Red, yellow or magenta, with large flame-like green scales, a big round body, and a soft white fleshy inside, dragon fruit looks straight out of a myth. You’ve probably seen it decorating a tasty dish on Instagram or starring in the list of “fruit of the month” at your favorite juice bar, but do you know why it got so famous? Apart from its bizarre and colorful look?
Well, the health benefits of dragon fruit are nothing short of magical, even if these exotic fruits are decidedly not dragon eggs (hope we didn’t burst anyone’s bubble there!), they’re potent superfoods rich in many vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants that help lowering cholesterol. That's why it's one of the ingredients in our delicious Red Juice! But before I get into our favorite ways to get the benefits of dragon fruit, let's learn a bit more about what those benefits are...
What is (Pitaya) dragon fruit and why are we talking about it?
In addition to its many benefits, dragon fruit also goes by a few other names, like pitaya. So, if I use them interchangeably, don't get confused.
Pitaya, pitahaya, strawberry-pear and dragon fruits are all one and the same wonderful fruit. Its popular name in the US comes from what locals call it in South-East Asia: dragon crystal, dragon scales, dragon pearl or green dragon fruit. You’d think this mysterious fruit would be of Asian origin but it is most likely native to Central America.
Known in Mexico as pitahaya and pitaya in Nicaragua, Costa Rica and even French Guyana, the fruit grows on various cacti species indigenous to the region, and it has been eaten by natives for centuries, both as fruit and in juices due to the health benefits of dragon fruit and other deeply hydrating properties.
But that’s not why we’re talking about it, dragon fruit or pitaya is not only flavorful and colorful, it’s also incredibly healthy. And you know how much we love Superfoods around here right?
So now that you know WHAT it is, how about why you should eat it?
The incredible health benefits of dragon fruit (and why you should add it to your diet!)
#1 Dragon Fruit is Rich in Vitamins, Minerals, and Polyphenols
According to the USDA one serving of dragon fruit (about a cup or 227 grams) contains approximately 136 calories, 0 grams of fat and only 29 grams of carbohydrates. They’re also rich in plant-based phytochemicals like carotenoids, flavonoids, and polyphenols (that act as antioxidants), which have anti-inflammatory properties and prevent cellular damage.
What benefits do you get with one cup of fresh dragon fruit or pitaya with the seeds?
- 3 grams of protein
- 7 grams of fiber
- Vitamin C
- Vitamin E
- Omega 3 and Omega 6
#2 It May Help Fight and Even Prevent Chronic Diseases
One of the most incredible health benefits of dragon fruit or pitaya is its ability to potentially fight high-risk diseases like diabetes and arthritis.
According to this study, polyphenols have a “protective effect” and have been observed to:
- Inhibit and delay glucose absorption in the gut
- Have anti-aging effects on muscles and the brain
Note: There are health benefits of dragon fruit, but it is not a magic cure. However, because it is rich in polyphenols and flavonoids that help prevent and repair cellular damage from free-radicals, regular consumption may just help your system fight off these conditions. Keep reading, we promise the health benefits of dragon fruit are worth it.
#3 It can Help Lower Cholesterol
Dragon fruit or pitaya doesn’t have any cholesterol, but it does have Omega 3 and Omega 6 which together are known to help lower cholesterol levels. This also helps cardiovascular health while keeping you satisfied.
#4 It Gives Your Immune System a Boost
Your immune system’s ability to fend off anything from the common cold to dangerous diseases is dependent on your diet among other factors. Since white blood cells are highly sensitive to damage by free radicals the polyphenols and antioxidants in dragon fruit can help contribute to its defenses.
Additionally, since one serving of pitaya or dragon fruit has about 9% of the recommended Vitamin C daily intake, you can leverage its power to strengthen your immune system, too.
#5 It Can Help Respiratory Health
Many of the health benefits of dragon fruit are rooted in its high vitamin C and antioxidant content. And did you know that Vitamin C helps lung functions, promoting respiratory health?
Dragon fruit may have the capacity to lower respiratory diseases, but regular intake can soothe more everyday conditions such as asthma, bronchitis or sneezing.
#6 It is a Great Source of Fiber
The USDA recommends 25-38 grams of fiber per day, and while fiber is usually known for its digestive properties, research shows that it can also help manage weight gain and type two diabetes.
#7 It Helps You Up Your Iron Intake
Iron is a vital mineral that helps blood oxygenate the cells in your body. As you can imagine, that’s a pretty important role. On of the health benefits of dragon fruit is that it has 8% of iron per serving, and it is also rich in vitamin which helps absorb iron from food sources more efficiently. It’s a win-win!
Unfortunately, low hemoglobin or iron deficiency tends to be more common than people expect it to be, and it can cause anemia, fatigue, hair loss, and frequent infections. Prevent low iron levels in your blood by making sure you have iron-rich foods in your diet.
