Even though dragon fruit, also known as pitaya, is becoming more and more popular around the world, there are still many who do not know enough about this tropical fruit.
Dragon fruit’s health benefits and its exotic appearance are the two most important factors that increase the popularity of the fruit throughout the world.
In this article, we are going to investigate the claimed health benefits of dragon fruit.
Besides, we will also touch on other relevant details about dragon fruit, such as nutrition facts, recommended daily allowance, varieties, potential side effects, and so on.
Since we included every necessary detail about dragon fruit, this article is quite informative, comprehensive and unavoidably long.
In case you don’t want or don’t have time to read the whole article, you can skip ahead to the passage that interests you most by clicking the headings presented in the table of contents above.
Varieties of Dragon Fruit
There are various types of dragon fruit around the world. However, the most common varieties are:
♦ Hylocereus Undatus
♠ Hylocereus Costaricensis
♦ Hylocereus Megalanthus
These three varieties of dragon fruit have the same seed colour (black). However, their flesh (pulp) and skin colour are different from each other.
Hylocereus Megalanthus have yellow skin; therefore, also called Amarilla (yellow in Spanish).
Hylocereus costaricensis has red (or pink) flesh, unlike others.
Nutrition Facts of Dragon Fruit
In this article, our primary focus is to investigate the health benefits of dragon fruit. However, before touching on the health benefits, it is necessary to talk about the nutrients found in the dragon fruit.
After all, the nutrients/compounds available in the dragon fruit are the main reason this tropical fruit is associated with many health benefits.
Pitaya (dragon fruit) is packed with various minerals, vitamins, plant compounds and antioxidants. To be able to be more specific though; we prepared a table that illustrates the main nutrients available in dragon fruit (1).
|Nutrient||6 OZ (170gr)||% Daily Value|
|Vitamin C||4.25 mg||7%|
|Vitamin B1 (thiamine)||3%|
|Vitamin B3 (niacin)||0.6 mg||3%|
|Vitamin A||100 IU||2%|
|Fibre (dietary)||4.93 g||20%|
It is also necessary to say that dragon fruit contains many antioxidants; such as carotenoids, lycopene, and betalains (2).
Another important point to underline is that small black seeds of dragon fruit contain many essential fatty acids; including omega-3, omega-6 and omega-9 along with natural oils (3),(4),(5).
Health Benefits Of Dragon Fruit
In this section, we are going to talk about the health benefits of dragon fruit and try to provide scientific evidence for each benefit.
1- Strengthens Immune System
There are various nutrients that are essential to keep the immune system healthy and strong. However, among them, vitamin C is one of, if not the most important micronutrients for the immune system (6),(7).
And, a great number of people are aware of the fact that vitamin C is essential to this defence mechanism; namely the immune system.
For this very reason, foods rich in vitamin C such as oranges, kiwifruit or lemon come to mind when dealing with the flu or a cold.
Dragon fruit, too, is a good source of vitamin C. To be more precise; 170 gr / 6 OZ dragon fruit can supply almost 10% of your body’s daily vitamin C needs (1).
In addition to its vitamin C content, there are also a variety of antioxidants that exist in dragon fruit such as lycopene and betalain. Various studies suggest that these antioxidants contribute to maintaining a healthy and effective immune response (8),(9),(10).
Summary: due to the lack of studies and research, it is not known how exactly dragon fruit affects the immune system. That said, its rich antioxidant content, including vitamin C, makes this exotic fruit a potential immune-boosting fruit.
2- Protects Heart Health
Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States. To be more precise; approximately 655,000 Americans die from heart disease each year—that’s 1 in every 4 deaths, according to the Central for Disease Control and Prevention (11),(12).
This grisly statistic should remind us of the fact that we have to do whatever is necessary to protect our hearts if we are to live a long and healthy life.
There is no doubt that one of the best ways to keep the heart healthy is to consume heart-friendly foods on a regular basis. The question is ” is pitaya a heart-friendly fruit? “.
