Pitaya fruit is a vibrant and attractive one. It's rich color and beautiful flowery shape has caught the fancy of the world in recent times. This Pitahaya fruit is most often referred to as dragon fruit and is native to Mexico, Central America and South America. It is also found in certain parts of Asia such as Cambodia, Thailand and Malaysia. This fruit is relished and hailed for its taste, color and plentiful health benefits. Its botanical name is Hylocereus undatus.
This oval shaped fruit belongs to the cactus family, and is covered with a thin scaly skin. The fruit contains a soft pulp inside with tiny black seeds scattered all through. It has a mild taste and flavor much like kiwi and melon.
There are three varieties of pitaya fruit, white flesh with pink skin; white flesh with yellow skin and dark pink pulp with reddish pink skin. Of all the three varieties, yellow skinned is perhaps the sweetest and is the smallest in size.
Pitaya – the powerhouse of goodness
Pitaya fruit is a nutritional power house offering a host of health benefits.
Vitamins and minerals: Pitaya is a rich source of vitamin C. One serving of Pitaya fruit (100 gm) provides an estimated 21 milligrams of vitamin C, about 34% of the daily requirement. This serving packs in just about 60 calories, 34 from Carbs, 8 from protein and about 18 from unsaturated fats. If Pitaya fruit is consumed regularly it can help against respiratory disorders like asthma and cough. It also helps build a strong immune system.
Dragon fruit is also high in vitamin A and potassium, all of which are essential nutrients for maintaining good health. Dragon fruit contains good amount of B1, B2, B3 and B12 vitamins. One dragon fruit offers nearly 8.8 gm of calcium and about 36 mg of phosphorus and iron.
Antioxidants: Pitaya fruit contains generous amounts of antioxidants. Antioxidants nullify the effect of free radicals in the body and helps in preventing dreadful diseases like cancer. Pitaya fruit is particularly a good source of carotene which is linked to a number of anti-carcinogenic properties. The seeds are a rich source of Omega 3 fats that can fight inflammation and autoimmune diseases. Pitaya fruits contain phytoalbumins that are known to have antioxidant properties.
Flavonoids found in Pitaya are effective scavengers of free radicals. Pathological conditions of excess iron and copper can result in free radicals. Metal chelation activities of Flavonoids can effectively counteract this.
Besides they help in excretion of heavy metal toxins from the body. Lycopene, which belongs to the family of Carotenoids, is present in dragon fruit, lends it the bright red color and helps prevent prostate cancer.
Low cholesterol, fats and high fiber: Pitaya fruit has very little or no cholesterol in it and also does not contain fats that metabolize into bad cholesterol. With its low fat content, it is a delight for weight watchers. Though seeds inside contain some amount of fat, they belong to a healthy fats group called monounsaturated fats. Seeds are also a good source of proteins making it a wholesome fruit packed with all the essential nutrients.
Dragon fruit has almost 2 to 3g of fiber per 100g of the fresh dragon fruit - equivalent to 12% of the daily reference value for dietary fibre. Further, the seeds of the pitaya fruit contain laxative properties preventing constipation. The high fiber content in Pitaya fruit lends satiety to the eater thereby assisting in weight management.
Heart healthy: Dragon fruit reduces stiffness of arteries and also regulates blood pressure. The antioxidants present in the fruit counteract oxidative stress thereby improving cardiovascular health.
Anti aging properties: Since pitaya fruit is packed with numerous antioxidants, vitamins and minerals it works wonders on your skin cells keeping it tight and wrinkle free.
Pitaya fruit for diabetes: Pitaya fruit contains phyto albumins and Flavonoids that help in the prevention of diabetes. It controls the blood sugar levels remarkably thereby being particularly helpful for patients with type 2 diabetes. Studies also prove that in case of type 1 diabetes, one can manage with reduced level of insulin with regular consumption of Pitaya.
How to eat dragon fruit
It is best eaten fresh, chilled and chopped into cubes. One may also add it to the fruit salad or blend it into a smoothie. You can serve chilled Pitaya cubes with a sprinkling of cinnamon powder or a scoop of vanilla ice-cream. Blend it well with banana and coconut water and enjoy a healthy soothing drink.
Eat it whole on in spreads, jams and preserves. Another interesting way to eat a pitaya is to cut it into 2 halves and spoon out the flesh. Makes for a healthy snack while travelling or on a picnic! In fact you can put the stunning colors of pitaya fruit to good use in your food presentation.
Pitaya tastes good only when it is fully ripe. Do not select pitahaya that is hard to the touch. Don’t pick up dragon fruit that has blotches on it. Avoid those that have dry brown stem too.
Pitaya fruit can also be dried and stored and interestingly the dried version has 10 times more fibre in it compared to the fresh fruit.