Dragon fruit is a tropical fruit that has flown under the radar of a lot of people until recently, but it is rapidly becoming acknowledged one of the emerging ‘superfoods’ for those who are both health-conscious and like tasty and luxurious foods.
Dragon fruit is also known as the strawberry pear, or the pitahaya, and it is known for its vibrant, red appearance and its sweet pulp. While it was once an obscure fruit, it is becoming more readily available in supermarkets, both in fresh and frozen form. Let’s take a look at some of the potential health benefits of this tasty fruit.
A single serving of dragon fruit is quite low in calories (just 136 calories for 227g of fruit), and contains 3g of protein, as well as 7g of fiber. Dragon fruit is also a good source of iron, magnesium, and vitamins C and E.1 Fiber is essential for good digestive health, and eating a diet that is rich in fiber and complex carbohydrates, and low in simple sugars is one simple lifestyle change that can really improve your digestive wellbeing.2
Rich in Antioxidants
Antioxidants are nutrients which can neutralize free radicals; unstable molecules which can damage your cells, leading to inflammation and disease. Vitamin C is one of the most powerful antioxidants, and is one of several that are found in dragon fruit. Studies show that people who take in higher amounts of vitamin C are at a lower risk of certain cancers.3 Dragon fruit is also rich in carotenoids, which could help to reduce your risk of cancer and heart disease.4
Reduced Risk of Diabetes
Because dragon fruit is so rich in fiber, it can help to regulate the rate at which foods, including simple sugars, are digested. This helps to prevent the blood sugar spike that commonly occurs with foods that have a high glycemic index. For people who have type 2 diabetes or who are at risk of diabetes, increasing your fiber intake can be a very good choice for managing the rate of digestion of carbohydrates and sugars.5
A Powerful Digestive Aid
Dragon fruit can help to smooth the rate at which food passes through the digestive tract, reducing your risk of constipation and also reducing symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome and other similar conditions.6 Again, it is the fiber in the fruit which offers these benefits. People with IBS are usually advised to try to get the recommended daily intake of fiber from easy-to-digest sources, rather than from grains that are more likely to cause bloating and other issues. The fruit can help to promote the growth of good bacteria, reducing cravings and supporting better digestion.
Weight Loss Aid
Because of the blood-sugar stabilizing effect of dragon fruit, combined with the low calorie count and the fiber in it, dragon fruit makes a good weight loss aid. The mechanics of weight are simple, but not always easy to put into practice. People lose fat if they consume fewer calories than their body needs to maintain their current weight and current level of energy expenditure. Reducing calories below that maintenance level will produce weight loss assuming the person sticks to their new recommended calorie intake for a sustained period of time.7 The challenge that a lot of people face is that simple carbohydrates are too easily digested, which means that they often give a sudden burst of energy followed by a ‘crash’, leaving you feeling hungry again too quickly. Sources of simple carbohydrates tend to be low in nutrients but high in calories, so they will do very little for your body and can contribute to weight gain by making it too hard for you to stick to your diet in the long term.8
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Dragon fruit and other similar fruits that are rich in fiber and that also contain a small amount of protein help to fill you up without making too much of a dent into your daily calorie allowance. This means that you are less likely to snack and less likely to feel deprived while following a calorie-restricted diet.
Is Dragon Fruit Safe for Everyone?
Dragon fruit’s distinctive appearance and exotic nature means that it is natural to wonder whether it is safe to eat for everyone. The good news is that there isn’t anything particularly unusual in the fruit that would make it high risk for most people. To date, there have been only two documented incidents of people experiencing anaphylactic reactions to dragon fruit.9,10 It is possible that there may be other people who are allergic to the fruit, however, allergic reactions are most certainly rare. There is not anything in the fruit that is known to cause adverse reactions to common medications. With that said if you have a pre-existing medical condition or are taking medications it is always a good idea to seek advice from your primary care physician before you make any major changes to your diet.
The Best Way to Eat Dragon Fruit
The first time you buy a dragon fruit it is normal to feel a little intimidated by it, but it is actually quite easy to eat. Ripe dragon fruit tends to be bright red with a couple of spots on it, but not too many. Cut the fruit in half, and then cut the pulp into cubes and scoop the cubes out with a spoon. Dragon fruit is quite tasty on its own, but it also goes great as a sweet salad topping, or to be enjoyed in a smoothie or with yogurt. If preparing your own fresh fruit is too much hassle or you find it hard to source ripe, but not over-ripe dragon fruit in your area, look for pre-peeled and cut fruit in the frozen foods section of your grocery store. Frozen dragon fruit is quite common in supermarkets with a world foods section.
The Dragon fruit is a great fruit to try out. Its digestive benefits, nutritional value and culinary possibilities make it worth taking a look at this weird-looking fruit sometime soon in a local grocery market near you.
Photo credits: Stock-Asso/shutterstock.com, Darkkong/shutterstock.com, YARUNIVStudio/shutterstock.com