The short answer is: Yes, dragon fruit can be a good choice when it comes to keeping the heart healthy.
In one study researchers discovered that red dragon fruit consumption decreased bad cholesterol levels as well as blood glucose levels in type-2 diabetic subjects (13).
What’s more, the black seeds inside the fruit are a decent source of omega-3, omega-6 and omega-9 fatty acids. The thing is; all of these fatty acids can reduce the risk of dying from heart disease (14),(15),(16).
Summary: some compounds that are present in dragon fruit, such as omega-3, omega-6, omega-9, vitamin C, betalains and carotenoids explain why this fruit is good for your heart.
3- Improves Digestion
Lucky are those who consume pitaya on a regular basis! Because this tropical fruit contains a decent amount of water, fibre and prebiotics, all of which are essential to the digestive system.
There is no need to explain the importance of water to the human body. It is an essential nutrient and offers many benefits, including digestive benefits. Dragon fruit can aid digestion by simply helping your body to remain hydrated.
Fibre, on the other hand, is super important for the digestive system and can prevent common digestive problems such as constipation and diarrhoea. The fruit is extremely rich in fibre; 170 gr of it can provide 20 per cent of daily fibre needs.
Additionally, dragon fruit consumption can promote healthy bowel movements thanks to its prebiotic content.
Summary: when taking all into account, it should be safe to say that dragon fruit can improve digestion when consumed in moderation.
4- May Prevent Cancer
Even though nobody — including scientists and doctors — knows the exact cause of cancer, it is obvious that free radicals damage DNA, thereby making the human body susceptible to cancer development (17),(18).
So what can prevent free radicals from harming the human body? The answer is simple, antioxidants!! Antioxidants can scavenge free radicals or, at least, minimise their impact (19),(20),(21).
The good news is that dragon fruit is packed with various antioxidants; vitamin C, flavonoids, betacyanin, and carotenoids, to name but a few.
That suggests regular consumption of dragon fruit may help your body to stay strong against cancer-causing free radicals.
Having said that, it is a necessity to underline that neither dragon fruit nor any other food can prevent cancer alone. Therefore, consuming an excessive amount of dragon fruit with the aim of preventing cancer would bring nothing but harm to your body.
Summary: Since dragon fruit contains essential nutrients, especially cancer-fighting compounds, this fruit may help the body to neutralise cancer-causing free radicals, lowering the risk of developing cancer.
5- Improves Skin
Here is another part of the human body that pitaya could be beneficial for. Thanks to its rich antioxidant and vitamin content, this tropical fruit can prevent premature skin ageing, often caused by free radicals.
However, pitaya can contribute to skin health from the outside as well. But, it’d require you to prepare a paste from pitaya’s pulp to apply to your face. The nutrient-rich paste may minimise skin problems, including acne and wrinkles.
The problem is the paste obtained from the dragon fruit may cause an allergic reaction in sensitive skins. To prevent that, firstly the paste on a small area of your skin and monitor if the skin shows any reaction to the paste.
If there is no allergic reaction, apply the paste and leave it on the skin for 15 minutes. Then rinse with lukewarm water. Remember, you can also add honey to the paste.
Moreover, it is important to underline that the consumption of dragon fruit can supply a decent amount of vitamin C to the body. That, in turn, helps the body to produce collagen, which is necessary for skin elasticity and strength (22).
Summary: as containing skin-friendly compounds, pitaya can improve your skin, especially in the long run.
6- May Strengthen Bones
Young individuals may not need to worry about their bone health. However, individuals over the age of 35 can experience skeletal problems. The main reason for that is after 25 years of age the bones gradually lose density and strength (23).
Dragon fruit contains great amounts of magnesium, and phosphorus, plus a small amount of calcium all of which are necessary for bone health. Especially, phosphorus and calcium work together to build bones (24),(25).
