Dragon fruit: A boon for doubling farmers’ income

[ Dr A Kirankumar Singh ]
Dragon fruit is a very new fruit in Arunachal Pradesh in general and Longding district in particular. It was introduced in 2018 in Nianu village in Longding circle by the Longding KVK, under the NEC project of the ICAR Research Complex for NEH Region, AP Centre, Basar.
The fruit itself is not well known to the general public, due to which problem in marketing it has cropped up. But it is hoped that in due course the general public will be aware about the fruit, and that its health benefits will be the driving force behind successful cultivation and production of this fruit in Longding and in other parts of the state.
The Longding KVK is working to create awareness among the farmers regarding this fruit through training, demonstrations, and literature publication. The price of the fruit in the Indian market ranges from Rs 210 to Rs 540 per kg.
Dragon fruit, which is rich in nutrients and low in calories, may be beneficial for fighting chronic illnesses, improving gut health, and boosting immunity. It is high in fibre as well as various vitamins and minerals, including manganese and iron. The health benefits of dragon fruit include its ability to aid in weight loss, controlling diabetes, improving digestion, lowering cholesterol, and boosting energy levels. It may also be protective against certain cancers and heart diseases, defend against bacteria and fungi, and optimize the overall functioning of the body.

What is dragon fruit?
Dragon fruit is an exotic and delicious fruit, also considered tropical super-food, because of its wealth of benefits. It is also known as pitaya or pitahaya, and some call it strawberry pear. However, pitaya technically differs from dragon fruit (pitahaya), as the former comes from the genus Stenocereus while the latter comes from Hylocereus. The dragon fruit has its origins in Mexico, South America, and Central America. It is suspected that the New World settlers probably brought it to Southeast Asian nations like Cambodia, Thailand, Taiwan, Vietnam, and the Philippines, where it remains an important part of the dietary fruit intake. Now it’s not just a healthy fruit but also used as nutrient-rich pitaya powder, which is available worldwide.
Apart from the fruit, the peel of the dragon fruit is found to be useful in pharmaceutical, cosmetic, and nutraceutical applications, as per a 2011 research published in the Journal of Food Science.

Dragon fruit nutrition
Dragon fruit is low in calories and rich in antioxidants, making it a good addition to any weight loss diet. According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), the fruit contains good amounts of fibre, lycopene, and carbohydrates, as well as water-soluble vitamins such as carotene, Vitamins C and B, niacin and riboflavin. The mineral wealth of this fruit is also high and includes magnesium, calcium, phosphorus, iron, and sodium.
Dragon fruit is believed to contain phytonutrients that prevent various diseases. Also, research published in Food Chemistry suggests that there are polyunsaturated fatty acids (linoleic acid and linolenic acid), and Omega 3 and Omega 6 fatty acids in the seeds of this fruit.

Health benefits
The health benefits of the dragon fruit are mainly attributed to its antioxidant, antibacterial and nutritional properties. The benefits include boosting immunity, faster metabolism, and a smoother digestive process.

Protective against cancer
A recent study on dragon fruit showed that this fruit may have anticancer properties, particularly in the case of colon cancer. Along with the antioxidant quality of Vitamin C that boosts the immune system, dragon fruits also contain other sources of natural antioxidants.
According to research, carotene and lycopene, found in this fruit, are potent antioxidants that have been linked to a number of anti-carcinogenic qualities. They help in reducing the chances of prostate cancer, as well as the size of tumours in the body. As dragon fruits boost your immune system, it is a good first step for those frequently getting sick, or even at a high risk of developing cancer.

Boosts immune system
The high level of Vitamin C found in dragon fruit helps boost immunity, and it stimulates the activities of other antioxidants in the body, as well. According to a 2011 research study, the flesh and the peel of the white and red pitayas have high polyphenol and flavonoid content, which can help eliminate free radicals. This has been linked to preventing the proliferation of cancer cells. Also, these antioxidants work to increase the platelet count, and thus treat dengue and help in faster recovery.

High in fibre
Research published in Food Chemistry also suggests that dragon fruits are rich in oligosaccharides that help promote the growth of gut bacteria like lactobacilli and bifidobacteria. A 2015 study on natural prebiotics in Thailand showed that the fruit helped increase healthy gut flora, which is important for smooth digestion.
Dragon fruits have a high fibre content, which means that they can help bulk up bowel movements, facilitating smooth passage through the digestive tract, stimulating peristaltic motion, and inducing release of digestive juices. By regulating bowel function with dietary fibre, this fruit helps in preventing conditions like constipation, irritable bowel syndrome, and even colorectal cancer.

Controls diabetes
Regular consumption of dragon fruit is linked to a reduction in blood sugar levels, which is beneficial for Type 2 diabetics and those with pre-diabetes. In a 2017 research review study, it was found that overall pre-diabetics showed a noticeable reduction in blood sugar levels as compared to people who had not eaten dragon fruit. Furthermore, pre-diabetics with higher consumption of dragon fruit showed greater blood glucose reduction.

