Dragon fruit is an exotic and delicious fruit that grows on various cactus species, and is widely promoted throughout the world as having a number of health benefits, including its ability to lower cholesterol, boost the immune system, prevent cancer and heart disease, aid weight loss, improve digestion, boost energy, defend against bacteria and fungi, and help in the overall functioning of the body’s systems.
Dragon fruit is often considered a tropical “superfood” because of its wealth of benefits, and its somewhat “under the radar” quality that makes it less well known than many mainstream fruits and health foods. It is also known as “pitaya” if it comes from the very closely related Stenocereus genus, but the actual Dragon Fruit is the fruit of the cactus genus Hylocereus. It has its origins in Mexico, South America, and Central America, but New World settlers probably brought it to Southeast Asian nations like Cambodia, Thailand, Taiwan, Vietnam, and the Philippines, where it remains an important part of the dietary fruit intake.
There are both sweet and sour pitayas, depending on the species, and the shape and size varies as well. In terms of the most common form of dragon fruit, it is slightly smaller than a cantaloupe, red, and covered in broad spiky growths. When you open it, the texture is like a kiwi, and the meat is filled with small black seeds which must be chewed if they are to be digested. The meat of the fruit can be strained into wine or other beverages, and the leaves of dragon fruit can be steeped for a very healthy form of tea. The rough outer skin has little nutritional value and is rarely eaten.
The health benefits are mainly attributed to the antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals that the dragon fruit contains, and many of those healthy qualities are explained below.
Health Benefits of Dragon Fruit
Immune System Health: One of the most beneficial aspects of dragon fruit is its ability to give you a serious boost to your body’s defense system. The high levels of vitamin-C that can be found in dragon fruit are one of the strongest assets to your body’s immune system, and they stimulate the activity of other antioxidants in the body as well. They actively seek out and eliminate free radicals, the dangerous byproducts of cell metabolism, which have been directly linked to potentially fatal conditions like cancer and heart disease. The more vitamin-C, the better!
Cardiovascular Health: Dragon fruit is quite the exotic fruit with a number of unique properties, one being that they contain no cholesterol and almost no unhealthy, cholesterol-producing fats. By reducing the amount of cholesterol in the blood, the chances of developing plaque in the arteries and veins is small, thereby reducing the likelihood that you’ll suffer from atherosclerosis, heart attacks, and strokes. By using dragon fruit as a source of many other nutrients, you are not negatively impacting your body in any way, hence the fruit’s reputation as a “superfood”. Some fat is beneficial, and the seeds of dragon fruit do contain this positive type of fat, which can lead to HDL cholesterol (“good” cholesterol). HDL cholesterol actively decreases the amount of LDL cholesterol by inhibiting the receptors that it binds to on the walls of arteries.
Vitamin Content: Dragon Fruit is also packed with other beneficial vitamins besides vitamin-C, including the B vitamin group. The B1, B2, and B3 vitamin content of dragon fruit benefit everything from blood pressure, skin health, and cholesterol levels to thyroid function and carbohydrate metabolism. Even a single cup of dragon fruit contains a significant amount of beneficial vitamins.
Cancer Prevention: Along with the antioxidant protections of vitamin-C to boost the immune system, dragon fruits contain other sources of natural antioxidants. Carotene is another component of dragon fruits, and carotene has been linked to a number of anti-carcinogenic qualities, as well as reducing the size of tumors. Basically, dragon fruits boost your immune system from every direction, so if you feel like you’re frequently getting sick or feeling under the weather, or even if you are at a high risk of developing cancer, dragon fruit might be the answer for you.
Digestion: Aside from the immune system bonus, dragon fruits can also help to keep you regular! Dragon fruits have a significant fiber content, which means that they can help your body bulk up its bowel movements, facilitating smooth passage through the digestive tract, stimulating peristaltic motion, and inducing a release of digestive juices. By regulating bowel function with dietary fiber, you reduce your chances of conditions like constipation, Irritable Bowel Syndrome, and even more serious diseases like colorectal cancer.
Antibacterial and Anti-fungal: A final boost to the immune system from dragon fruit is its antifungal and antibacterial quality. This can help increase the white blood cell count in the body which defends against toxins, and it also inhibits the entrance or growth of fungal or bacterial infections in the organ systems. You will also find that it stimulates cell regeneration and speeds up healing, so wounds and bruises will heal at an increased rate.
Body Metabolism: One of the most essential parts of our diet is our intake of protein. Proteins are what make our body run smoothly, because they are intrinsic parts of everything from our teeth, hair, and bones, to our organs, blood vessels, and tissue. Many of the proteins we gain from fruits, vegetables, and meat are metabolized by enzymes in our body and turned into usable proteins that can speed up cell repair, enhance strength, speed up the metabolism, and help us lose weight and increase muscle mass. An appropriate dose of protein in our diet helps countless aspects of health, and dragon fruit is an unusually good fruit source for protein.
A Few Words of Caution: There are no health risks associated with dragon fruits, and studies have even shown that pregnant women and breast-feeding women are safe to eat dragon fruits without any worry of risks. So, go out to your nearest exotic market and grab some delicious and wildly nutritious dragon fruit