Dragon fruit is a part of the cactus family and it’s native to northern South America. Although there are several varieties of colors (yellow, red, white inside, or pink inside) there aren’t many nutritional differences among them. These dragon fruits get their name from their exterior, which is full of overlapping “fins” that resemble a dragon’s scales, and their also commonly known as pitaya.
Dragon fruit is rich in fiber and antioxidants linked to protection against cancer, diabetes, and heart disease, as well as respiratory, gastrointestinal, and urinary diseases.
Keep reading to learn more about the fruit’s benefits and simple, healthy ways to enjoy it.
Dragon fruit can enhance gut health in two key ways. The fruit is high in fiber, which supports healthy digestion and helps prevent constipation. One cup of yellow dragon fruit provides 5.58 grams (g) of fiber, 20% of the Daily Value (DV).
Dragon fruit also contains prebiotics called oligosaccharides, which help stimulate the growth of beneficial Bifidobacteria and Lactobacillus gut microbes. These probiotic bacteria have been shown to prevent or treat digestive conditions, including irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
Because of its anti-inflammatory antioxidants, dragon fruit is tied to the prevention of diseases associated with inflammation. These include diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and metabolic syndrome (which means having three or more of the following: a large waistline, high blood pressure, high blood sugar, high triglycerides, low “good” HDL cholesterol).
Antioxidants called betacyanins, which provide color to the flesh and skin of red dragon fruits, help reduce oxidative stress, damage to cells caused by compounds call free radicals. Free radicals are produced when your body breaks down food, or when you are exposed to tobacco smoke or radiation. The buildup of free radicals over time is largely responsible for aging and health problems, including heart disease, cancer, and even arthritis.
Red fleshed and white fleshed dragon fruits are also rich in antioxidants called phenolic compounds, which contribute to the taste, color, and health benefits of the plants. A 2021 research report states that red dragon fruits have the highest concentration of total polyphenols and antioxidant activity compared to both white and yellow varieties.
Regarding cancer, researchers believe that the gut microbiome shift caused by gut fermentation of prebiotics in dragon fruit may reduce the risk of colon cancer. Protection against other cancers may be due to other antioxidants, including phenolic acids, flavonoids, and betacyanin.
Dragon fruits contain natural sugar, but eating them may actually help control blood sugar levels. Researchers believe that red dragon fruit in particular has the potential to help manage blood sugar levels. That’s because natural compounds in the plant may help regenerate beta cells in the pancreas, which make and secrete insulin and amylin, two hormones that regulate blood sugar levels. Dragon fruit also has anti-inflammatory effects and inflammation is a risk factor for the development of type 2 diabetes.
A 2017 research review which analyzed four previously published studies, concluded that dragon fruit had a significant effect on lowering fasting blood sugar levels in people with prediabetes. While this was not seen in people with type 2 diabetes, blood sugar was significantly reduced when people consumed larger portions of dragon fruit.
Eating dragon fruit may be a simple way to help improve overall circulation or blood flow. One small study of 18 people who were young, healthy, and didn’t smoke, looked at the effects of consuming 24 g (a little less than one ounce) of whole dragon fruit powder daily, or a placebo with an equal amount of nutritious benefits.
Researchers looked at outcomes on blood flow, artery stiffness, and blood pressure, which were measured one, two, three, and four hours after consumption and after 14 days. Scientists found that dragon fruit eaters had significant improvements in blood flow two, three, and four hours after ingesting the dragon fruit powder compared to the placebo group, and that the effect was sustained through the two-week period.
Research says this may imply that eating dragon fruit regularly may have a meaningful impact on heart disease risk, likely due to the red fruit’s betalain pigment.
Dragon fruit supports healthy immune function both directly and indirectly. The fruit itself possesses anti-bacterial, anti-fungal, anti-viral, and antimicrobial properties. Portions of the flesh and peel have also been shown to inhibit food-borne microorganisms, including yeasts and molds. And the shift in gut microbes triggered by eating dragon fruit helps activate and support the body’s overall immune response.
According to the USDA, a one cup portion of dragon fruit provides the following):
- Calories: 103
- Fat: 0.252 g
- Protein: 0.648 g
- Carbohydrates: 27.4 g
- Fiber: 5.58 g (20% of the Daily Value)
- Sodium: 1.8 mg (0% of the Daily Value)
- Vitamin C: 7.74 mg (8%)
- Potassium: 209 mg (4.4%)
- Magnesium: 12.6 mg (3%)
Fiber and antioxidants are dragon fruit’s stand out nutrients. An adequate intake of fiber is associated with good digestive health and a reduced risk for heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, certain digestive disorders, obesity, type 2 diabetes, and some cancers. One cup of dragon fruit provides one fifth of the DV, so eating it more often may be a simple way to help fill the fiber gap.
Although rare, it is possible to be allergic to dragon fruit, which can trigger symptoms that include vomiting, hives, a raised rash, and swelling of the tongue. Eating red dragon fruit may also cause your urine to become a pinkish red color, although this also seems to be rare. According to urologists, reddish urine not due to blood, called pseudohematuria, can also be caused be eating large amounts of other highly pigmented reddish foods, like beets, berries, or rhubarb.
Dragon fruit will keep on the counter for a few days, but for longer-term storage, it’s best to place it in a plastic bag and stash in your refrigerator.
Dragon fruit can be enjoyed in beverages, meals, snacks, and as a unique garnish:
- Cut a dragon fruit in half and spoon out the flesh.
- Blend dragon fruit flesh into smoothies or smoothie bowls.
- Use pureed dragon fruit as the base for a fiber-rich mocktail, along with fresh lime and mint.
- Place cubed dragon fruit in mason jars, alternated layering with yogurt, nuts, granola, or oatmeal.
- Add dragon fruit flesh to fruit salads or platters.
- Add cut dragon fruit to garden salads, slaws, or chilled whole grain salads.
- Use dragon fruit balls, slices, or cubes to garnish any dish, such as baked tofu or black bean tacos.
- Blend dragon fruit flesh with plant milk and freeze to make mock ice cream.
- Alternate cubed dragon fruit with other fruits on skewers and serve with melted dark chocolate.
- Use dragon fruit balls or cubes to garnish chia, chocolate avocado, or brown rice pudding.
In addition to its unique look, dragon fruit is rich in fiber and health protective antioxidants. Eating it more often may also offer important health benefits, from gut and immune support to improved circulation and chronic disease prevention.
If you have concerns about if dragon fruit is optimal for your health status and goals, talk with your healthcare provider.