If you’ve ever seen dragon fruit in the store, it would certainly catch your eye! It looks almost like it came from another planet, it’s so wild looking. Dragon fruit comes from tropical areas of the world and grows on a particular type of cactus called Pitahaya, as it’s called in Mexico.
Dragon fruit is truly quite delicious and comes in different colors—white, pink, or deep reddish-purple. Inside the rich, juicy flesh are tiny black crunchy seeds. The little black seeds are full of healthy omega 3 fatty acids.
My favorite type of dragon fruit here in Sonora, Mexico is the deep red-purple dragon fruit. This rich deep color contains the highest levels of the antioxidants. I had the opportunity to visit a local dragon fruit farm and sample fresh dragon fruit in the form of dragon fruit cocktails and sorbet. Dragon fruit has a taste a little like kiwi, and is absolutely delicious.
Dragon fruit, as you may imagine, contains several amazing health benefits including antioxidants, slowing down aging, enhancing immune function and improving blood sugar levels. The fruit is enriched with several powerful phytochemical substances that have pharmacological properties. Some newly explored therapeutic applications include its use as an antioxidant, antimicrobial, antidiabetic, anticancer, and nutraceutical.
Recently this exotic fruit has been gaining in popularity and you may see it showing up in your health food store and as an ingredient in smoothies and energy drinks. Even Starbucks has a drink that combines dragon fruit with green coffee bean extract and other fruit juices.
What makes this unique fruit worth eating?
Antioxidants that Boost Immune Function, Fight Cancer, and Slow Aging
Like many colorful fruits, dragon fruit contains a lot of powerful antioxidants—especially the deep pink/purple types. Dragon fruit has flavonoids and vitamin C, making it great for fighting cold, flu and other infections.
Dragon fruit contains antioxidants betacyanins and betaxanthins. These beneficial compounds neutralize free radicals in the body that can cause cell damage, disease and accelerated aging.
According to the World Journal of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences, the antioxidant activity of dragon fruit is also very helpful to prevent inflammatory conditions in the body, including gout, arthritis, heart disease and some autoimmune diseases.
Dragon fruit also contains vitamins B1, B2 and B3, and calcium, phosphorous, iron, protein, niacin and fiber, all of which keep your body in balance and working at optimal levels.
Antioxidants also help preserve skin health as well. Antioxidants help protect the underlying structures of the skin, keeping it firm, fighting off sun damage and other environmental damage.
Dragon fruit’s antioxidants also help to protect the cells’ DNA and prevent colon cancer.
Dragon fruit also contains phosphorus. Phosphorus is an important mineral found in every cell of the body. One of the main functions of phosphorus is protecting the integrity of the bones and teeth. Phosphorus also helps the body metabolize carbohydrates and fats, and synthesizing protein for growth and repair of healthy cells and tissues. And—phosphorus helps the body make ATP which increases energy in the cells.
Digestion and Gut Health
I’m sure you all know that fiber is good for digestion and that fruits and veggies are full of healthy fiber. Dragon fruit is a very tasty way to load up on fiber, helping keep you regular.
Dragon fruit also contains oligosaccharides which work as prebiotics. Prebiotics help promote the growth of your healthy gut bacteria. Keeping your gut bacteria healthy and well fed contributes to overall health, and happy, healthy moods as well.
Gut bacteria is responsible for creating 90% or so of the serotonin (a brain chemical) in the body. Serotonin helps you feel happy and relaxed.
Dragon fruit specifically helps with the growth of two types of healthy bacteria: lactic acid bacteria and bifidobacteria.
In addition, dragon fruit also contains some diuretic properties, which help your body eliminate excess fluids.
Blood Sugar Control
Besides helping your gut bacteria, the fiber from dragon fruit also helps to maintain healthy blood sugar levels. Previous studies showed that dragon fruit encouraged the growth of new pancreatic cells that produce insulin.
A meta-analysis from the journal PLOS ONE looked at the effects of dragon fruit on blood sugar with people who had type 2 diabetes or prediabetes. The analysis compared multiple clinical trials, looking at fasting glucose levels. The effects on fasting glucose were significant—especially in those with prediabetes. It was also found that the more dragon fruit eaten, the greater the blood sugar benefits.
Other studies have shown that dragon fruit helps to reduce oxidative stress, which also prevents some of the complications associated with diabetes, as well as reducing risk of developing diabetes.
Dragon fruit’s antioxidants, including phytoalbumin, vitamin C and lycopene help fight cancer by neutralizing free radicals and protecting cells from dangerous mutations. Lycopene, a known antioxidant which is also found in tomatoes is especially effective against cancer, especially prostate cancer.
Another study published in Nutrition and Cancer journal, showed that treating ovarian cancer cells with lycopene stopped the growth and spread of cancer cells. And this study showed some powerful activity of a dragon fruit compound slowing growth and reproduction on breast cancer cells. Scientists at the National Polytechnic Institute (IPN) were able to kill lung cancer cells in vitro, by an extraction from the dragon fruit.
All of these findings indicate the power of dragon fruit’s ability to fight cancer. Some scientists feel that extracts of dragon fruit may one day be used as a cancer-fighting compound.
Delicious to Eat
Dragon fruit has a sweet, smooth taste that is very palatable and works well in many different types of dishes and drinks. You can try dragon fruit in:
If you can’t find dragon fruit in your local supermarket, you may have better luck in a specialty food store or Asian market. Fresh dragon fruit is a little harder to find, but you want to look for one that is bright red or deep pink colored.
Dragon fruit should be slightly soft when you’re testing it with your finger. If it’s overly firm, you can still bring it home and leave it on your counter to ripen.
Peel and cut it into sections when you’re ready to eat it. Like avocados, you should eat the flesh and discard the tough outer skin. You can also cut the fruit in half and scoop out the flesh with a spoon or melon baller. Dragon fruit is found frozen in the frozen fruit section at your grocery store as well.