Health Benefits of Dragon Fruit

Dragon fruit is a food that demands attention. On the outside, it's got the appearance of a hot pink or yellow bulb with spike-like green leaves shooting up like flames around it. Cut it open, and you'll find fleshy white stuff inside dotted with black seeds that are OK to eat.

Dragon fruit grows on a climbing cactus called hylocereus, which you'll find in tropical regions around the world. The name comes from the Greek word "hyle," which means "woody," and the Latin word "cereus," which means "waxen."

This fruit, which comes in red- and yellow-skinned varieties, originally grew in southern Mexico and South and Central America. The French brought it to Southeast Asia in the early 19th century.

Central Americans call it "pitaya." In Asia, it's a "strawberry pear." Today, you can buy dragon fruit throughout the U.S.

Dragon fruit is juicy with a slightly sweet taste that some describe as a cross between a kiwi, a pear, and a watermelon. The seeds have a nutty flavor.

Nutrients per Serving

In one 6-ounce serving of dragon fruit cubes, you'll get:

  • Calories: 102
  • Fat: 0 grams
  • Protein: 2 grams
  • Carbohydrates: 22 grams
  • Fiber: 5 grams
  • Sugars: 13 grams

You'll also get these vitamins and minerals:

Health Benefits

Dragon fruit is rich in antioxidants like flavonoids, phenolic acid, and betacyanin. These natural substances protect your cells from damage by free radicals -- molecules that can lead to diseases like cancer and premature aging.

Though dragon fruit doesn't have the nutrient punch of berries or citrus fruits, it makes for a good snack or dessert because it's naturally fat-free. It's also high in fiber, which will help keep you full for longer between meals.

If you have prediabetes, dragon fruit could help lower your blood sugar. Larger amounts may cut blood sugar levels if you already have diabetes. Researchers say it might work, in part, by replacing damaged cells in the pancreas that make insulin -- the hormone that helps your body break down sugar. But the studies were done on mice, not people. It's unclear just how much dragon fruit you'd have to eat to get these benefits.

Dragon fruit also has prebiotics -- foods that feed the healthy bacteria called probiotics in your gut. Having more prebiotics in your system can improve the balance of good to bad bacteria in your intestines. Specifically, dragon fruit encourages the growth of the probiotics lactobacilli and bifidobacteria. In your gut, these and other helpful bacteria can kill disease-causing viruses and bacteria. They also help digest food.

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Risks

Dragon fruit is generally safe to eat, although studies have reported isolated allergic reactions. Symptoms included swelling of the tongue, hives, and vomiting. This type of reaction seems to be very rare.

If you eat enough red dragon fruit, it might turn your pee pink or red. This symptom looks more alarming than it actually is. The same thing can happen if you eat a lot of beets. Your pee should turn back to its normal color once the fruit is out of your system.

How to Prepare, Eat, and Store Dragon Fruit

Before you buy dragon fruit, squeeze it gently. It should give a little bit without feeling too soft or mushy. Avoid fruit that has noticeable bruises or dry leaves -- signs that it's overripe. If it feels hard when you press on it, let it ripen on the counter for a few days before eating.

To prepare the fruit, cut it into quarters. Either peel away the skin or remove the flesh with a spoon, ice cream scoop, or melon baller. Don't eat the skin.

You can eat dragon fruit in a few ways. Toss it into a fruit salad along with other tropical fruits like pineapple and mango. Cut it into a salsa. Churn it into ice cream. Squeeze it into juice or water. Use it as a topping for Greek yogurt. Or freeze it and blend it into a smoothie.

Store any leftover dragon fruit in a plastic bag in the fridge for up to 5 days. Or freeze it for up to 3 months.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Neha Pathak, MD on June 28, 2019

Sources

SOURCES:

American Culinary Federation Education Foundation: "All About Dragon Fruit."

Chulalongkorn Medical Journal: "Pseudohematuria due to red dragon fruit ingestion."

DK: The Illustrated Cook's Book of Ingredients.

Food Chemistry: "Oligosaccharides of pitaya (dragon fruit) flesh and their prebiotic properties."

National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health: "Antioxidants: In Depth." "Probiotics: In Depth."

National Library Board Singapore: "Dragon fruit."

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