19 Health Benefits of Dragon Fruit (Pitaya)

by John Staughton (BASc, BFA) last updated - Medically reviewed by Vanessa Voltolina (MS, RD)

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Dragon fruit, rich in nutrients and low in calories, may be beneficial for fighting chronic illnesses, improving gut health, and boosting immunity. It is high in fiber as well as various vitamins and minerals including manganese and iron. Health benefits of dragon fruit include its ability to aid in weight loss, control diabetes, improve digestion, lower cholesterol, and boost energy levels. It may also be protective against certain cancers and heart diseases, defend against bacteria and fungi and optimize the overall functioning of the body.

What is Dragon Fruit?

Dragon fruit is an exotic and delicious fruit, also considered a tropical superfood, because of its wealth of benefits. It is also known as pitaya or pitahaya, and some call it a strawberry pear. However, pitaya technically differs from dragon fruit (pitahaya), as the former comes from genus Stenocereus while the latter comes from Hylocereus. The dragon fruit has its origins in Mexico, South America, and Central America. It is suspected that the 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. Now, it’s not just the healthy fruit, but also nutrient-rich pitaya powder, that is available worldwide.

Apart from the fruit, the peel of the dragon fruit is found to be useful in pharmaceutical, cosmetic, and nutraceutical applications, as per 2011 research published in the Journal of Food Science.

Watch Video: 7 Amazing Benefits Of Dragon Fruit

7 Amazing Benefits Of Dragon Fruit Or Pitaya | Organic Facts

Dragon Fruit Nutrition

Dragon fruit is low in calories and rich in antioxidants, making it a good addition to any weight loss diet. According to the USDA, the fruit contains good amounts of fiber, lycopene, and carbohydrates as well as water-soluble vitamins such as carotene, vitamin C and B vitamins niacin and riboflavin. The mineral wealth of this fruit is also high and includes magnesium, calcium, phosphorus, iron, and sodium.

Dragon fruit is believed to contain phytonutrients that prevent various diseases. Also, research published in Food Chemistry suggests that there are polyunsaturated fatty acids (linoleic acid and linolenic acid), and omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids in the seeds of these fruits.

Health Benefits of Dragon Fruit

The health benefits of the dragon fruit are mainly attributed to its antioxidantantibacterial, and nutritional properties. The benefits include boosting immunity, faster metabolism, and a smoother digestive process.

Anticancer Potential

Dragon fruit is rich in antioxidants. A 2017 study published in the Oxidative Medicine and Cellular Longevity journal notes that the fruit might be useful against breast cancer. It concludes that dragon fruit may act on selective breast cancer cells. It was observed to do so by targeting tumorigenic pathways and leading to cell cycle arrest and apoptosis. While the study acknowledges the need for clinical trials, it recognizes the potential of this fruit to play a role in cancer therapy.

The presence of non-digestible oligosaccharides in pitaya could prove helpful against colon cancer, according to a study published in the International Food Research Journal. These oligosaccharides have a positive prebiotic effect where they have resulted in an increase in bifidobacteria and lactobacillus while decreasing Bacteroides and clostridium. This highlights its potential to reduce the risk of colon cancer.

Boosts Immune System

The high level of vitamin C found in dragon fruit helps boost immunity and it stimulates the activity of other antioxidants in the body as well. According to a 2011 research study, the flesh and the peel of the white and red pitayas have high polyphenol and flavonoid content which can help eliminate free radicals. This has been linked to preventing the proliferation of cancer cells. Also, these antioxidants work to increase the platelet count, thus treat dengue and help a faster recovery.

High in Fiber & Aids in Digestion

Research published in Food Chemistry also suggests that dragon fruits are rich in oligosaccharides that help promote the growth of gut bacteria like lactobacilli and bifidobacteria. A 2015 study on natural prebiotics in Thailand showed that the fruit helped increase healthy gut flora, which is important for smooth digestion.

Dragon fruits have a high fiber content, which means that they can help bulk up 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, this fruit helps in preventing conditions like constipation, irritable bowel syndrome, and even colorectal cancer.

Controls Diabetes

Regular consumption of dragon fruit is linked to a reduction in blood sugar levels, which is beneficial for type 2 diabetics and those with pre-diabetes. In a 2017 research review study, it was found that overall pre-diabetics showed a noticeable reduction in blood sugar levels as compared to people who had not eaten dragon fruit. Furthermore, prediabetics with higher consumption of dragon fruit showed greater blood glucose reduction.

Rich in Iron

Iron, present in dragon fruits, is good for boosting the hemoglobin levels in anemic individuals. It also aids in the production of red blood cells (RBCs), which then helps in the proper oxygenation of vital organs.

Good Source of Antioxidants

Research published in the Journal of Food Science indicates that due to a high polyphenol and flavonoid content, and antioxidant activity it can be used for cosmetic and pharmaceutical applications both.

