Meet the pitaya, this cactus fruit packs a powerful health punch

Nadine Kalinauskas
Shine On

Move over, goji berries and baobab, the pitaya is the newest, trendiest fruit for antioxidant-obsessed grocery shoppers.

Otherwise known as Dragon Fruit, the pitaya is the fruit of a species of South American cactus that's rich in fibre, calcium and vitamin C and can be eaten fresh or dried.

The bright pink fruit, packed with edible black seeds that are reportedly a source of healthy Omega-3 fat, has a taste similar to that of a kiwi crossed with a pear, the Daily Mail reports. Businessweek compares the taste to a cross between strawberries and wheatgrass.

The biggest health claims include its ability to lower cholesterol and regulate blood sugar levels.

Because of these claims, in some countries, diabetics are encouraged to consume the fruit, the Australian reports.

The only problem with these claims? They haven't been proven by western medicine.

"Although the Taiwanese medical profession is convinced, as yet, the health benefits of pitaya haven't been confirmed by any European studies," the Daily Mail reports.

This doesn't mean that the fruit isn't good for us.

A 2010 study published in Pharmacognosy Research found that the dragon ffruit extract given to diabetic rats helped decrease aortic stiffness and blood pressure and increased antioxidants in the rats' blood.

Another study suggests it's "packed with antioxidants" claims might have merit.

Businessweek reports on the food industry's ongoing race for new "superfruits" and cautions against falling for any and every promoted fruit.

"At the heart of this industry is the heated race for new and ever more health-promoting ingredients. On one end of this spectrum are vegetables that few would associate with refreshing juices—such as kale or celery. On the other are 'superfruits,' an astonishingly flexible marketing term that seems to generally refer to fruits heavy in antioxidants, but for which 'there is no scientific or regulatory definition,'" says Jeffrey Blumberg, director of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s antioxidants research laboratory,

Blumberg doesn't dismiss the pitaya. Rather, he considers it one of many healthy fruits for us to consume.

"As most natural fruits contain one or more positive nutrient attributes," says Blumberg, "any one might be considered by someone 'super' in its own way."

"Superfruits are the product of a strategy, not something you find growing on a tree," Blumberg cautions buyers.

Do you seek out superfoods? Or are you careful to include a variety or fresh fruits and vegetables in your diet?