What Is Dragon Fruit and Does It Have Health Benefits?

Whole and a Half Dragon Fruit

Dragon fruit is a tropical fruit that has become increasingly popular in recent years.

People enjoy it for its unique look and taste, and there’s evidence it may provide health benefits.

This article explains everything you need to know about dragon fruit.

What Is Dragon Fruit?

Dragon fruit grows on the Hylocereus cactus, also known as the Honolulu Queen, whose flowers only open at night.

The plant is native to southern Mexico and Central America. Today, it is grown all over the world.

It goes by many names, including pitaya, pitahaya and strawberry pear.

The two most common types have bright, red skin with green scales that resemble a dragon — hence the name.

The variety that’s most widely available has white pulp with black seeds. The less common variety has red pulp with black seeds.

Another variety has yellow skin and white pulp with black seeds. It is referred to as yellow dragon fruit.

Dragon fruit may look exotic, but its flavors are similar to other fruits. Its taste has been described as a slightly sweet cross between a kiwi and a pear.

This is what dragon fruit looks like:

dragon-fruit

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Bottom Line: Dragon fruit is a tropical fruit that is native to Mexico and Central America. The taste is like a combination of a kiwi and a pear.

Nutrition Facts

Dragon fruit contains small amounts of several nutrients and is a good source of vitamin C and iron.

Here are the nutrition facts for a serving of 3.5 ounces, or 100 grams:

  • Calories: 52.
  • Protein: 1.1 gram.
  • Fat: 0.4 grams.
  • Carbs: 11 grams.
  • Fiber: 3 grams.
  • Vitamin C: 34% of the RDI.
  • Iron: 10.6% of the RDI.
  • Thiamine: 2.7% of the RDI.
  • Riboflavin: 2.9% of the RDI.

Given the high amount of fiber and vitamin C, as well as the extremely low calorie content, it can be considered to be a highly nutrient-dense fruit.

Bottom Line: Dragon fruit is a low-calorie fruit that is high in fiber and provides more than one-third of the RDI for vitamin C.

It Contains Antioxidants

Red and White Pulp Dragon Fruit

Dragon fruit contains several types of antioxidants.

These are compounds that protect cells from unstable molecules called free radicals, which are linked to chronic disease risk and aging (1).

These are some of the main antioxidants contained in the pulp (2):

  • Betalains: These deep red pigments have been shown to protect LDL cholesterol from becoming oxidized or damaged (3).
  • Hydroxycinnamates: This group of compounds has demonstrated anti-cancer activity in test-tube and animal studies (4).
  • Flavonoids: This large, diverse group of antioxidants is linked to better brain health and a reduced risk of heart disease (5, 6, 7).

One study compared the antioxidant properties of 17 tropical fruits and berries.

While dragon fruit’s antioxidant capacity was not as high as many other fruits’, it was found to be best at protecting certain fatty acids from free radical damage (8, 9).

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Bottom Line: Dragon fruit contains several antioxidants that protect cells from damage. These include betalains, hydroxycinnamates and flavonoids.

Potential Health Benefits

Hands Holding Dragon Fruit

Animal studies suggest that dragon fruit may provide benefits for a variety of health conditions.

Many of these are likely due to the high amount of vitamin C, fiber and antioxidants.

Both red and white varieties of dragon fruit have been shown to reduce insulin resistance and fatty liver in obese mice (10, 11, 12).

In one study, mice were fed a high-fat diet. Those also given an extract of the fruit gained less weight and had reductions in liver fat, insulin resistance and inflammation, which were attributed in part to beneficial changes in gut bacteria (12).

This fruit may improve certain features of metabolic syndrome, a precursor to type 2 diabetes. However, not all effects may be favorable.

In a study of mice fed a high-fat, high-carb diet, the group that received dragon fruit juice had better blood sugar responses and reductions in some liver enzyme markers, while another liver enzyme marker significantly increased (13).

In another study, diabetic rats treated with an extract from the fruit had a 35% reduction in malondialdehyde, a marker of free-radical damage. They also had less arterial stiffness, compared to the control group (14).

However, there are no studies that confirm these benefits in humans.

Bottom Line: Animal studies suggest dragon fruit may help improve insulin resistance, liver fat and heart health. However, human studies are needed.

Adverse Effects

Overall, dragon fruit appears to be safe. However, people may develop an allergic reaction in some rare cases.

In two cases, women with no history of food allergies developed anaphylactic reactions after consuming a fruit mixture that contained dragon fruit.

Testing confirmed they had antibodies against it (15, 16).

These are the only two reported allergic reactions at this point, but many other people may be allergic to the fruit without knowing it.

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Bottom Line: To date, there have been two reported cases of a severe allergic reaction to the fruit.

How to Eat Dragon Fruit

Slices of Dragon Fruit

Although it may look somewhat intimidating, dragon fruit is actually very easy to eat.

Here’s how to eat dragon fruit:

  • Select a ripe fruit with bright red, evenly colored skin that gives way slightly when squeezed.
  • Use a sharp knife and cut straight through the fruit, slicing it in half.
  • You can use a spoon to eat the fruit out of the skin. You can also peel the skin off and slice the fruit into small pieces.

Ideas for serving dragon fruit:

  • Simply slice it up and eat it.
  • Chop it into small pieces and top with Greek yogurt and chopped nuts.
  • Include it in a salad.

Healthy recipes with dragon fruit:

Bottom Line: Dragon fruit is easy to prepare and can be enjoyed on its own or paired with other foods in healthy recipes.

Take Home Message

Dragon fruit is a low-calorie fruit that contains less sugar and fewer carbs than many other tropical fruits.

The research to date suggests it may have some health benefits, but human studies are needed to verify this.

Overall, dragon fruit is unique, incredibly tasty and can add variety to your diet.