#8 It Can Help Balance Your Gut
The health benefits of dragon fruit don’t stop! In addition to being an excellent source of fiber, pitaya or dragon fruit promotes the growth of healthy gut bacteria, specifically: lactobacilli and bifidobacteria (these are also known as prebiotics).
Bacteria, both good and bad, coexist in your gut. Consuming foods that promote the growth of the right kind helps you keep steady and regular bowel movements, prevents diarrhea and improves digestion - making you happier in the process.
#9 It Has More Magnesium Than Most Fruits
If you’ve ever hit the gym looking to build muscle you’ve probably been recommended a magnesium supplement for your diet. The truth is that even though magnesium is not often talked about, it is an essential nutrient that contributes to muscle and bone growth, nerve repair, blood sugar regulation, and even DNA.
Dragon fruit offers 18% of the recommended dietary intake in a single serving, making it an ideal source for your diet. It also happens to be delicious.
#10 It Supports a Full Body Detox
Your body is continuously working to eliminate toxins, waste, and repair itself. The fiber, vitamins, and antioxidants in dragon fruit help your organs perform better. Additionally, dragon fruits are highly hydrating, like watermelons, which also has a diuretic effect.
Trying to slim down? Snack on a bowl of this sweet treat during break and smile knowing you are getting all the benefits of dragon fruit.
How to Eat Dragon Fruit: 10 Easy Recipes
Dragon fruit looks intimidating, but it is easy to peel, cut and prepare! We gathered ten delicious recipes for you to get your dragon fruit health benefits quick and easy.
First, Pick Your Dragon Fruit:
- Look for dragon fruit that is red or magenta; green ones are unripe.
- Avoid dragon fruit with many bruises or blemishes (they may be overripe)
- Go for soft - not mushy! Pitayas are similar to avocados.
Much like avocados, to prepare them all you need to do is slice them in half and either spoon out the fleshy and peppered insides or cut horizontal and vertical lines to scoop cubes out. It can be eaten raw, in juices, salads, smoothies and even as jam!
The not-so-great news about pitayas:
It is a warm weather plant and its fruits take fifty days to reach maturity on average. Additionally, dragon fruit flowers only last one evening, which explains why even though the health benefits of dragon fruit are many - and the recipes are especially refreshing- it hasn’t been part of the US diet for long and you may find that they’re sold out.
If you don’t find them at your local market, don’t worry you can get your dragon fruit health benefits from pitayas and other superfoods! The goal is to increase the intake of foods rich in Vitamin C, D, E, polyphenols, and flavonoids even when your favorite mythical fruit is not in season.
Try a superfood infusion like our Red Juice which has not one, but 11 superfoods and so many antioxidants and vitamin C you won’t know what hit you - except that you have more energy than ever!
If you do find dragon fruit, go ahead and try as many of these fantastic recipes as possible:
- Dragon Fruit and Strawberry Chia Pudding: Mouth watered already. Perfect for breakfast or post-workout, it has 13 grams of protein and only 317 calories. Drop the maple syrup to cut the sugar amount. Adding protein to the multiple health benefits of dragon fruit is a great way to make it a complete meal!
Get the recipe from Delightful Mom Food
- Dragon Fruit Protein Smoothie: Add a banana to one cup of chopped dragon fruit (fresh or frozen), two scoops of vanilla flavored complete protein powder and blend. Sweet!
- Vegan Dragon Fruit Pancakes: Who said you needed to eat just fruit to reap the health benefits of dragon fruit? This healthy twist on red velvet pancakes will have you smiling all day long. Add a scoop of complete chocolate protein to make them extra velvety.
Get the recipe from Eat Drink Shrink
- Easy Dragon Fruit Smoothie Bowl: Chances are you already have the ingredients for this smoothie bowl at home. The health benefits of dragon fruit, minus the effort.
Get the recipe from Jar Of Lemons
- Shrimp Tacos with Dragon Fruit Salsa: It’s not all smoothies and bowls. Dragon fruit can be an excellent way to spice up lunch or dinner - the healthy way! If you’re vegan swap the shrimp for spicy tofu, tempeh or cauliflower.
Get The Recipe from Chocolate Moosey
- Dragon Fruit Rainbow Rolls: The health benefits of dragon fruit were recently re-discovered tanks to Asian cuisine, so it makes sense that this lovely recipe makes the list! Vegan, gluten-free and oh-so-good.
Get the Recipe from One Green Planet
- Healthy Dragon Fruit Jam: You won’t believe it only has 2 teaspoons of sugar in it! Perfect for the busy mom that wants the family to eat healthier; it’s got the health benefits of dragon fruit in a kid-friendly snack!
Get the recipe from Vegetarian Tastebuds
Ready? Go reap the numerous health benefits of dragon fruit today with your first recipe. Remember you can simply add it to your smoothies and include it in any detox or juice fast program!
The next time someone asks “what is pitaya?” and "why won’t you stop talking about it?" You can mention *ahem* the health benefits of dragon fruit *clears throat* and send them this post and help them get their nutrient fix in a fun and tasty way as well.