Hence, it shouldn’t be surprising to hear that dragon fruit can protect and promote bone health.
In a report, the author attributed the bone-protecting property of pitaya to its high magnesium level (26). Please note that a few fruits can compete with dragon fruit in terms of providing magnesium.
Summary: Healthy bones require a healthy lifestyle and a nutrient-rich diet. Since dragon fruit supplies many of the nutrients necessary for bone health, this exotic fruit may improve your bone health.
7- May Regulate Blood Pressure
High blood pressure, just as high cholesterol, can cause serious medical problems such as heart attack and stroke. Therefore, keeping the blood pressure level at a safe level can significantly decrease the risk of experiencing the health conditions in question.
According to American Heart Association, one of the best ways to manage high blood pressure is to consume enough potassium (27).
As mentioned in the previous section, dragon fruit is rather rich in potassium. To be more precise, 170gr pitaya can provide your body with 68 mg of potassium, which equates to almost 20 per cent of daily potassium needs (1).
This piece of information suggests that eating dragon fruit may help you keep your blood pressure at a safe level. But, potassium is not the only compound in pitaya that may lower blood pressure.
According to studies, naturally occurring antioxidants, some of which are also present in dragon fruit, may also reduce blood pressure (28),(29).
Summary: instead of unhealthy foods such as fast foods, eating nutrient-dense foods like dragon fruit can help you better manage your blood pressure.
8- May Improve Blood Sugar
Unfortunately, there is no cure for diabetes yet; therefore people with diabetes have to manage their blood sugar levels with a proper diabetes treatment plan, which can include daily insulin injection, daily exercise routine or having an ideal diet.
Among them, diet plays a significant role in controlling blood sugar levels along with insulin injection. Various studies suggest that dragon fruit ( particularly red pitaya ) may help individuals to control their blood glucose levels.
For instance; In a 2014 study on rodents, researchers discovered that dragon fruit (red) has the ability to reduce insulin resistance. The fruit’s anti-insulin resistance effect is attributed to its fibre and antioxidant content (30).
In another study researchers aimed to evaluate the effect of red pitaya consumption on blood sugar in type-2 diabetic subjects. The findings revealed that 4- week-long dragon fruit consumption improved the blood sugar levels in diabetic patients (13).
There is also another study, suggesting (white flesh) dragon fruit consumption might be an effective way to prevent prediabetes, which is the previous phase of diabetes, as the name implies (31).
Summary: Multiple studies show the potential efficacy of dragon fruit on blood sugar management. Despite these studies, we highly recommend people with diabetes talk to their doctors or nutritionists about adding dragon fruit ( or any other food ) to their diet. This would avert any possible diabetes complications that may occur due to the food choice.
9- Boost Iron Levels
Another nutrient that dragon fruit is quite rich in is indeed iron. To be more accurate; 1 serving-size pitaya fruit could meet nearly %10 of the daily iron requirement.
Iron has a vital role in the production of red blood cells that carry oxygen to tissues. In the case the body lacks iron minerals, red blood cells diminish in the blood, thus the condition we know as iron deficiency anaemia occurs. Among the symptoms of iron deficiency anaemia, there are fatigue, shortness of breath and pale skin.
Iron deficiency is common around the world. Particularly, women and children are more susceptible to developing this disease.
Since dragon fruit is rich in iron, the fruit can give your body’s iron stores a boost. In addition to pitaya’s iron content, it is also rich in vitamin C which is proven to enhance iron absorption in the body (32).
Summary: Since dragon fruit is rich in both vitamin C and iron, this fruit may prevent the risk of developing iron-deficiency anaemia.
Where is Dragon Fruit Native to
It is claimed that dragon fruit is native to Central and South America and was introduced to Vietnam by the French for cultivation in the 1800s (33).
Where Does Dragon Fruit Grow?
The fruit can be grown in various parts of the world as long as the climate is suitable for production.
