Sustained Energy With Dragon Fruit

  • Asha Moalin Master’s degree in Healthcare Technology, University of Birmingham

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Introduction

The dragon fruit, also known as pitaya or strawberry pear,1 is an exotic tropical fruit native to the desert of Mexico, as well as Central America, and South America. While it originally thrived in these regions it is also cultivated and grown in other countries in Southeast Asia like Vietnam, Thailand, and Malaysia.2 

Despite commonly being considered a fruit, the dragon fruit is a cactus belonging to the cactus genus Hylocereus where there are 20 different species.1 Its scientific name Hylocereus undatus, is derived from the Greek word meaning “woody” and the latin words for “waxen” and “wavy edges of its stems” describing the distinctive visual characteristics of the dragon fruit.3 

This climbing cactus vine grows in desert landscapes and dry climates and it features a large white flower known as “The Lady of the Night” which blooms for only one night.3 The dragon fruit is bright red, purple, green, or yellow scales while the inner flesh can be either white or red adorned with edible black seeds.3 

Renowned for its refreshing and sweet taste, the dragon fruit has gained widespread popularity, particularly in Southeast Asia, and its appeal has increased globally.1 This versatile fruit can be eaten raw in a fruit salad or used to make various drinks and desserts. Beyond its delicious flavor, dragon fruit is valued for its nutritional content, containing essential vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants that can contribute to sustained energy and overall well-being.2

Significant of sustained energy for daily activities

Sustained energy is a term that refers to the consistent and gradual release of energy over some time. When you consume food, the body slowly absorbs and uses the nutrients resulting in a steady release of energy.4 The amount of energy derived from food intake depends on factors such as the nutrient composition of the food, its type, and how the body absorbs these nutrients.5

Maintaining a sustained energy level is important in preventing energy slumps and fatigue, enabling you to carry out daily activities effectively without getting tired.6 This approach also helps prevent cravings for sweets. Achieving a sustained release of energy is beneficial for sustaining focus, and productivity and avoiding energy crashes throughout the day. This is particularly important for activities such as

  • Going to work
  • Reading emails or newspapers
  • Exercising
  • Doing house chores
  • Taking a shower
  • Preparing dinner and more

Nutritional composition of dragon fruit

Dragon fruit, with its diverse vibrant exterior sales and inner flesh, boasts a diverse nutritional profile that varies across different species. The color of the scales and inner flesh influences the nutritional composition, making this exotic fruit a rich source of macronutrients, micronutrients, and bioactive compound7 such as vitamins. Nutrients within dragon fruit can be separated into macronutrients and micronutrients

Macronutrients: include carbohydrates, fiber and protein. On average, a single dragon fruit contains around 10 to 15 g of carbohydrates, 0.15g of proteins, 5.6g of fiber, and 2g of saturated fat.2 Most of the fat and protein content is found in the black seeds that are embedded in the fruit.2

Carbohydrates are sugar molecules like starch or sugars and it ranges in each species of dragon fruits. The sugar content is higher in the pink scales and white flesh dragon fruit compared to the red flesh dragon fruit.7The starch content also changes depending on the species with starch concentration being higher in the red species compared to the white species.7 High sugar and starch content is important in maintaining sufficient energy levels to complete daily activities. 

Fiber is a type of carbohydrate that our body doesn't digest and breaks down in the small intestine but gets broken down by the gut microbiome (beneficial bacteria that lives in your gut) in the large intestine.8 Fiber is important in improving the diversity of bacteria within your microbiome, improving your immune system, and reducing inflammation in the gut.8 Dragon fruit is an excellent source of fiber contributing to 20% of the daily recommended 20g fiber.9 It is also filling, meaning you will feel full for longer and will not crave more sweets.

Protein is a large complex molecule that plays an important role in normal cellular function. While dragon fruit is not particularly rich in proteins, containing only 1.1g per 100g of fruit7 fruit, protein is a vital macronutrient contributing to normal cellular function. 

