Dragon fruit, also called pitaya, is a bright tropical fruit with green scales that can come in various shapes and colours. While typically pink on the outside, the insides may range from white to red, pink, or purple.
The yellow dragon fruit is the sweetest and hardest to find of these varieties. The crunchy texture and sweet taste of dragon fruit make it a great addition to smoothies or acai bowls.
Dragon fruit is a nutritious snack for those with diabetes. The natural sugars are curbed from causing any harm by the fibre in dragon fruit that slows down their absorption into the bloodstream.
But are dragon fruits really safe for people with diabetes? Let’s find out.
Nutritional Profile of Dragon fruit
Most fruits benefit you in one way or another, and so does dragon fruit. The best part of this tropical fruit is that it offers essential nutrients while being low in calories.
A study shows that dragon fruit flesh (pulp) is rich in phenolic compounds with high antioxidant capacity. It is also a rich source of bioactive phytochemicals that can provide good health effects.
According to USDA, 100 grams of dragon fruit contains the following nutrients:
- Calories: 57 calories
- Protein: 0.36 g
- Carbohydrates: 15.2 g
- Fat: 0.14 g
- Fibre: 3.1 g
- Total sugars: 9.75 g
- Calcium: 9 mg
- Potassium: 116 mg
- Choline: 5.1 mg
- Beta carotene: 14 mcg
- Lutein + zeaxanthin: 44 mcg
- Folate: 7 mcg
Branded and Packaged Dragon Fruit
Dragon fruit, which comes in various branded varieties, can be found in frozen chunks, fruit chips, sorbet, fruit blends, and flavoured energy drinks.
However, these have varying sugar levels and calories, so people with diabetes should be mindful and opt for fresh, whole fruits. Moreover, the processing and preservation may also alter the glycemic index score of the dragon fruit.
According to USDA, 100 grams of a branded dragon fruit snack with sulphur dioxide as a preservative contains only the following nutrients.
- Calories: 264 calories
- Protein: 3.57 g
- Carbohydrates: 82.1 g
- Fibre: 1.8 g
- Total sugars: 82.1 g
- Calcium: 107 mg
- Sodium: 39 mg
- Vitamin C: 6.4 mg
You may compare this date with the nutritional profile of the whole fruit to understand the difference better.
The HealthifyMe Note
Fresh, whole dragon fruit is much healthier than branded snack varieties. In its natural form, dragon fruit contains only 57 calories and 9.75 g of sugar per 100 g. However, the same sweetened, processed dragon fruit snacks contain 264 calories and 82.1 g of sugar. Therefore, people with diabetes should always buy whole dragon fruits to prevent blood sugar spikes.
Glycemic Index of Dragon fruit
The glycemic index (GI) denotes how a portion of food containing carbohydrates affects your blood sugar level post-consumption. Foods with a low to moderate GI take longer to get absorbed and digested.
Therefore, converting carbohydrates to glucose takes a longer time. As a result, it helps reduce or prevent any dramatic impact on blood sugar levels.
The GI scores are rated as follows:
- Low GI: 55 or lower
- Medium: 56 – 69
- High: 70 and above
Dragon fruit has not yet been assigned an exact GI, but it typically ranges from 48-52, making it a low GI fruit. So, eating dragon fruit in moderation will not cause instant or unhealthy spikes. Instead, the blood sugar levels will rise slowly. It is an essential benefit for many people dealing with diabetes.
Is Dragon Fruit Good for Diabetics?
Glucose Lowering Effect
A study says the betacyanin and antioxidant activity of dragon fruit have a glucose-lowering effect. In addition, there was a more significant blood glucose reduction with a higher dose of dragon fruit extract.
However, these effects were more effective in prediabetes. Therefore, there is a need for further analysis to understand how beneficial dragon fruit is for type 2 diabetes.
Research also shows that the extracts from stems, flowers, peels, and pulps of dragon fruit have a range of powerful natural antioxidants and prebiotic potential. It can help manage diabetes, obesity, hyperlipidaemia, and cancer.
The fibre in dragon fruit makes it an excellent mid-morning or mid-afternoon snack for diabetes.
Studies show that a meal plan with the right amount of fibre can help lower type 2 diabetes risk. It is because fibre slows down sugar or carb absorption to keep blood sugar levels steady.
One serving of dragon fruit provides about 8-9 grams of sugar. It is less than many other tropical fruits. Besides, a low GI score of 48-52 is ideal for a diabetes management diet.
The above benefits make dragon fruit a low-calorie and nutrient-dense fruit for diabetes. However, only dragon fruit juices are readily available in most countries.
Sometimes these drinks may not even contain the actual dragon fruit extract. Instead, they have added sugar and flavourings. Therefore, it is not suitable for diabetes and can spike blood sugar.
The HealthifyMe Note
The low GI between 48-52, high fibre, and low sugar content make dragon fruit good for diabetes. However, dragon fruit juice has a high sugar volume. Therefore, it does not have the same anti-diabetic benefits as eating whole dragon fruit.
