Dragon fruit or pitahaya/pitaya is a red-skinned fruit mainly grown in the tropics and subtropics. It is sometimes referred to as the strawberry pear and grows in different places globally. It originates from southern Mexico, including Central and South America.
In the United States, dragon fruit is cultivated in Florida, Texas, Hawaii, and southern California. The fruit grows well in the Caribbean, Australia, Southeast Asia, and Central and South America.
Israel grows a cloned variety known as the yellow dragon fruit or Israeli Yellow pitaya. A native yellowish-skinned variety known as golden dragon fruit is also widely grown in Colombia and Ecuador.
One of the key distinguishing characteristics of the Israeli yellow pitaya is its lack of spikes. The native yellowish varieties or golden dragon fruits often have spines.
The red-skinned types often do not have any spines. The red-skinned variety may have white or red flesh with black seeds. Normally, red-fleshed dragon fruits taste sweeter and juicier than white-fleshed ones.
Five Health Benefits of Dragon Fruit
Dragon fruit or pitaya has become increasingly popular globally. The growth in popularity has coincided with its recent designation as a superfood.
Dragon Fruit is a Nutritional Powerhouse
Pitaya is a nutritionally rich fruit, which explains its classification as a superfood. It has a high content of vitamins and minerals and provides an adequate supply of antioxidants comprising carotenoids, ascorbic acid (vitamin C), polyphenols, and betacyanins.
Dragon fruit also nourishes the body with proteins and dietary fiber. In addition, this tropical fruit has black seeds that confer additional nutritional benefits when eaten. Recent evidence shows that dragon fruit seeds usually have palmitic acid, linoleic acid, linolenic acid, oleic acid, omega-3, and omega-6 fatty acids.
Dragon Fruit Prevents Cardiovascular Disease
Dragon fruit contains antioxidants that help in destroying free radicals. Normally, free radicals contribute to cell damage and trigger the onset of inflammation and disease. Thus, the high levels of antioxidants in dragon fruit help prevent cardiovascular disease.
Dragon fruit seeds also provide extra nutritional benefits and help prevent cardiovascular disease, given that they contain omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids.
Dragon Fruit Helps Prevent Cancer
Cancer is one of the most devastating diseases today. However, eating dragon fruit regularly can assist in killing off cancerous cells in your body. The anti-cancer properties come from the various bioactive compounds found in dragon fruits.
Antioxidants particularly play a critical role in destroying cancer-causing cells. These health-promoting compounds also help reduce free radicals that generally damage healthy cells and promote malignancy.
Recent research further shows that dragon fruit might have protective effects against the development of breast cancer. The study demonstrates this fruit’s potential in preventing cancer.
Dragon Fruit Boosts Your Immune System
Dragon fruit strengthens the immune response to infections and other disease-causing factors. The immune-boosting effects are attributable to the high content of carotenoids and vitamin C. These act as potent antioxidants and help eradicate free radicals in the body. Consequently, they aid your body fight off infections and other diseases.
Dragon Fruit Promotes Digestion and Gut Health
Dragon fruit provides 2.9 grams of dietary fiber for every 100 grams, which leads to better digestion and gastrointestinal health. Adequate dietary fiber is implicated in the prevention of colon cancer. Therefore, dragon fruit may help lower the risk of developing colon cancer.
Additionally, dragon fruit contains prebiotics, which adds to its benefits in boosting gastrointestinal health. Prebiotics also often nourish the good bacteria in the stomach, ensuring a proper microbial balance.
Dragon Fruit Lowers Blood Sugar and Improves Diabetes Outcomes
Dragon fruit helps reduce blood sugar levels in the body. In particular, the fruit increases satiety, helping decrease appetite and blood sugar levels. The antioxidants found in dragon fruit also help expel free radicals that cause cell damage in the pancreas. As a result, pancreatic cells remain intact, helping promote proper blood sugar regulation.
Further evidence suggests that dragon fruit helps regenerate pancreatic-β cells, which accounts for its anti-diabetic effects. The rich antioxidant profile is particularly beneficial in protecting pancreatic-β cells in people with diabetes and prediabetes.
At the same time, the dragon fruit improves weight management due to high dietary fiber, leading to better insulin sensitivity and blood sugar regulation.
The red-fleshed dragon fruit is generally preferred for better diabetes outcomes because of its relatively higher antioxidant content.
How to Eat Dragon Fruit
You can eat your fresh dragon fruit by cutting right at the middle with a sharp knife and scooping the red or white flesh with a spoon. You can also consider making a fruit salad with dragon fruit and other fruits to improve taste, flavor, and nutrient profile.
You might as well blend a few dragon fruits alone or with other fruits and make a smoothie. It is recommended you take your dragon fruit smoothie in the morning to start your day with a good dose of antioxidants and other essential nutrients.
Other ways to eat your dragon fruit include adding it to ice cream, making desserts, or preparing a puree.
When and Where to Buy Dragon Fruit
You can buy fresh dragon fruits throughout the summer, that is, from June and September. The fruit reaches peak season in August and September. If you prefer Hylocereus megalanthus (yellow pitahaya or pitaya), you might have to wait longer until winter, specifically November to February.
Fresh dragon fruits are readily available in supermarkets and grocery stores. You can also purchase them online as fresh produce, freeze-dried powders, dehydrated fruit, or frozen fruit cubes.
You can add freeze-dried dragon fruit powder to juices, smoothies, yogurt, granola, desserts, and snacks. Dehydrated dragon fruit is also good when added to salad, oatmeal, desserts, and yogurt.
Dragon Fruit Storage
You should put dragon fruits in your refrigerator’s crisper drawer to improve their shelf-life for up to 2 weeks. The ideal storage temperature for these fruits is 7-10 °C (45-50 °F). This temperature minimizes the likelihood of chilling injury and preserves betacyanin and other antioxidants. It also does not affect the color, appearance, and flavor of these fruits. If you intend to eat them within a week, it is best to leave them unrefrigerated.
Dragon Fruit Safety or Health Risks
Dragon fruits carry no health risks. They generally appear safe except on rare occasions where people develop allergic reactions characterized by hives, tongue swelling, and vomiting.
Consuming dragon fruits while pregnant is also safe. They actually provide nutrients that benefit the mother and the baby. They can improve hemoglobin and red blood cell levels in the body. The essential vitamins and minerals contained in these fruits can boost mother’s and infant’s health.