Vietnam is currently the biggest producer as well as the exporter of dragon fruit (34). Malaysia, Thailand, Taiwan, Sri Lanka and China are other countries where the fruit is commercially produced in large quantities.
In Central and South America, dragon fruit is produced mainly in Mexico, Colombia, Ecuador and Guatemala (35).
Israel as well produces pitaya and exports the fruit to European countries (35).
Although, dragon fruit is cultivated in different parts of the world; many people around the world can find this nutritious and delicious fruit in their local market thanks to the advancement in international trade.
Why does Dragon Fruit Have Different Names?
Since it grows in different parts of the world, it is possible to hear different names used for the fruit, such as Strawberry Pear, dragon fruit ( generally in Asia) and Pitaya or Pitahaya (in Central/South America) (36).
The plant Hylocereus is a cactus that bears dragon fruit. Another name used for this cactus is Honolulu Queen whose white blooms open at night.
Does Dragon Fruit Help You Lose Weight?
As we said above, there is no single food that prevents cancer alone. The same thing definitely applies to weight loss as well. There is no single food that magically burns body fat and makes people slim.
Weight loss requires patience, a well-planned exercise routine and a proper diet. But, admittedly food choices (diet) are the most effective factor for weight loss.
As for the question ” does dragon fruit help you lose weight “; since the fruit is low in calories and contains a substantial amount of fibre, it can help you lose weight in the long run.
According to a study published in today’s Annals of Internal Medicine, eating 30 grams of fibre each day can help you lose weight (37),(38). Bear in mind that 170 gr of pitaya contains 5 gr of dietary fibre.
Moreover, as mentioned many times throughout the article; dragon fruit is packed with essential vitamins and minerals. These healthy nutrients can feel you more energetic. The more energetic you are, the more chance you want to move/exercise, which is indispensable for losing weight.
Let pitaya be your main snack, with its low-calorie count it will keep you away from eating unhealthy foods that have a tremendous amount of calories, thereby, helping you burn more and more body fat.
Recommended Daily Allowance of Dragon Fruit
As there are many variables to consider, such as age, health condition, weight, height and genetic factors, it is hard to determine the safe amount of daily dragon fruit intake. However, as we all know too much of a good thing is bad. For this reason, eat the fruit in moderation.
It is safe to consume pitaya every day. While how much you eat is up to you, we reckon one whole pitaya would be sufficient.
Potential Side Effects of Dragon Fruit
The good news is that unless eaten in excessive amounts pitaya has virtually no side effects. Nevertheless, we need to touch on the following factors;
– If you are diabetic make sure you don’t eat this fruit in excess amounts. Because it can cause fluctuation in blood sugar if consumed too much. When consumed in moderation, it improves blood sugar levels, as we discussed earlier. Just in case, if you are diabetic we encourage you to talk to your doctor about dragon fruit consumption.
– Even though it is extremely rare, some people may be allergic to this fruit. Therefore, if you notice any allergic reaction upon eating, stop eating right away. These reactions can range from wheezing, nausea, and swollen lips to itchiness in the mouth.
– If you have a scheduled surgery, you should consider having a word with your doctor about pitaya consumption before the surgery.
– If you are pregnant or a nursing mother, you may want to talk to your doctor as to how much dragon fruit is ideal for you.
The Bottom Line
As we investigated thoroughly in this article, pitaya offers various health benefits, some of which are proven by science. Not only its amazing health benefits though but also its (arguably) superb taste is a convincing reason to add this fruit into your diet.
However, as the last word, whatever you eat, eat in moderation to reap the benefits.
Tarkan is an experienced health writer ( currently more than 600 articles ) and also the founder of this website namely www.neededforhealth.com. His expertise in health stems from in-depth medical research and knowledge which he obtained over the course of many years.
Tarkan enjoys sharing factual knowledge on health, psychology and nutrition. He always aims to deliver evidence-based recommendations, provide links to related scientific studies.