Dragon Fruit Benefits for Diabetic Patients
One of dragon fruit’s potential benefits for diabetes is the high vitamin C. It is essential for a robust immune system. Since people with diabetes often face compromised immune systems, having vitamin C-rich fruit is a good choice. In addition, the antioxidants beta-carotene and lycopene support eye health and fight inflammation.
Dragon fruit is also a good source of prebiotic fibre. In addition, it supports the growth of good gut bacteria and prevents digestive distress. A healthy gut microbiome can help manage blood sugar levels.
According to the American Diabetes Association, having a small piece of whole fruit, such as dragon fruit, is an excellent complement to the meal.
The daily recommendation for dragon fruit serving is around one cup. However, each person shows a unique blood glucose response. Therefore, you can talk to a HealthifyMe nutritionist to understand how much dragon fruit is safe to eat.
Your food will affect your blood sugar level, and so will dragon fruit. However, dragon fruit will not cause a rapid sugar spike due to its low GI score and high fibre content. Dragon fruit’s fibre keeps your blood sugar levels steady. Besides that, it is naturally a low-calorie fruit.
Readily available and packaged dragon fruits are widely available. Their availability is more than the actual fruit. However, fresh fruit is better for blood sugar control than packaged ones.
While dragon fruit is a handy diabetes-friendly fruit option, you should still consume it in moderation. Talk to a nutritionist at HealthifyMe to know about the healthy portion size for you.,
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Q. Does dragon fruit raise blood sugar?
A. Eating one medium-sized dragon fruit or a cup of dragon fruit will not raise blood sugar levels. This fruit also has a low GI score. Furthermore, it is best to eat dragon fruit as a snack. Even so, people with diabetes cannot overeat it. Talk to your doctor to find a serving size suitable for your needs and condition.
Q. Can dragon fruit be eaten daily?
A. Dragon fruit is low in calories and GI score, making it a perfect everyday snack. However, eat it once per day and not more than that. Either eat dragon fruit in the mid-morning or as an evening snack. Having said that, it is always better to choose different diabetic-friendly fruits than stick to only one option on a daily basis.
Q. Does dragon fruit contain sugar?
A. Every fruit contains some amount of natural sugar. According to the USDA, 100 grams of dragon fruit contains 9.75 grams of total sugar. One whole dragon fruit contains 7.31 g of sugar, and one cup has the highest, about 17.6 g. Nonetheless, dragon fruit has a low GI. Therefore, its sugar does not significantly impact blood sugar when you eat dragon fruit in moderation.
Q. Is dragon fruit high in uric acid?
A. No, dragon fruit is not high in uric acid. Instead, dragon fruit can help reduce the rate of uric acid in the blood. In addition, it is an anti-inflammatory fruit that prevents the side effects of too much uric acid. Hence, people with gout and arthritis eat dragon fruit to reduce the symptoms like joint irritation and inflammation.
Q. What diseases can dragon fruit cure?
A. No single food can cure a disease. However, some fruits can help prevent, manage, and reduce disease risk. For example, antioxidants and vitamin C can treat sunburn, dry skin and acne. It can also help lower blood sugar levels in diabetic patients. Dragon fruit also boosts immunity and bone health. Furthermore, it helps to prevent eye problems such as cataracts and macular degeneration.
Q. Is dragon fruit good for the liver?
A. Some animal studies suggest that dragon fruit may improve liver health. However, there are no concrete human clinical studies to prove the same. Still, you can drink unsweetened dragon fruit extract if you suffer from fatty liver.
Q. Who should avoid eating dragon fruit?
A. Those allergic to dragon fruit should avoid it. You should also be cautious of combining dragon fruit with blood sugar-lowering diabetes medications.
The Supporting Sources
1. Attar ŞH, Gündeşli MA, Urün I, et al. Nutritional Analysis of Red-Purple and White-Fleshed Pitaya (Hylocereus) Species. Molecules. 2022;27(3):808. Published 2022 Jan 26. doi:10.3390/molecules27030808
2. Data by the US Department of Agriculture. Data Type: Survey (FNDDS) | Food Category: Other fruits and fruit salads | FDC ID: 2344729 | Food Code: 63116010
3. Data by the US Department of Agriculture. Data Type: Branded | Food Category: Wholesome Snacks| FDC ID: 1871770
4. Poolsup, Nalinee et al. “Effect of dragon fruit on glycemic control in prediabetes and type 2 diabetes: A systematic review and meta-analysis.” PloS one vol. 12,9 e0184577. 8 Sep. 2017, doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0184577
5. Luu, Hai & Le, Truc-Linh & Huynh, Nga & Quintela-Alonso, Pablo. (2021). Dragon fruit: A review of health benefits and nutrients and its sustainable development under climate changes in Vietnam. Czech Journal of Food Sciences. 39. 10.17221/139/2020-CJFS.
6. Martin O Weickert, Andreas FH Pfeiffer, Impact of Dietary Fibre Consumption on Insulin Resistance and the Prevention of Type 2 Diabetes, The Journal of Nutrition, Volume 148, Issue 1, January 2018, Pages 7–12
7. American Diabetes Association: Fruit Serving Recommendation