5 Legit Dragon Fruit Benefits
Bananas, apples, berries, stone fruit, and citrus might get more glory at the supermarket, in cookbooks and in the vast majority of kitchens. But it’s high time we start to think outside of the produce box. That means snacking and sipping on new options, like dragon fruit.
“Just one fruit has a lot of bang for your buck nutritionally, and it’s fun, tasty, and downright gorgeous. I consider dragon fruit to be a functional performance food,” says Cynthia Sass, MPH, MA, RD, CSSD, a board-certified sports dietitian in private practice who has consulted for five pro sports teams and works with athletes privately.
So, what makes a dragon fruit stand out from its culinary competition—besides its vividly-coloured, spiky skin and its interior studded with hundreds of black edible seeds? Read on for the dish from dieticians about dragon fruit’s benefits (plus one TikTok myth about the fruit that’s a fib). Then discover tasty ways to add dragon fruit to your diet so you can score all of those wellness gains.
What is dragon fruit, exactly, and what nutrients does it provide?
Dragon fruit, which is also known as pitaya or strawberry pear, grows on a member of the cacti family and rocks pointy-scaled skin (which is technically edible if you wash it, but it’s better to stick to eating the flesh). Cut into the fruit, and you’ll discover sweet, tender flesh that’s reminiscent to kiwi in texture.
Its flavour is unique but somewhat similar to a blend of pear and kiwi. There are four main types of dragon fruit available, and each tastes a bit different. We’ve listed them from least to most sweet:
- White flesh + pink skin
- Red or pink flesh + pink skin
- Purple flesh + pink skin
- White flesh + yellow skin
Dragon fruit nutrition facts
The USDA’s FoodData Central database confirms that a 1-cup serving of dragon fruit has:
- 103 calories
- <1 g protein
- <1 g total fat
- 27 g carbohydrates
- 6 g fibre
- 18 g sugar
- 13 mg magnesium
- 8 mg vitamin C
- 209 mg potassium
What are the benefits of dragon fruit?
As you can see, “dragon fruit has nutrients that can play a role in fighting inflammation, boosting immunity, promoting digestive health and more,” says Natalie Rizzo, M.S., RD, a plant-based sports dietician and the author of Planted Performance.
And that’s just the beginning. If you don’t already incorporate dragon fruit into your diet, here’s why cyclists should start:
Dragon fruit is hydrating
Dragon fruit is 84 percent water and contains two MVP electrolytes that are a boon to the body’s fluid balance, as well: potassium and magnesium.
“Dragon fruit is a seriously hydrating fruit that can help rehydrate cyclists after a long ride. Many athletes struggle to stay hydrated, and eating more fruits like dragon fruit can definitely help,” explains Roxana Ehsani, MS, RD, CSSD, a board-certified sports dietitian.
The carbs can help combat fatigue
Cyclists get most of their energy for rides from carbs. And dragon fruit’s dose of natural sugars can help cyclists meet those carb requirements that keep the engine stoked from workout start to finish, Sass says.
You get a high amount of fibre
Dragon fruit’s carbs are fairly quick to digest, especially because it’s low in fat and protein, but it does feature one factor that might delay digestion: fiber. Dragon fruit is a great source of fibre (6 grams per cup)—and this is a nutrient a whopping 95 percent, of Americans don’t eat enough.
“This is more than 20 percent of the daily fibre requirement for women, and over 15 percent of the daily fibre requirement for men,” says Patricia Bannan, MS, RDN, a dietician and the author of From Burnout to Balance.
As a quick refresher: Fibre is a non-digestible form of carbs that plays a pivotal role in gut health, satiety, blood sugar regulation, and digestion. Normally, fibre is a major win for total-body health, but if you’re not used to filling up on fiber and happen to down a supersized serving in the day leading up to a big workout, you might need, well, a pit stop or two.
“Pre-exercise, fibre can stimulate the digestive tract to contract,” Sass says. “If this is more fibre than you typically eat pre-cycling, opt for a smaller portion of dragon fruit—like a ½ cup—paired with a lower-fibre fruit like a 6-inch banana, which provides about 2.6 grams of fibre.” All-in, you’d be looking at 5.5 grams of fibre, 37 grams of carbs, and about 140 calories and as long as you can handle that fibre, this serves as a pretty great pre-ride snack.
