Dragon Fruit – Blessing from Nature’s Basket


Last Updated February 21st, 2019

Prevalence and Popularity of Dragon Fruit

dragon fruitDragon fruit, a name that sparks mystery is an exotic fruit of the cactus family. ‘Pitaya’ is the most common and popular way to address this uniquely colourful fruit. Indigenously grown in Latin America, the Dragon fruit, scientifically called Hylocereus Undatus, has spread far and wide across the globe.

The health goodies from this tropical super food is perhaps unparalleled, and is unsurprisingly set to become a household essential. Interestingly, there is no stopping the innumerable fancy sobriquet the fruit has become famous for. ‘Cinderella plant’ ,’Strawberry Pear’, ‘Belle of the Night’ , ‘Night Blooming Cereus’, ‘Queen of the Night’, and ‘Moonflower’ are some of the famous ways to refer to the Dragon fruit across the globe.

We owe its discovery to Central America many centuries ago. It is believed that globe trotters from that area were responsible in carrying the fruit to all corners of the world. Nearly 6 continents are seriously involved in production of the Dragon fruit and nearly 20 countries avidly cultivate this plant. Presently, the fruit is grown in Australia, the Middle East, and parts of Asia. The fruit is also popular in the United States with imports from Southeast Asia.

Experiments to grow this fruit in Hawaii, California and Florida have proved quite successful, although the produce is inadequate to meet the demand for all of the United States.

Legend behind the Name

How did fruit get its rather unforgettable name?

Interestingly, the name Dragon Fruit has an Asian origin. The intent behind this name was to perhaps spin intrigue, to spur more interest in the produce. A story doing the rounds narrates the presence of mythical creatures (read dragon) breathing fire . These dragons were thought to have actually created the fruit. Legend has it that when the dragon spewed fire, the fruit was a residue from the flames.

Look, Feel and Taste

The dragon fruit is oval or oblong in shape and is colourful. It can be pink, red , magenta or even yellow with green scale like leaves. The fruit grows on cacti with tall stems nearly 6 meters in height. The fruit boasts of a juicy stem in keeping with its genetic traits of the cactus species. The dragon fruit boasts of a white or sometimes pink fleshy part with minuscule black seeds , both of which can be eaten. The fruit is succulent with a mildly sweet taste, reminiscent of the exotic kiwi, pear and berry.

The fruit feels soft and its crunchy texture is often the talk among its lovers. The taste borders on the subtle with a mildly sweet and delectable flavour, finding its way into a variety of applications.

The life of this plant is short and sweet, so short, that it survives only a night in the whole year. Little wonder that it is called the ‘lady of the night’. The cactus produces sweet scented yellow and pink flowers from the evening until the midnight. This moon flower attracts bats and moths which aid its pollination. The short life does not dent its fruit bearing zest, as the plant bears fruit nearly 4-6 times each year.

How and When to Eat

dragon fruit saladThe dragon fruit can be sliced lengthwise and tastes best when eaten raw. The skin tastes bitter, so the flesh can be eaten after peeling the skin. The edible part of the fruit is the white or pink fleshy part with black seeds.
The fruit serves as a healthy snack and is usually consumed between meals.

The fruit tastes best when it is chilled. Smoothies made with the dragon fruit have also been a hit lending it a subtle flavour. A fruit salad with the dragon fruit is another popular way to eat the fruit. The dragon fruit is now being added in desserts, ice creams, and jams to give a whole new twist to the value, taste and flavour. The colourful syrup from the dragon fruit is being used as a colouring agent for cakes and candies.

The popularity of the fruit has resulted in extremely creative food combinations. Restaurants have begun serving sea food and dragon fruit combos. The red dragon fruit chips are getting famous as a healthy snack. The fruit is now available as powders that can be added in yoghurt, juices and smoothies. Cocktails with the juice of dragon fruit are also quite popular.