Rich in iron
Iron, present in dragon fruits, is good for boosting the haemoglobin levels in anaemic individuals. It also aids in the production of red blood cells (RBC), which then helps in the proper oxygenation of vital organs.

Good source of antioxidants
Research published in the Journal of Food Science indicates that due to high polyphenol and flavonoid content and antioxidant activity, it can be used for cosmetic and pharmaceutical applications also.

Rich in magnesium & B-vitamins
Dragon fruit is also packed with vitamins and minerals such as Vitamin C and B-vitamins, as well as magnesium. The benefits of magnesium include improving bone health and heart health. The B1, B2, and B3 vitamins help improve everything from blood pressure, skin health and cholesterol levels to thyroid function, fluctuating haemoglobin levels, and carbohydrate metabolism.

Skin care
The antioxidants in dragon fruit may help fight the signs of aging by reducing the harmful effects of free radicals in the body. They also aid in treating sunburn, acne, and dry skin. Vitamin C, contained in many fruits, but particularly dragon fruit, helps brighten the skin. Try adding dried dragon fruit powder to your daily juices and watch your skin become radiant.

Improves cardiovascular health
Dragon fruit contains no unhealthy saturate fats. This leads to higher levels of HDL (good cholesterol) and lower levels of LDL (bad cholesterol) in the body. The chances of developing plaque in the arteries and veins are less, thereby reducing your chances of suffering from atherosclerosis, heart attacks and strokes.

Hair care
Adding dragon fruit or adding dragon fruit extract powder to your daily diet helps in keeping the hair nourished and healthy. Its high amounts of nutrients help to reduce the damage done to hair by the chemicals present in artificial hair colour. It also helps improve the texture and bring back the shine to your hair.

Anti-inflammatory properties
Dragon fruit powder is rich in anti-inflammatory properties, which help in reducing the pain caused by arthritis and other medical conditions.

Eye care
Dragon fruit is known to inhibit the growth of human cytochrome P450, a protein found in the liver. This protein is often linked with the occurrence of congenital glaucoma. Also, according to research published in the journal Food Chemistry, the beta-carotene content in this fruit helps in preventing macular degeneration and cataract formation by keep the eyes protected from harmful free radicals.

Strong bones and teeth
Dragon fruit is higher in calcium than many other fruits and can, therefore, help contribute to the daily calcium requirements needed to keep your bones healthy, improve bone mineral density, and prevent osteoporosis. A study done by the Tufts University showed that a diet rich in fruits and vegetables offers the right mix of nutrients, protein, and calcium to boost bone density.

Dragon fruit is beneficial for pregnant women as it contains iron, B-vitamins, and folate. Studies show that iron helps in preventing haemoglobin deficiency and also in preventing the occurrence of anaemia. The B-vitamins and folate help prevent birth defects and boost energy.
Also, the mild laxative properties of the dragon fruit help loosen stool and regulate bowel movements. Moreover, the calcium content in it aids in bone development of the foetus, thereby contributing to healthy pregnancy. High levels of calcium and magnesium also help fight osteoporosis in postmenopausal women.

Boosts cognition
Dragon fruits contain B-vitamins and are rich in Vitamin C, both of which help in keeping the cell membranes healthy. This activity of the vitamins may help prevent the occurrence of cognitive disorders and keep your brain functioning like Einstein’s!

Improves respiration
It’s high time you added dragon fruit to your diet if you are suffering from respiratory disorders like asthma. Dragon fruit extract capsules are also available, which help provide Vitamin C and antioxidants. There is evidence that higher intakes of fruits and vegetables may have a positive impact on respiratory issues.

Buying dragon fruit
Fresh dragon fruit can be bought at your local supermarket, and it is even available online. When choosing a dragon fruit, make sure that the skin does not have brown spots. If the fruit is soft, it has probably gone bad. Consider red dragon fruit chips as a healthy snack option for everyone, including adults and kids.
Since the fruit is seasonal, you can also use freeze-dried dragon fruit powder, packed with antioxidants, in your smoothie, granola, yogurt, and raw desserts.

Dragon fruit varieties
There are three types of dragon fruits, namely, red skin with red flesh, red skin with white flesh, and yellow skin with white flesh.
There are sweet and sour dragon fruits, depending on the species, shape and size. In terms of the most common form of dragon fruit, it is slightly smaller than a cantaloupe, red in colour, and covered in broad spiky growths.
When you cut it open, the texture of the fruit’s meat is like that of a kiwi, and it is filled with small black seeds. The meat of the fruit is used to make wine, and can be strained into other beverages, while the leaves of the dragon fruit can be steeped for a very healthy form of tea. The rough outer skin has little nutritional value and is rarely eaten. (The contributor is Head In-charge, Longding KVK)