Micronutrient is an important nutritional composition of dragon fruit as it encompasses two crucial elements: vitamins and minerals which are important for cellular function. 

Vitamins are nutrients your body needs for essential bodily function and to stay healthy. They are organic compounds that are absorbed in the body.7 Dragon fruit contains a mixture of water and fat-soluble vitamins and the concentration of each vitamin will depend on the species of the fruit.7 The most major water-soluble vitamins are

  • Vitamin C
  • Different Vitamin B (Niacin, Pyridoxine, Pantothenic acid, Biotin, Thiamine, and riboflavin)

Vitamin C is found to be the highest concentration of vitamins in the dragon fruit, followed by pantothenic acid (vitamin B-5) and pyridoxine the lowest concentration.7 

Vitamin D, E, and K are fat-soluble vitamins present in the dragon fruit, with vitamin E being the highest concentration followed by vitamin K and Vitamin D concentration being low7. Fat-soluble vitamins are important in the human body and are important in keeping the bones healthy, maintaining blood-sugar levels, and preventing cancer.7 Like all nutrient composition, vitamin concentration will vary depending on the species of the dragon fruit. 

Dragon fruit is also a great source of minerals. There are higher potassium levels, followed by magnesium, calcium, and then phosphorus.7 There is also high iron and zinc content whilst manganese and copper levels were low.7

Impact on blood sugar levels

Dragon fruit is a good fruit option for those who are diabetic due to its low glycemic index (GI), which ranges between 48-5210 depending on fruit species and ripeness of the fruit. This relatively low GI means that it will not have a great impact on the blood sugar when consumed. A low GI indicates a slow and gradual breakdown of the carbohydrates within the dragon fruit10 and is absorbed slower, meaning that there is a gradual increase in blood sugar and not a major spike. While this characteristic makes a dragon fruit a favorable option, moderation is still crucial for individuals who are diabetic. 

The high fiber content in dragon fruit contributes to its low impact on blood sugar levels.8,9 The fiber slows down the digestion of carbohydrates and also aids in moderating the impact of the natural sugars present in the fruit. This dual effect means there is a low impact on the blood sugar levels.

A steady release of energy is also great for sustaining energy after consuming the dragon fruit. This means that there is more energy available for a longer period after eating the fruit, meaning you would be able to do your daily activities. 

Role of antioxidants

Dragon Fruit is rich in a variety of antioxidants which are needed to reduce oxidative stress.9

Oxidative stress is caused by an increase of reactive oxygen species (free radicals) which are highly reactive chemicals that are created from mitochondrial metabolism.11 Oxidative stress occurs when there is an imbalance between free radicals and antioxidants in the body. The body can reduce and remove the reactive oxygen species using specific enzymes like catalase but when the levels of the free radicals are too high and not removed, it can cause harm to the cells.12 

Vitamins B and E, found in high concentrations in dragon fruit, play a pivotal role in antioxidant functions in converting the reactive oxygen species into less harmful species.12 These vitamins react with the reactive oxygen species, effectively neutralizing them and thereby minimizing cellular damage.11

Antioxidants have a positive effect on the pancreatic B cells responsible for making insulin which is an important hormone in regulating blood sugar levels.10 Studies have shown that dragon fruit can improve insulin resistance due to its antioxidant properties but more clinical experiments are needed to prove this.10 The dragon fruit therefore has an important role in mitigating oxidative stress, contributing to sustained vitality. 