Nutritional Content of Dragon Fruit

This fruit owes its fame and fortune to its nutritional composition. The dragon fruit is packed with nutrients and yet low on calories. The fruit contains about 80% water. Vitamin C, carotene, lycopene, Iron, calcium, magnesium, B vitamins, protein, phosphorous and fibre are found in abundance in the fruit.

The black seeds of the fruit are rich in polyunsaturated fats like omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids that are heart protective. Further, the dragon fruit contains antioxidants, which protect cells from free radicals that exacerbate the risk of diseases. Research has shown that the dragon fruit beats many key contenders for its health benefits. One of the overriding benefits is its role in guarding fatty acids from damage caused by free radicals. These factors qualify the dragon fruit as a healthy serving on the platter.

A 100 –gram serving of the dragon fruit contains:

  • 3 grams of dietary fibre
  • 11 grams of carbohydrate
  • 1.1gram of protein
  • 0.4 grams of fat

The serving also contains

  • Iron: 10.6%
  • Vitamin C : 34%
  • Thiamine: 2.7%  and
  • Riboflavin: 2.9% of the Reference Daily Intake.

Some of the main antioxidants in the dragon fruit are Hydroxy cinnamates known for its anti-cancer properties. Betalains, the antioxidants known to protect LDL cholesterol from damage is found in the dragon fruit.
Flavonoids, antioxidants are in plenty in the fruit and promote brain health. They also contribute in reduction of heart disease risks.

The distinguishing factor in this fruit is the highest combination of health benefits without contributing to unnecessary calories. The fruit lowers blood pressure levels, empowers the immune system, aids the formation of healthy blood and tissue, and keeps the respiratory system functioning well.

Health Benefits of Dragon Fruit

dragon fruit smoothieDragon fruit is a health blessing and can provide an impetus to the complete functioning of the body. It has innumerable health benefits and in a nutshell can assist in weight management, improve energy levels, control diabetes, reduce cholesterol, boost gut health, and aid digestion.

The fruit is an active anti-inflammatory agent and pain reliever and can help in management of inflammatory diseases like arthritis. It is an able defence against bacteria and fungi. In all, it offers a host of health benefits and packs a punch to boost health.

How does the dragon fruit positively impact the functioning of the body?

  • Boosts Metabolism and Weight Management

The dragon fruit provides adequate protein that is extremely beneficial for overall health. Proteins are imperative for good metabolism, improved vigour and vitality. Protein, which aids cell repair and muscle mass, is found abundantly in this fruit.

The dragon fruit is low on calories and can be consumed as a snack to reduce hunger pangs. It is effective in weight reduction as it helps flush out toxins.

  • Cardiovascular Health

Dragon fruit is extremely heart protective as it is rich in magnesium. Further, the absence of deleterious saturated fats results in elevated levels of good cholesterol or HDL, and reduction in levels of LDL or bad cholesterol in the body. This helps in maintaining arteries and veins without plaque formation, one of the main reasons for strokes and cardiac events. A phytochemical called captin, used in the manufacture of drugs for treating heart problems finds its source in the humble dragon fruit.

  • Diabetes Management

A study conducted recently showed that there was a significant reduction in blood sugar levels among pre-diabetics on a dragon fruit diet vis a vis those who had not eaten the fruit.

  • Aids Digestion

Research has also shown that oligosaccharides, which improves the health of the gut by aiding the growth of gut bacteria is found in the dragon fruit. The fibre content in dragon fruits is high, so that help in easing constipation. The dragon fruit is a mild laxative and can help regulate the bowel movements. Smooth bowel movement cuts the risk of cancers related to the bowel and colon significantly.

  • Staves off Anaemia

Iron, in the dragon fruit helps improve haemoglobin levels. The fruit helps increase production of red blood cells thus resulting in improved oxygenation. In all the fruit helps fight anaemia.

