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The Health Benefits of Dragon Fruit

Dragon fruit, also known as pitaya, looks kind of intimidating, or, at the very least, a little strange—probably because it's from the cactus family. So it's likely you've been passing it up at the grocery store based on its scaly appearance alone. Next time, throw the superfruit into your cart and enjoy all the delicious and nutritious benefits.

What Is Dragon Fruit?

Dragon fruit is right at home among other members of the cactus family. The fruit is native to Central America, but it can now be grown anywhere around the world that's hot. Wondering about that mythical name? There's no big mystery there: "Its outer skin resembles the scales of a dragon," says Despina Hyde, M.S., R.D., at NYU Langone Medical Center. Behind its red peel, the flesh ranges from white to dark red and is punctuated with tiny black seeds. Don't worry—they're edible!

The Health Benefits of Dragon Fruit

Dragons may have been said to have fire in their bellies, but yours is going to be feeling A-OK after digging into some pitaya. "The fiber in dragon fruit helps with digestion," says Hyde. The fruit also helps regulate blood sugar spikes, lower bad cholesterol, and move oxygen through our blood thanks to its iron levels, she says. One study published in the African Journal of Biotechnology found that red dragon fruit in particular provides loads of antioxidants, which help clear the body of cancer-causing free radicals, she says. Dragon fruit is also rich in vitamin C—an essential vitamin that helps repair tissues in our bodies, from healing bones to keeping skin healthy, says Alexandra Miller, R.D.N., L.D.N., a corporate dietitian from Medifast, Inc.

How to Eat Dragon Fruit

"The fruit is sweet and crunchy with a creamy pulp, mild fragrance, and a refreshing taste that's often compared to a cross between a kiwi and a pear," says Miller. Confused about how to even get to that sweet fruit? Slice it all the way through a pitaya from end to end and separate the two halves. Scoop out the flesh like you would with a kiwi. You can enjoy it as is—the entire fruit has just 60 calories, says Hyde—but there are many other ways to have fun with pitaya. Use it to jazz up a smoothie bowl or fresh salsa. It plays well with chia seeds too. Try making dragon fruit chia seed pudding or whip up some tasty dragon fruit chia jam from the recipe below. Then, revel in your pretty superfood prowess.

Dragon Fruit Chia Jam

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups chopped dragon fruit
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons honey or maple syrup
  • 2 tablespoons chia seeds
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice, optional

Directions:
1. Cook chopped dragon fruit in a saucepan over medium heat for 5-7 minutes until fruit starts to break down.
2. Remove from heat and mash the fruit. Stir in honey, lemon juice, and chia seeds.
3. Let stand until thickened. Cool and store in an airtight container in the fridge for up to two weeks.

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