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Health Benefits and Nutritional Values of Dragon Fruit

Dragon Fruit Facts

I first came to know of dragon fruit way back in the early ’80s when a friend brought it back from Vietnam for us to try. This weird looking fruit failed to tempt us and was left to practically rot in the fridge. Now is a different story, we loved it so much that I had it planted in our small garden.

Back then, dragon fruit was new to Malaysia. If you find them in a shop, it will be very pricey. Now it is available at all the fruit markets and supermarkets. In fact, there are several dragon fruit farms sprouting all over the country that export the fruits to the rest of the world.

Dragon fruit is now a popular fruit in most countries
Dragon fruit is now a popular fruit in most countries | Source

Red-Skinned and Yellow-Skinned Dragon Fruit

Dragon fruit, also known as Pitaya, originates from South America and is now grown in most of the tropical Asian countries. The skin is covered with ‘scales’ and comes either as a red-skinned or yellow-skinned variety. The red-skinned variety is either in white or luminous red flesh. The yellow-skinned variety is available only in white flesh.

The popularity stems from the many benefits that dragon fruit has to offer. The red-skinned variety with red flesh offers more benefits compared to the yellow or the white flesh red-skinned variety.

For this article, we will explore the benefits of the red-skinned variety.

Red-skinned and Yellow-skinned Dragon Fruits or Pitayas
Red-skinned and Yellow-skinned Dragon Fruits or Pitayas | Source

Dragon Fruit Health Benefits

Despite the many years of the fruit’s existence, it was only recently that studies were conducted on the health benefits of dragon fruits, which are as follows:

Dragon Fruit for People with Type 2 Diabetes

The statistic shows that people who suffer from diabetes will have an increased chances of vascular complications by at least twofold.

Based on the study conducted by School of Pharmaceutical Sciences of Universiti Sains Malaysia, and published in the US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health, dragon fruits, which is rich in antioxidant betacyanins can prevent this combative stress and diabetes.

In another study on patients with Type 2 diabetes who are not dependent on insulin, shows a decrease in blood sugar level by more than 19% when given 600 gm daily dosage of the red flesh red-skinned dragon fruit over a period of four weeks.

The flavonoid antioxidants present in red flesh dragon fruit is responsible for this reduction. If you suffer from Type 2 diabetes, eating the red flesh dragon fruit can help control your glucose level.

Red Flesh Dragon Fruit

Red dragon fruit
Red dragon fruit | Source

Dragon Fruit May Reduce Cancer Risk

The red pigments in the red flesh dragon fruit are rich in lycopene, flavonoid antioxidants, and phytoalbumins, which can help prevent the formation of cancerous cells.

As documented in American Institute for Cancer Research eNews, the phytochemical lycopene that is present in red flesh dragon fruit can prevent prostate cancer.

It is, however, important to note that you must lead a healthy lifestyle and go on an anti-cancer diet to help improves your chances of preventing cancer.

In addition, the flavonoid antioxidants can also prevent inflammatory diseases such as gout and arthritis.

White Flesh Dragon Fruit

Dragon fruit with white flesh
Dragon fruit with white flesh | Source

Dragon Fruit May Reduce Cholesterol

Dragon fruit has high levels of the insoluble and soluble fibers. 100 gm of fresh dragon fruit gives you 1 gm of fiber. In dried form, the fiber content is even more at 10 gm for every 100 gm of the powdered or dried fruit.

These fibers can improve the digestive system, which in turn will reduce the accumulation of dietary cholesterol in your body.

In a clinical study published in the American Journal of Applied Sciences 6 (7): 1341-1346, 2009 edition, eating the red dragon fruit over five weeks saw an impressive drop in the total cholesterol level.

Prebiotic Action of Dragon Fruit

Based on the article in ‘Food Chemistry’ (June 2010 edition), the fiber in dragon fruit is made up mainly of oligosaccharides. This is not digested in the stomach but act as prebiotics, which assists in the growth of lactobacilli and bifidobacteria, which are the healthy bacteria.

When taken in the right amount, these microorganisms will assist in the digestion and keep the immune system strong.

Proteins, Carbohydrates, and Calories in Dragon Fruit

100 g of dragon fruit gives almost 2.0 g of protein and 9 g of carbohydrates, which is about 3% and 4% of the recommended daily value, respectively.

Pitaya is also very low in calories at only 60 calories, which is about 3% of the daily value

This is good news if you are in a weight management program.

Vitamins & Minerals in Dragon Fruits

Dragon fruits have a high dosage of Vitamin C where 100 gm of the fruit gives 500 mg of Vitamin C. It also contains Vitamin A, B1, and E but in smaller amounts.

Mineral contents in dragon fruits include a good dosage of potassium, magnesium, zinc, and phosphorus. In smaller amounts, it has calcium, iron, and copper.

With all these nutritional benefits, dragon fruit can be a complete meal of its own.

Please refer to the table below for detail breakdown of the vitamins and mineral contents.

Dragon Fruit Nutrition Facts

Nutrients
Nutritional Value per 100g
Health Benefits
Protein
2.0 g
To build and repair tissues, to make hormones, enzymes and assist the body to release energy
Calcium
5.7mg
For strong and healthy bones
Potassium
57mg
Assists in carbohydrate metabolism, & regulate blood pressure and cardiovascular health
Magnesium
28mg
Regulate body temperature, detoxification, energy production
Ascorbic Acid (Vit C)
500mg
Strengthen immune system, heals bruises and cuts faster.
Vitamin E
106 µg
Protection against toxin, thins the blood & helps in the skin and hair care
Phosphorus
23mg
For tissue formation
Retinol (Vit A)
20 µg
For body detoxification, skin health and improves night vision
Iron
3.4mg
For red blood cells production & for body energy
Copper
31 µg
For a healthy bone, tissue & thyroid gland
Zinc
14mg
Improves brain function & to control appetite
Thiamine (Vit B1)
48.9 µg
Assists in production of energy as well as metabolizing carbohydrates
Lycopene
14.35 mg
Helps keep the body healthy and protect against harmful damage caused by free radicals

Dragon Fruit and Pregnancy

Eating fruits during pregnancy is a good habit and red dragon fruit with all the richness in vitamins, minerals, fiber and fatty acids will be beneficial to a pregnant woman and her unborn baby.