Hydration and electrolyte balance

Dragon fruit has a high water content of around 80% and is important in maintaining hydration in the body.13 Hydration of the body is important for cellular function and homeostasis (regulation in the body) and is important to maintain its proper water content. Water content does vary between dragon fruit species and how ripe the fruit is.13

Electrolytes are essential minerals such as potassium, phosphorus, calcium, and magnesium and dragon fruit is abundant in such minerals.7 Each electrolyte plays a different role in the body:

  • Potassium: maintains fluid levels in the body, maintaining blood pressure, controlling muscle contractions, and balancing pH in the body
  • Phosphorus: forms teeth and bone, is used to make cell membranes, and is important in DNA, RNA, and protein formation
  • Calcium: important in blood clotting, muscle contraction, and nerve conduction
  • Magnesium: protein synthesis, nerve function, and blood glucose control

The electrolytes in the dragon fruit enhance energy and endurance as they help the body with important physiological functions as mentioned above that are important in staying healthy. The electrolytes enhance energy by allowing for more muscle contraction, maintaining fluid pressure and content, and preventing fatigue. 

Incorporating Dragon fruit into the diet

Dragon fruit can be eaten raw as it has a sweet taste that is described as a mixture of a kiwi and pear.1 You can cut the dragon fruit, removing the bright outer skin and eating the inner flesh using a spoon or cutting it into pieces like an apple. It is recommended to refrigerate your dragon fruit before you eat it as it does taste better cold. 

You can enjoy dragon fruit as:

  1. Dragon Fruit kebab: Grill the dragon fruit on a grill until they are slightly brown and serve them with a sprinkling of sugar1
  2. Dragon fruit smoothie: blend dragon fruit with other fruits like bananas or berries using yogurt or milk as a base1 
  3. Dragon fruit sorbet: the dragon fruit is cut up, blended, and then frozen to enjoy a cold desert
  4. Dragon fruit salad: incorporate dragon fruit into your favorite fruit salad
  5. Dragon fruit salsa: and pair this with fish dishes like tuna1

Selecting the dragon fruit

To get the ripest and sweetest dragon fruit you should

  1. Look for a bright and evenly colored fruit with little blemishes or bruises
  2. When you press it, it should be soft and tender, not hard
  3. A dry stem also indicates the fruit is over-ripe

Precaution and consideration

Dragon fruit is a safe fruit to eat and is encouraged due to its many health benefits but in some individuals, allergic symptoms have been observed.14

Symptoms can include:

  1. Swollen lips and tongue
  2. Itchy throat
  3. Hives
  4. Vomiting

However, these symptoms are rare and if you experience any of these, it is recommended to stop eating dragon fruit immediately and seek medical help where they can support you in controlling the symptoms. 

It is also not recommended to eat more than one dragon fruit and one portion of this fruit is enough to give you the benefits. Eating in moderation is needed to help you stay healthy. Overall, dragon fruit is a delicious fruit with many health benefits that can sustain your energy, allowing you to carry out your daily activities.

Summary

The dragon fruit, also known as pitaya, is a tropical fruit native to Mexico and Central and South America but is also grown in Southeast Asia. It belongs to the cactus genus Hylocereus and is known for its vibrant exterior and nutritious inner flesh. The fruit is rich in carbohydrates, fiber, protein, vitamins, and minerals, contributing to sustained energy, improved gut health, and overall well-being. Its low glycemic index makes it suitable for diabetics, and its antioxidants help reduce oxidative stress. Dragon fruit can be eaten raw or used in various dishes, and while generally safe, some individuals may experience allergic reactions.

