Dragon fruit, pitahaya or pitaya is an exotic fruit that tastes like kiwi fruit and strawberry. The pitaya fruit is produced by a genus of climbing cacti known as hylocereus. There are about 20 species of hylocereus but 3 of them produce large and colorful, edible and nutritious fruits. The scented flowers of the pitaya plants which are normally white, bloom only at night.
One of the most popular species is the hylocereus undatus or red pitaya fruit with red skin, white flesh and edible black crunchy seeds. The Costa Rica pitaya, hylocereus costaricensis or hylocereus polyrhizus has red skin and reddish purplish flesh while the skin of the hylocereus megalanthus or yellow pitaya is yellow and the flesh is white. Of the three types of dragon fruits, the red flesh contains the most nutrients and antioxidants.
Among the nutrients present in dragon fruits are carbohydrates, protein, fiber, calcium, iron, phosphorus, vitamin A, B2, B3 and vitamin C. Pitaya flesh contains very low content of fat and the edible black seeds are rich in polyunsaturated fatty acids. According to research, the fatty acids include linoleic acid, oleic acid, stearic acid and linolenic acid.
One of the health benefits of eating red pitaya fruit is it boosts your immune system and helps your body fight free radicals. This is because the flesh contains vitamin C and the seeds contain plant albumin or phytoalbumin which are antioxidants. The antioxidants will protect your body and reduce your risk of infections, cancer, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, heart disease, stroke and age related diseases.
Your body needs vitamin C or ascorbic acid to repair tissues, heal wound and maintain your bones and teeth. Vitamin C helps your body makes a type of protein called collagen which is important for your skin health as well as blood vessels, cartilage, ligaments and tendons.
There are many anecdotal claims that eating fresh or dried pitahaya fruit and drinking the fresh juice regularly may help control blood sugar levels. This is especially helpful if you have type 2 diabetes because your doctor would probably have told you to eat several servings of fruits and vegetables a day.
The fiber content in pitaya is beneficial in improving digestion, reducing constipation and reducing fat. Fiber is known to assist in detoxifying the gastrointestinal tract and removing toxin. Fiber also helps support normal cholesterol levels. Consider adding fresh or dried red pitaya in your diet if you are planning to lose weight.
To eat the raw ripe fruit, all you need to do is cut it into half and scoop the flesh. You can also remove the skin if you wish to and slice the fruit. Besides eating the fresh and dried fruits and drinking the fruit juice, you can also make dragon fruit cocktail, smoothie, ice cream and shake from the fresh fruit.