
- Dragon fruit benefits include boosting the immune system, aiding digestion, treating and preventing diabetes, improving heart health, anti-aging, and even potential cancer prevention.
- If you’re looking for a low-fat, low-calorie superfood to add to your diet, dragon fruit may be just the thing.
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