References

  • The Spruce Eats. ‘Dragon Fruit May Be Unique Looking, But It Is Tasty and Sweet’. Accessed 30 November 2023. https://www.thespruceeats.com/dragon-fruit-overview-nutritional-information-3217090.
  • Dragon Fruit | Song Nam Dragon Fruit Farm. ‘Overview of Dragon Fruit’, 1 July 2014. https://dragonfruit.net.vn/dragon-fruit/141-overview-of-dragon-fruit.html.
  • ‘Dragon Fruit’. Accessed 30 November 2023. https://www.nlb.gov.sg/main/article-detail?cmsuuid=7988768d-891b-4bde-bf2e-deceb4be6e9f#:~:text=The%20origin%20of%20the%20dragon,tall%20cacti%20with%20flowering%20fruit
  • ‘Live Better with Almonds | California Almonds | Almonds and Energy’. Accessed 30 November 2023. https://www.bbcgoodfood.com/california-almonds/articles/how-the-vitamins-and-nutrients-help-maintain-your-energy-levels.html
  • Bo, Simona, Maurizio Fadda, Debora Fedele, Marianna Pellegrini, Ezio Ghigo, and Nicoletta Pellegrini. ‘A Critical Review on the Role of Food and Nutrition in the Energy Balance’. Nutrients 12, no. 4 (22 April 2020): 1161. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu12041161.
  • Harvard Health. ‘Eating to Boost Energy’, 26 July 2011. https://www.health.harvard.edu/healthbeat/eating-to-boost-energy.
  • Arivalagan, M., G. Karunakaran, T. K. Roy, M. Dinsha, B. C. Sindhu, V. M. Shilpashree, G. C. Satisha, and K. S. Shivashankara. ‘Biochemical and Nutritional Characterization of Dragon Fruit (Hylocereus Species)’. Food Chemistry 353 (15 August 2021): 129426. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.foodchem.2021.129426.
  • BDA. ‘Fibre’. Accessed 30 November 2023. https://www.bda.uk.com/resource/fibre.html.
  • Cleveland Clinic. ‘Why Dragon Fruit Is Healthy’. Accessed 30 November 2023. https://health.clevelandclinic.org/get-to-know-the-incredible-edible-dragon-fruit.
  • Poolsup, Nalinee, Naeti Suksomboon, and Naw Juna Paw. ‘Effect of Dragon Fruit on Glycemic Control in Prediabetes and Type 2 Diabetes: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis’. PLoS ONE 12, no. 9 (8 September 2017): e0184577. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0184577.
  • ‘Reactive Oxygen Species’. In Wikipedia, 17 November 2023. https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Reactive_oxygen_species&oldid=1185527357.
  • Sies, H., W. Stahl, and A. R. Sundquist. ‘Antioxidant Functions of Vitamins. Vitamins E and C, Beta-Carotene, and Other Carotenoids’. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences 669 (30 September 1992): 7–20. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1749-6632.1992.tb17085.x.
  • Attar, Şule Hilal, Muhammet Ali Gündeşli, Ipek Urün, Salih Kafkas, Nesibe Ebru Kafkas, Sezai Ercisli, Chunfeng Ge, Jiri Mlcek, and Anna Adamkova. ‘Nutritional Analysis of Red-Purple and White-Fleshed Pitaya (Hylocereus) Species’. Molecules 27, no. 3 (26 January 2022): 808. https://doi.org/10.3390/molecules27030808.
  • Hao, Mengzhen, Xijiri, Ziyi Zhao, and Huilian Che. ‘Identification of Allergens in White- and Red-Fleshed Pitaya (Selenicereus Undatus and Selenicereus Costaricensis) Seeds Using Bottom-Up Proteomics Coupled with Immunoinformatics’. Nutrients 14, no. 9 (7 May 2022): 1962. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu14091962.

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Asha Moalin

Master’s degree in Healthcare Technology, University of Birmingham

Asha is a recent graduate with a Master’s degree in Healthcare Technology from the University of Birmingham. With a passion for innovating medical therapies and technologies, Asha is dedicated to contributing advancements that allow patients to lead longer and healthier lives.

Her expertise includes both laboratory research and comprehensive literature reviews. Drawing on several years of academic writing, Asha enjoys translating complex data into accessible and informative articles.

She is committed to bridging the gap between scientific intricacies and public understanding. Beyond healthcare, Asha also possesses exposure to the business world. This is evident in her work experience at J.P Morgan chase and Turner & Townsend, where she explored finance, consultancy and sustainability. These experiences have equipped her with a diverse skill set and understanding of the connection between healthcare and business.

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