It delivers a dose of antioxidants
All dragon fruit varieties have antioxidants that can naturally help reduce inflammation and aid in recovery, Bannan says. If you consume potent doses of antioxidants over time, they can help fight chronic inflammation and protect against some chronic diseases, Sass adds.
“Dragon fruit’s anti-inflammatory antioxidants can help reduce exercise-induced cell damage during cycling and support post-cycling tissue healing,” Sass adds.
The color of dragon fruit determines the level of antioxidant content, Bannan explains. As a general rule, red dragon fruits have been shown to have the highest concentration of total polyphenols and overall antioxidant activity among all dragon fruit varieties. An April 2021 study in the journal Molecules shows that there is a higher concentration of phenolic compounds in red dragon fruit as compared to other colours.
Red-skinned dragon fruit is high in the antioxidant betacyanin, which provides its red colour. Red-fleshed dragon fruit contains high levels of lycopene, another powerful antioxidant, which is also found in tomatoes and watermelon, Ehsani says.
Don’t dismiss the other hues of dragon fruits, though. All of them contain antioxidants that can support health and longevity, “so choose the one you like best,” Rizzo recommends, or the one you can access.
You get vitamin C
Endurance athletes like cyclists can be at increased risk for upper respiratory tract infections during heavy training cycles, such as weeks leading up to a race, a March 2022 study in the journal Sports Medicine suggests (though researchers also need to investigate why this happens and the mechanisms behind it).
To counteract that, dieticians suggest prioritising good hygiene habits and immune-bolstering micronutrients. “Dragon fruit contains immune-supporting vitamin C, a nutrient that endurance athletes like cyclists need to help fight off illness or sickness,” Ehsani says.
Does dragon fruit send you to the bathroom like social media says?
TikTok is swirling with rumors that dragon fruit has magical powers as a constipation-reliever. Apparently, rumor has it that if you eat one dragon fruit—the yellow-skinned variety with white flesh in particular—it can act like a natural laxative and will inspire your body to have one of the most productive poops of your life within one hour. You know we can’t believe everything you see on social media (remember glyphosate-gate?!) so we had to ask our dietitian squad. Is this fact or fiction?
“Dragon fruit is high in fiber. That said, you’ll get the same amount of fiber from many other fruits and vegetables,” Rizzo says. A 1-cup serving of raspberries, for instance, has 8 grams of fiber, which is even more than dragon fruit. “Will this amount of fiber help cure constipation for some people? Yes. But it’s not a magical laxative that is going to help you go to the bathroom within 60 minutes. You have to eat fiber throughout the day and drink plenty of water to stay regular,” Rizzo adds.
The magnesium in dragon fruit may also help increase the amount of water our bodies retain in our intestines, which may aid in more regular bowel movements. But again, it’s not a magic pill.
Staying regular is a multifaceted process; not something that can be solved by a single fruit. There are many other factors that influence bowel function, like stress, medications, and travel, Sass says.
How do you add dragon fruit to your diet?
June through September is prime time for fresh dragon fruit. Off-season, you can get your fix in the freezer aisle, where dragon fruit is often sold in cubes or purees.
Beyond simply slicing it in half and using a spoon to scoop the flesh out of the skin, here are several ways the dietitians we spoke to suggest you enjoy dragon fruit:
- Blend dragon fruit into a smoothie or smoothie bowl.
- Feature diced dragon fruit in a salad alongside leafy greens, avocado, quinoa and your lean protein source of choice.
- Cut up dragon fruit and blend into an ice cream base or puree it and freeze it into sorbet.
- Slice and toss dragon fruit into fruit salad.
- Sprinkle diced dragon fruit atop cereal, oatmeal, chia seed pudding, or yogurt.
- Stir together a dragon fruit salsa: Dice dragon fruit and combine with finely diced jalapeno, diced tomatoes, snipped fresh chives and a squeeze of fresh lime juice.