  • Loaded in Magnesium and B Vitamins

Dragon fruit is rich in magnesium which improves the bones and health of the heart. It is also rich in B vitamins which improve cholesterol levels, blood pressure and the skin. It also regulates metabolism of carbohydrates and improves thyroid function.

  • Boosts Immune System

The increased levels of vitamin C found in dragon fruit empower the immune system.

  • Anti-cancer Properties

The flesh and peel of the dragon fruit are high in polyphenol and flavonoid content which destroy free radicals. Since the dragon fruit is rich in antioxidants, it is a good preventive tool for cancers, such as colorectal cancer. The presence of carotene and lycopene in these fruits again help prevent cancer due to its anti-carcinogenic qualities.

  • Fights Ageing

The antioxidants present in dragon fruit battle the tell-tale signs of ageing. It can be used to treat acne, dry skin and sun burn. Vitamin C present in the fruit helps rejuvenate dull skin.

  • Body Cleansing

The fruit helps in cleansing the body by helping flush out toxins and waste metals form the body. This results in weight loss too.

  • Antifungal and Anti-bacterial Properties

Dragon fruit can fight fungi and bacteria. Due to the antifungal and antibacterial properties, this fruit offers protection and defence against toxins. Cell regeneration, key to accelerated healing from wounds and bruises is given a boost with the properties in this fruit.

  • Crowning Glory

Dragon fruit extracts added to the daily diet can provide enough nourishment to promote healthy hair growth. Not just that, it is known to improve the appearance of the hair by giving it a bounce and shine.

  • Eye Protection

The beta carotene in dragon fruit is eye protective and offsets the risk of macular degeneration. Basically, it provides a powerful fight against free radicals thus staving off the onset of sight problems like cataract. Properties in the dragon fruit is also known to impede inherent risk factors of Glaucoma.

  • Bone Health

Calcium, which is so necessary to boost bone health, is found in abundance in the dragon fruit. It increases bone density and helps in maintaining the teeth and gums.

  • Pregnancy

Expectant mothers need folate, B vitamins and Iron for the healthy growth of the foetus. Dragon fruit scores very high in these nutrients and thus can be a shot in the arm for pregnant women in offsetting the risks of haemoglobin deficiency and anaemia. Risk of birth defects can also be reduced with these nutrients found in abundance in the dragon fruit. Calcium in the fruit helps in the development of bones in the foetus. It can also help improve bone health of pregnant women and keep bone diseases at bay.

  • Reduction in Cognitive Impairment

The working of the brain is improved with the consumption of B Vitamins and Vitamin C. These vitamins are abundantly found in the dragon fruit and helps in strengthening cell membranes. This reduces the risk of cognitive disorders.

  • Improves Respiration

Asthmatics may find relief with this fruit as it is known to alleviate respiratory problems.

Adverse effects

The health benefits offered by the dragon fruit far outweigh potential adverse effects. However, it is important to note that the fruit is best consumed in moderation.

Fructose, a kind of sugar present in the fruit can harm health if consumed excessively. Further, there have been few cases reported of allergic reactions to the dragon fruit. Skin rashes have also been reported amongst consumers, although detailed research is needed to establish the connection.

First time consumers of the dragon fruit have reported diarrhoea, so it is best to test the fruit with smaller portions initially.

FACTS

  • For sunburned skin, apply a paste made from honey, cucumber and dragon fruit to find immediate relief.
  • Lycopene, the magic antioxidant in tomatoes is also found abundantly in Dragon fruit. This antioxidant helps stave off heart disease and cuts the risk of cancer.
  • Seeds of the Dragon fruit are high on omega-6 as well as omega-3 fatty acids.
  • Seeds of the Dragon fruit relieves constipation as they are endowed with laxative properties
  • Excess consumption of red dragon fruit can discolour the urine to a red colour, a condition called pseudohematuria.
  • The Tyalgum Purple Dragon fruit is considered the most superior among dragon fruits for its high quality.

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