Dragon fruit (Hylocereus undatus), also known as ‘Pitaya‘, is a unique exotic fruit that belongs to the cactus (Cactaceae) family. The fruit is believed to have originated in Mexico, Central and South America, and it is now grown in many tropical and subtropical regions, including parts of Asia, Australia, and the Middle East.
The fruit has bright pink or yellow skin, consisting of overlaid leaves that look like dragon scales, that’s why it was called as ‘Dragon Fruit’. Depending on the variety, the inner flesh can be either white or red color with numerous edible, small black seeds. The flavor is mildly sweet, like a blend of kiwi and pear, and it has a crunchy texture.
Like other tropical fruits, dragon fruit is usually consumed raw, but it can also be used in salads, juice or wine. In addition to that, this exotic fruit is very good for health too.
Dragon fruit is packed with many essential nutrients and antioxidants that are beneficial to the overall health of our body.
Dragon fruit contains fiber and high levels of vitamin C (equivalent to 15 percent of the daily recommended value). It also contains B vitamins, such as B1, B2, and B3, along with the minerals calcium, phosphorus, iron, potassium, and magnesium. Moreover, the red pigments in the red flesh dragon fruit is rich in lycopene, a powerful antioxidant that helps prevent certain types of cancer.
The seed of dragon fruit also contribute to its nutritional benefit. They contain polyunsaturated fats, like omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, which can help protect against heart diseases. Now, let’s look at the health benefits of dragon fruit.
Dragon Fruit Health Benefits
1. Prevent Cancer
Dragon fruit is packed with beneficial antioxidants that can help to prevent cancer caused by free radicals. It also contains carotene that has anti-carcinogenic properties which will fend off the development of tumors. However, the red flesh varieties offer the most anti-cancer benefits. Unlike the other varieties of dragon fruit, red dragon fruit is the only one that contains the powerful antioxidant, lycopene, which gives the fruit its red color.
Consuming foods rich in lycopene have been shown to be linked to lower prostate cancer risk. A 2011 study published in the Asian Pacific Journal of Cancer Prevention found lycopene intake of less than 2,4 mcg per day increased the risk of prostate cancer, whereas a higher intake of fruits, vegetables, and lycopene-rich foods, including adequate physical activity may help to reduce the risk of prostate cancer.
2. Boost Immune System
The high levels of vitamin C found in dragon fruit can boost the immune system function. Moreover, the B vitamins, phosphorous, iron, calcium, and fiber in this fruit also contribute to a healthy immunity.
3. Maintain Cardiovascular Health
Dragon fruit seeds are loaded with polyunsaturated fatty acids, mostly omega-6 fatty acids and omega-3 fatty acids. These fatty acids assist in lowering down the triglycerides levels, preventing the possibilities of cardiovascular problems.
This fruit is also a rich source of vitamin B3, a nutrient that lowers the LDL (bad) cholesterol levels and raises the HDL (good) cholesterol levels. In addition, the antioxidant in red dragon fruit also play important role in keeping the heart from oxidative stress that caused by free radical damage.
4. Control Blood Sugar Levels
The fiber content in dragon fruit can help stabilize blood sugar levels by suppressing sugar spikes. According to a study published in the journal of Pharmacognosy Research, dragon fruit had a valuable effect on the oxidative stress from aortic stiffness in diabetic rats. This suggests regular consumption of dragon fruit could be beneficial in preventing common issues linked to diabetes. So, if you suffer from type-2 diabetes, eating the red flesh dragon fruit can help control your glucose level.
5. Aid in Digestion
Dragon fruit contains a significant amount of fiber which can improve the body’s bowel movements by facilitating the passage through the digestive tract. This helps to prevent gastrointestinal problems such as constipation, diarrhea, and irritable bowel syndrome. Moreover, it can also promote the growth of probiotics that aids in your digestive system and detoxification.
6. Maintain Eye Health
Red dragon fruit contains beta carotene and other plant pigment which can protect the eye from free radical effect and prevent certain eye diseases such as cataract and age-related macular degeneration.
It is also rich in vitamin C, an antioxidant, which aids in proper functioning of your retinal cells as well as prevents against cataracts. To get maximum benefits of dragon fruit, you should eat one dragon fruit or drink it juice daily.
7. Slow the Aging Process
Dragon fruit is a good source of vitamin C which has been shown can help to maintain the tightness of the skin. It aids in fighting off free radicals that will accelerate the aging process.
Moreover, the phosphorus in the fruit can help to regulate cellular membranes, which will prevent the symptoms of premature aging, such as fine lines, wrinkles, and age spots. You should eat one dragon fruit per day on the daily basis to enjoy a younger and tighter skin.
8. Strengthen Bones
Dragon fruit is very rich in calcium and phosphorous that can help to strengthen the bones, reducing the risk of osteoporosis. Calcium is also required for nerve transmission and proper functioning of your muscle.
In addition, this fruit contains an anti-inflammatory property that can help to reduce inflammation and joints pain due to arthritis and other health issues.
9. Support the Nervous System
Dragon fruit is rich in B-vitamins which support the overall function of the nervous system. This fruit helps in the production of nerve cells, while also improving mental clarity and making us more alert. The calcium content in dragon fruit also play an important role in improving the function of the nervous system.
10. Promote Weight Loss
Dragon fruit is low in calories and high in fiber content which will keep you feeling full for longer, hence, you will eat less during the day.
In addition, the combination of low calories and high fiber also boost up your metabolism rate, which can help you to lose weight faster while its vitamin C content helps to burn fat. This makes it a perfect choice for those trying to lose weight.
11. Prevent Anemia
Lack of iron can give rise to some dangerous diseases like constant cough, anemia, and body weakness. An average dragon fruit provides 10 percent of the daily recommended value of iron. So you can get effective protection against iron-deficiency anemia by eating dragon fruit regularly in addition to other sources of iron.
12. Maintain a Healthy Skin
Drinking red dragon fruit juice everyday not only will keep your body healthy but will also make your skin glowing and firm. High antioxidant content in red dragon fruit can prevent the free radicals effect on skin which can cause wrinkle and dullness.
How to Pick a Fresh Dragon Fruit
When buying dragon fruit, look for one that has bright and somewhat shiny skin, and the scales on the pink fruit should be bright green. There should be no brown spots on the skin as this is usually a sign that the fruit has ripened too much.
To choose a perfectly ripe fruit, you should also gently squeeze the fruit. Fruits that are not quite ripe will usually feel very firm, and these should be avoided. On the other hand, this fruit should not be very soft as well. Many experts claim that a perfectly ripe dragon fruit will feel a bit like a kiwi when it is squeezed.