Among its many benefits is its iron content that will assist a pregnant woman’s demand for iron. This will help reduce chances of anemia. It also contains folates, which is essential for the formation of red blood cells.

Eat it fresh or as part of your mixed fruit salad or as a juice or as smoothies.

Dragon Fruit Plant

Pitaya or Dragon fruit tree during flowering stage
Pitaya or Dragon fruit tree during flowering stage | Source

Is Dragon Fruit Stem Edible and Nutritional?

Surprisingly, based on the study by the University Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, the dragon fruit stem can be processed into powdered form and consumed, as it is rich in nutrient content.

The study concludes that premature stem of the red dragon fruit has more nutritional value compared to the matured stem.

Dragon Fruit Taste

Dragon fruit looks unique and exotic but the taste can be bland and uninteresting. Not fiery and intense unlike its name. The red flesh variety is, however, sweeter.

Dragon Fruit Seed contains Omega-3 & Omega-9

The flesh has a nice texture with tiny seeds all over, just like kiwi fruits. Do not be put off by these tiny seeds as there are edible and nutritional. The seeds contain natural oils and fatty acids in the form of linoleic acid and oleic acid (Omega-3 and Omega-9), which are useful for your cardiovascular health.

One way to eat the dragon fruit is to cut it in half and scoop the flesh with a spoon
One way to eat the dragon fruit is to cut it in half and scoop the flesh with a spoon | Source

How to Eat Dragon Fruit

You can cut it in half and spoon it out or cut into quarters, peel the skin off and serve on a plate. It tastes better if it is chilled. Some people will add a bit of lime juice for added flavor.

Or you can cut it into cubes and serve it as part of your mix fruit salad.

For something different, try it as fruit juice, sorbet, or smoothie.

You do not eat the dragon fruit skin but in some Southeast Asian countries, the skin is pickled and eaten either on its own or as a salad. Based on a study by the Faculty of Chemical Engineering and Natural Resources, the peel or the skin is actually rich in flavonoids, which is good for anti-inflammatory, anti-tumor, and anti-viral effects.

Dragon Fruit Facts

  • Dragon Fruit flower blooms only at night and will last for one night only. Pollination needs to happen on that one night for it to set fruit.
  • Dragon fruit tree, if maintained properly, can last for over a hundred years

How to Choose a Ripe Dragon Fruit

Dragon fruit is usually picked mature and ready to eat. If you press it with your thumb and it gives a little, then it is perfect for eating. If it is too soft, then it is over-ripe and the flesh may be too runny. If it is very firm, then you need to rest it for couple of days for it to ripen.

Do not keep it too long otherwise, it will be too soft. If you are not ready to eat it yet, put it in fridge, it will stay fine for a week or so.

Those that do not have blemishes are usually priced higher. I find the quality and taste of the dragon fruit flesh from those with and without blemishes is no different. So, save your money!

But do not buy if it has too many blemishes or blotches as it may be over-ripe. Another sign of over-ripe dragon fruit is the dry and brown tips of its ‘leaves’.

Where to Buy Dragon Fruit

Dragon fruits are now easily available in most supermarkets. Alternatively, you can try the Asian food market in your area.

The growing season is traditionally from June to late December so you have plenty of time to enjoy this exotic fruit.

If you still have difficulty in finding dragon fruit in your area, stay cool as it is also available online, but you have to buy them in large quantities!

Yellow dragon fruit or Yellow Pitaya with white flesh
Yellow dragon fruit or Yellow Pitaya with white flesh | Source
Flower of Yellow Pitaya
Flower of Yellow Pitaya Source

Yellow Skin Dragon Fruit or Yellow Pitaya

Although this article is on the red dragon fruit variety, it will not be complete without comparative information between the two varieties.

To start with, the yellow dragon fruit plant takes a longer time to grow and harvest, and depending on the growing condition, can produce between four to six fruiting cycles per year, similar to the red-skinned variety.

The fruit is smaller, but is sweeter in taste. The way to eat the fruit is similar to its red-skinned cousin and because it is sweeter, Yellow Pitaya makes a better juice drink.

Although it is grown mainly for its yellow fruit, the flower has commercial value as well, as it has an impressive bloom and is probably the largest cacti flower in the world.

The yellow-skinned Dragon Fruit is native to the northern part of South America and is not commonly grown in tropical South East Asia, yet.

Red Flesh Red-Skinned Dragon Fruit Is Better

Based on the research and studies that were mentioned earlier, the red flesh, red-skinned dragon fruit with its higher antioxidants content and the red pigment, which has lypopene, flavanoid and phytoalbumins, has better therapeutic properties and hence, is the dragon fruit variety to consume.

Although it costs slightly more, it is sweeter and better for our health. Do be careful when you eat this red flesh, red-skinned dragon fruit as the red pigment will stain your clothes.

If you have not tried it yet, go out, and buy some and if you have been eating the white flesh variety, this is the time to change to the red flesh variety.

Enjoy!

Disclaimer

If you have any of the above ailments, it is best to consult your doctor on any alternative remedies. Please check if these remedies will affect your current medications.

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