Rich in Magnesium & B Vitamins

Dragon fruit is also packed with vitamins and minerals such as vitamin C and the B-vitamins as well as magnesium. The benefits of magnesium include improving bone health and heart health. The B1, B2, and B3 vitamins help improve everything from blood pressure, skin health, and cholesterol levels to thyroid function, fluctuating hemoglobin levels, and carbohydrate metabolism.

Freshly cut and uncut dragon fruits on a wooden table

Dragon fruit has mild taste. Photo Credit: Shutterstock

Skin Care

The antioxidants in dragon fruit may help fight the signs of aging by reducing the harmful effects of free radicals in the body. They also aid in treating sunburn, acne, and dry skin. Vitamin C, contained in many fruits but particularly dragon fruit helps brighten the skin. Try adding dried dragon fruit powder to your daily juices and watch your skin become radiant. Dragon fruit is also popular as a face mask.

Improves Cardiovascular Health

Dragon fruit contains no unhealthy saturated fats. This leads to higher levels of HDL (“good” cholesterol) and lower levels of LDL (“bad” cholesterol) in the body. The chances of developing plaque in the arteries and veins are less, thereby reducing your chances of suffering from atherosclerosis, heart attacks, and strokes.

Hair Care

Adding dragon fruit or adding dragon fruit extract powder to your daily diet helps in keeping the hair nourished and healthy. Its high amounts of nutrients help to reduce the damage done to hair by the chemicals present in artificial hair color. It also helps improve the texture and bring back the shine to your hair.

Anti-inflammatory Properties

Dragon fruit powder is rich in anti-inflammatory properties, which help in reducing the pain caused by arthritis and other medical conditions.

Eye Care

Dragon fruit is known to inhibit the growth of human cytochrome P450, a protein found in the liver. This protein is often linked with the occurrence of congenital glaucoma. Also, according to research published in the journal Food Chemistry, the beta-carotene content in this fruit helps in preventing macular degeneration and cataract formation by keep the eyes protected from harmful free radicals.

Strong Bones and Teeth

Dragon fruit is higher in calcium than many other fruits and can, therefore, help contribute to the daily calcium requirements needed to keep your bones healthy, improves the bone mineral density, and prevents osteoporosis. A study done by Tufts University showed that a diet rich in fruits and vegetables offers the right mix of nutrients, protein, and calcium to boost bone density.

Pregnancy

Dragon fruit is beneficial for pregnant women as it contains iron, B vitamins, and folate. Studies show that iron helps in preventing hemoglobin deficiency and also in preventing the occurrence of anemia. The B vitamins and folate help prevent birth defects and boost energy.

Also, the mild laxative properties of dragon fruit help loosen the stool and regulate bowel movements. Moreover, the calcium content in it aids in the bone development of the fetus, thereby contributing to a healthy pregnancyHigh levels of calcium and magnesium also help fight osteoporosis in postmenopausal women.

Boosts Cognition

Dragon fruits contain B vitamins and are rich in vitamin C, both of which help in keeping the cell membranes healthy. This activity of the vitamins may help prevent the occurrence of cognitive disorders and keeps your brain functioning like Einstein!

Improves Respiration

It’s high time you add dragon fruit to your diet if you are suffering from respiratory disorders like asthma. Dragon fruit extract capsules are also available, which help provide vitamin C and antioxidants. There is evidence that higher intakes of fruit and vegetables may have a positive impact on respiratory issues.

Buying Dragon Fruit

Fresh dragon fruit can be bought at your local supermarket and it is even available online. When choosing a dragon fruit, make sure the skin does not have brown spots. If the fruit is soft, it has probably gone bad. Consider red dragon fruit chips as a healthy snack option for everyone, including adults and kids. Since the fruit is seasonal, you can also use freeze-dried dragon fruit powder, packed with antioxidants, in your smoothie, granola, yogurt, and raw desserts.

Dragon Fruit Varieties

There are three types of dragon fruits, namely,

  • Red skin with red flesh
  • Red skin with white flesh
  • Yellow skin with white flesh.

There are sweet and sour dragon fruits, depending on the species, shape, and size. In terms of the most common form of dragon fruit, it is slightly smaller than a cantaloupe, red in color, and covered in broad spiky growths.

When you cut it open, the texture of the fruit’s meat is like a kiwi, and it is filled with small black seeds. The meat of the fruit is used to make wine and can be strained into other beverages, while 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.

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About the Author

John Staughton is a traveling writer, editor, publisher and photographer with English and Integrative Biology degrees from the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana (USA). He co-founded the literary journal, Sheriff Nottingham, and now serves as the Content Director for Stain’d Arts, a non-profit based in Denver, Colorado. On a perpetual journey towards the idea of home, he uses words to educate, inspire, uplift and evolve.

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