For those that have been in a desert area, one of the last things you think about when seeing a cactus is a desire to eat one. However, one trend that’s been exploding lately is the consumption of prickly pear cactus, which is known officially as the opuntia cactus. In other parts of the world, this cactus is more commonly known as the nopal, and the pads that we eat are called nopales (which is what we’ll call it).
Once you clear out the spines from nopales, they can be sliced and cooked in a variety of different ways. You can even find nopales in canned form as they become more available around the world. So why are so many people turning to this form of cacti as a staple of their diets? It’s quite simple really, as nopales are known to have a lot of health benefits. Let’s take a closer look at the nutritional value, as well as some of those benefits, to show you why you should be eating nopales, as well.
Nutrition of Nopales
Nopales are able to pack a ton of nutrition without very many calories at all, delivering just 22 per one cup serving (cooked and without salt). That same serving has two grams of protein and more than 10 percent of your daily recommendation for dietary fiber. When looking at the vitamins, two key ones really stand out with both vitamins A and C coming in at 13 percent of your daily value, while you get 10 percent of your needed vitamin K.
Other vitamins found in smaller amounts around the five percent daily value mark include riboflavin, vitamin B6 and niacin. Nopales are packed with minerals, giving you 30 percent of your daily manganese, a quarter of your daily calcium and 20 percent of your daily magnesium. Between the five to 10 percent daily value total are minerals such as iron, potassium and copper. Nopales contain no cholesterol and just 0.1 grams of fat, making this an ideal food for any diet.
Perhaps the main reason we’ve seen such a surge in people using prickly pear cactus as a food and in supplements is its weight loss effect. Nopales are already tremendously low in calories with around 20 in each serving, but it goes beyond just that. Cactus has a lot of fiber in each serving, which allows you to feel more full, as well as boosting your digestive system and metabolism as a result.
Your metabolism gets an even further boost because of the minerals such as thiamin that have been shown to help your thyroid function properly. This allows you to increase the amount of calories you burn, even while you’re not exercising. Protein even plays a part, which has a surprising two grams in nopales. Though it’s just a small amount, getting more protein in your diet helps your muscles build and repair, adding just one more big boost for your metabolism.
The other big reason that we’ve seen nopales become so common is the effect it has on your skin. Prickly pear cactus has become a staple in beauty products, as it contains a high amount of both vitamins A and C. These are two key antioxidants that fight off free radicals from attacking your skin. These free radicals can cause early signs of aging such as wrinkles and make you more prone to damage from UV rays.
The vitamins also have a rejuvenating effect on your skin as vitamin A helps your overall complexion while vitamin C allows your body to produce more natural collagen and promote skin elasticity. Other minerals in smaller amounts like zinc provide more collagen to the skin, as well. All in all, nopales will have a positive effect not only on your skin, but will also help you grow stronger hair and nails.
Easy to Digest
We mentioned how the high amount of fiber in nopales can help you lose weight, but it can also make you feel better on a daily basis. Getting enough fiber in your diet alleviates a lot of problems such as constipation, diarrhea, cramps and more. Unfortunately, more than 90 percent of people in the United States aren’t getting the recommended amount of fiber on a daily basis. Even though nopales adds just over 10 percent of your daily total, that’s a big step toward meeting your goals.
So what happens when you do get enough fiber? Your gut is introduced to more probiotics, which are helpful bacteria that get rid of toxins. This promotes regularity and relieves symptoms of digestive ailments. There’s even a positive effect on your blood sugar, as people who get more fiber in their diet are less prone to diabetes.
Don’t Get Sick
Packed with antioxidants, prickly pear cactus gets rid of those harmful free radicals that we discussed earlier. They not only attack your skin, but can harm every cell in your body, leading to the formation and spread of cancer cells. Nopales contain certain antioxidants that are especially helpful in preventing cancer such as flavonoids and phytochemicals.
Certain forms of cancer that nopales are especially great at preventing include lung and skin cancers. Even the boosts of vitamin A and vitamin C that you’re getting from nopales will help you stay healthy on a day to day basis. These vitamins boost your immune system and create more white blood cells to keep you from calling in sick.
When it comes to food, there are some surprising sources of calcium that we don’t typically think of since milk usually comes to mind. Nopales, however, happen to be a great source of calcium with a quarter of your daily value. Calcium, of course, is the building block of the bone and nearly all of the calcium in your body is stored within your bones. You need some help from other minerals, though, and thankfully nopales contains both phosphorus and magnesium, which allows your body to absorb this calcium and use it more effectively. Thus, you’re reducing your chances of osteoporosis down the road.
Summing it Up
Because it hasn’t been a common staple in popular diets until recent years, there aren’t too many known side effects at this point for nopales. Some people that eat more than the recommended amount have reported minor side effects such as digestive problems and headaches, but these aren’t believed to be common. Because the nopal cactus can lower your blood sugar, it’s not recommended for those with hypoglycemia or if you have an upcoming surgery.
There might be some people who’re just allergic to nopal, and it might interact with certain medications, especially ones that deal with the blood. Most people won’t experience any problems when eating nopales or even taking prickly pear cactus as a supplement, which is good news for a lot of us. Since it’s easy to work into your diet and is much easier to find these days, start making some plans to add some more nopales today!