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5 Surprising Health Benefits of Nopales (Cactuses)

Nov 29, 2021

5 Surprising Health Benefits of Nopales (Cactuses)

Did you know that the nopal cactus (also known as the prickly pear) has some unique benefits on your health? 

Nopales are the flat paddles found on cactuses. They are common meal ingredients in Mexico, but you see them less often in the states. You can consume them on their own, as cooked side dishes, raw, in candies, jellies, or jams, or in supplement form.

What Does Nopal Cactus Do in the Body?

The nopal cactus has many health benefits that most people don't realize. Most importantly, it's known for helping to balance blood sugar levels and slowing the absorption of sugars in the blood.

Here's a more in-depth look at the top nopales health benefits.

1. Slower Sugar Absorption

Because nopal cactus contains fiber (about three grams per cup, cooked), they can help promote healthy blood sugar, insulin regulation, and weight management

There might also be particular components in nopales that contribute to healthy sugar levels. One 2014 study split 14 people with type 2 diabetes into two groups:

  • Group one ate a high carbohydrate breakfast with nopal
  • Group two ate just a high-carb breakfast with no nopal

The group who ate nopal with their breakfast had a “significantly lower area under the curve for glucose” and slightly lower insulin levels than the non-nopal group. 

The study also had patients consume a high-protein breakfast with nopal. The researchers found this group had significantly reduced post-meal peaks of GIP (a hormone that encourages insulin release into the bloodstream) and increased antioxidant activities.

Research has also shown that extracts of nopal cactus seeds reduced blood glucose levels in diabetic rats.

2. Rich in Antioxidants (and Other Good Stuff)

Nopales also contain notable amounts of antioxidants, which protect our cells from oxidative stress. These antioxidants in the plant seem to be the primary source of its health effects, even more than dietary fiber.

Nopal cactuses are also high in carotenoids, vitamins, polyphenols, and polyunsaturated fats, which are vital for a healthy life. Adding nopales — through food or supplements — can help support a thriving lifestyle.

3. Promotes Healthy Cholesterol Levels

The fiber in nopales adds bulk to the digestive tract, encouraging healthy bowel movements and cholesterol levels. 

Research on guinea pigs found that prickly pear (nopales) in a diet containing lard and cholesterol reduced LDL “bad” cholesterol levels by 33 percent. This was an early study, so it will be exciting to see what else comes out in the future.

4. Potential Brain-Healthy Effects

Nopales might be beneficial for your brain as well as your body! 

Study results have shown that moderate administration of nopal cactus might help long-term memory. Two antioxidant-rich flavonoids from the cactus might also have antidepressant effects. 

In addition, consuming nopales could provide neuroprotective properties that prevent damage to nerve cells.

5. Fewer Hangovers

Lastly, nopales’ health benefits might also help you after a night of one too many adult beverages.

According to Mayo Clinic, prickly pear cactus extract might “lessen the unpleasant effects of a hangover.” This possible hangover “cure” might be because of the nopal cactus’s anti-inflammatory benefits. 

The Bottom Line

The nopal cactus has several unique and helpful effects on the human body, especially when it comes to blood sugar and insulin. Whether you consume the prickly pear in food or supplement form, you might be surprised by what it can do.

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