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Introduction

Dragon fruit, also known as strawberry pear, is a tropical fruit that is popular for its vibrant red skin and unique looking pulp.

It originated in Central America but is now grown and exported from several Asian countries such as Thailand and Vietnam. Many supermarkets in the western world now stock some form of Dragon fruit.

The fruit has gained recent popularity among health-conscious individuals and is even claimed by some to be a ‘superfood’.

This is likely because dragon fruit is rich in natural antioxidants including betacyanin, flavonoids, phenolic acid, and ascorbic acid.

1. Increases Micronutrient Intake

Although the dragon fruit is not extremely micronutrient dense compared to other fruits, it can certainly contribute to vitamin and mineral intakes throughout the day.

Per 100 grams it contains:

  • Vitamin C: 34.0% of the recommended daily amount.
  • Iron: 10.6% of the recommended daily amount.
  • Magnesium: 9.5% of the recommended daily amount.
  • Potassium: 5.7% of the recommended daily amount.
  • Thiamine: 2.7% of the recommended daily amount.
  • Riboflavin: 2.9% of the recommended daily amount.

Interestingly, dragon fruit is one of the few fresh fruits that contains iron and is unique in this regard. Iron is an important component of hemoglobin, the substance within red blood cells that carries oxygen from the lungs to other parts of the body. However, ~30% of the world’s population is iron deficient, making it the most common nutrient deficiency worldwide. Foods such as dragon fruit may help to prevent such a widespread deficiency.

However, dragon fruits main contribution is obviously towards vitamin C intake – similar to other fruits such as oranges. Based on this it has can help growth, development and repair of body tissues, as well as aid iron absorption, wound healing, and the maintenance of cartilage, bones, and teeth.

2. May Reduce the Risk of Diabetes

A meta-analysis of prediabetics revealed that the dragon fruit has a significant contribution towards lowering fasting plasma glucose levels. However, in those already with developed type 2 diabetes, the effects are not significant [1]. This indicates that it has a potential preventative effect on diabetes, but is not an effective treatment.

Interestingly, the removal of dragon fruit from a diet that has previously consumed large amounts increases blood glucose levels by up to ~10% [2].

The dragon fruits anti-diabetic effect seems to be primarily via regenerating pancreatic-β cells that are responsible for producing insulin [3].

In animal models, this is theorized to be due to the high antioxidant content acting to scavenge free radicals that would otherwise harm pancreatic-β cells.

In addition, dragon fruit may attenuate the resistance to FGF21 – a protein that regulates glucose homeostasis and insulin sensitivity [4].

There is also potential for this food to increase the vasodilation response of diabetic blood vessels which could decrease arterial stiffness [5].

The potential anti-diabetic is likely greatest in dragon fruits with red flesh as they have a denser content of antioxidants compared with white flesh dragon fruits.

3. Promotes a Healthy Gut

Improved gut health is heavily linked to protecting against heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and maintaining a healthy body weight.

Dragon fruit can help to improve the composition of the gut as it is a source of dietary fiber, with 7 grams per cup.

Dietary fibers interact directly with gut microbes and lead to the production of metabolites such as short-chain fatty acids that modulate the microbial communities that colonize the digestive tract [6].

A specific type of fiber called prebiotics, found within dragon fruits, has been specifically mentioned to improve the balance of good bacteria in your gut [7]. Prebiotics achieve this by resisting digestion in the small intestine and reaching the colon where they are fermented by the gut microflora. This fermentation process feeds beneficial bacteria colonies and increases the number of desirable bacteria in our digestive system.

In particular, dragon fruit promotes the growth of two families of healthy bacteria: lactic acid bacteria and bifidobacteria.

4. Boosts the Immune System

The vitamin C and carotenoid content of dragon fruit may help to boost the immune system and prevent potential infections by protecting white blood cells from damage [8] [9].

These vitamins can achieve this by preventing the formation of reactive oxygen species that are known to attack white blood cells and weaken the immune system.

There are even cells within the immune system that accumulate vitamin C and require this vitamin to be utilized effectively – phagocytes and t-cells. This is a key reason why vitamin C deficiency can increase the chances of getting a cold [10].

Carotenoids have less evidence for their effect on the immune system compared to vitamin C, but data still conveys their role in enhancing cell-mediated immune responses [11].

How to Eat a Dragon Fruit

While some people are put off by the dragon fruits skin, a little bit of knowledge makes this fruit very simple to prepare. The process is made easier if the fruit is ripe – generally the redder the better.

First, start by cutting the fruit in half using a sharp knife. When cut, use a spoon to remove the fruit from the outer layers of the skin.

Alternatively, cut the fruit section into cubes using vertical and horizontal lines – try to avoid cutting into the peel. Push on the back of the skin to reveal the cubes and access them easily.

If you want to be slightly lazier, stick to pre-cut frozen dragon fruit for a more convenient option.

Conclusion

Dragon fruit, also known as strawberry pear, is a tropical fruit that is popular for its vibrant red skin and unique looking pulp.

This fruit can contribute significantly to some micronutrients, specifically vitamin C, iron, and magnesium. The antioxidant properties of dragon fruit also give it unique health-boosting components.

Most notably, dragon fruit may reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes, improve the composition of the gut, and boost the immune system.

For those looking to add a new, delicious and healthy fruit into their diet be sure to give dragon fruit a try!

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This article has been reviewed and fact-checked by a certified nutritionist, and only uses information from credible academic sources.