Dragon fruit is a type of tropical cactus fruit primarily grown in South and Central America and in Vietnam. Also called pitaya and strawberry pear, the fruit has pink or reddish skin, and the inner pulp may be white, red, or pink.
Many individuals describe dragon fruit as having a similar taste to kiwi; the taste is very sweet and sometimes a bit tangy or sour. Dragon fruit is regarded as one of the latest superfoods; it is low in calories and high in iron, vitamin C, iron, and magnesium.
The fruit’s texture and sweetness make it ideal for use in smoothies and juices, and some individuals even enjoy it dried as a chip.
Health Benefits of Dragon Fruit
Doctors and nutritionists are increasingly recommending dragon fruit as a healthy choice for patients with various ailments. Some of the major benefits of dragon fruit are discussed below.
1. Aids in Healthy Digestion
Studies have shown there are more than four hundred species of bacteria within the digestive system, and researchers believe an imbalance in certain bacteria may contribute to disease.
For example, science suggests patients who have a high level of ‘bad’ bacteria in the stomach may be at a higher risk for asthma and cardiovascular conditions. Dragon fruit is rich in prebiotics, a type of fiber that encourages healthy bacteria to flourish throughout the digestive system.
Research suggests dragon fruit aids in healthy digestion by improving the ratio of good to bad bacteria in the digestive system. In particular, this fruit helps increase lactic acid and bifidobacteria, two kinds of ‘good’ bacteria.
Early studies have indicated prebiotics like dragon fruit may help prevent infections in the digestive system, and one study indicated patients who took prebiotic supplements experienced fewer episodes of traveler’s diarrhea.
Other test-tube studies of prebiotics suggest they may reduce the symptoms of inflammatory bowel disease.
2. Helps Prevent Anemia
Anemia refers to a low level of hemoglobin in the blood, and this means the body’s tissues cannot get enough oxygen. Anemia can be caused by low levels of iron in the bloodstream, and it may result in weakness, fatigue, cold hands and feet, and chest pain.
A combination of iron and vitamin C helps prevent anemia, and dragon fruit is rich in both of these. It contains eight percent of the recommended daily intake of iron and nine percent of the recommended daily intake of vitamin C.
Vitamin C helps increase iron absorption, so doctors recommend patients at risk of anemia to take both of these together.
As one of the only fresh fruits containing iron, dragon fruit is an especially important dietary addition for individuals who follow vegetarian or vegan diets.
3. Helps Manage Blood Sugar
Dragon fruit contains seven grams of fiber per serving, making it an ideal whole food source for individuals aiming to increase their fiber intake.
Studies suggest the high fiber content in fruits like dragon fruit helps manage blood sugar by preventing the rapid glucose elevation that typically occurs after eating high-glycemic foods.
In general, the fiber in dragon fruit seems to increase the stability of blood sugar readings, reducing episodes of both high and low blood sugar, which can be a daily worry for diabetes patients.
Animal studies on diabetes have suggested dragon fruit helps decrease the stiffness of the aorta and reduce oxidative stress on the body. Regular consumption of dragon fruit could, therefore, decrease the risk of cardiovascular disease in diabetes patients.
Since individuals with diabetes already have a higher risk of heart issues than patients without the condition, incorporating dragon fruit into the diet could be an ideal step in preventing potential cardiovascular complications.
4. Boosts the Immune System
Dragon fruit boosts the immune system with its rich variety of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. The white blood cells within the immune system are responsible for fighting infections throughout the body. However, these cells are very sensitive to damage from free radicals, and this damage may impair the cell’s normal function.
Nutrients in dragon fruit, including vitamin C and carotenoids, help neutralize free radicals and protect the white blood cells from damage, strengthening the immune system to better fight infections.
Although carotenoids are available in supplement form, they are most easily absorbed through dietary sources like dragon fruit.
Studies suggest the immune-boosting properties of dragon fruit and similar foods may help prevent chronic diseases, many of which are associated with inflammation from free radicals. For example, the antioxidants in dragon fruit could help prevent diabetes, cancer, arthritis, and cardiovascular disease.
In addition to carotenoids, dragon fruit contains compounds known as betalains. In test tube studies, betalains have been effective in fighting oxidative stress, and research suggests they may also be able to suppress the growth of cancer cells.
Immune-boosting foods such as dragon fruit are particularly beneficial for patients taking medication that may compromise their immune system health and make them more vulnerable to infection.
For example, adding dragon fruit to the diet could be useful for patients undergoing chemotherapy or those taking anti-rejection medication after an organ transplant.
5. Benefits Eye Health
Dragon fruit contains a high amount of vitamin A, which benefits eye health by improving low-light and color vision. One of the major causes of age-related macular degeneration is a deficiency in vitamin A, and adding dragon fruit to the diet may help in preventing this.
The fruit is also rich in beta carotene, a substance that protects the eyes from free radicals and could reduce the risk of both macular degeneration and the formation of cataracts.
Studies have shown dragon fruit naturally inhibits the growth of human cytochrome P450, one of the proteins found in the liver.
This protein has been associated with a type of eye disease known as congenital glaucoma. Therefore, dragon fruit could be especially useful in the prevention of this congenital eye disease.