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August 28, 2014

By Nels Seifert,  Contributing Columnist

That’s right, an edible cactus, minus the pokey needles!
The edible cactus has a few names, Opuntia ficus-indica,
the prickly pear cactus, and its native name nohpalli, or
Nopal, a word from the Nahuatl native language that
represents the pad like resemblance it has while growing.

Nopal is native to Mexico, with over 100 types growing
and farmed agriculturally or in the wild, mainly a plant
from the desert regions, but can be found throughout the
country, used in various cuisines and for medicinal
purposes as well.

The Nopal pads are picked and peeled in order to discard
the non-edible needles, not always green, sometimes
different colors like purple, and can be found in markets
across Mexico, the southwest United States, and in
Mexican produce markets and specialty stores in the upper
regions of the states. In the northern United States, Nopal
can be found in a canned form, while the more fresh
vegetable is in the southern region near its origins.

The flavor is amazing and this desert vegetable is paired
with other Mexican traditional foods to make flavorful
dishes that not only represent a region, but a culture as
well. When cooked, Nopal becomes a juicy and tender
vegetable, comparable to the sweet juiciness of a sautéed

You can put nopal in your eggs, on the side of a juicy
steak, used in sautés and sauces, and you can also throw
some authenticity into your “Taco Tuesday” with some
“pollo con nopal” tacos or quesadillas.

Nopal is not only a fun south of the border vegetable and
flavorful way to spice up your weekly family cuisines. It
also contains nutritional components that can be more
than surprising and have overall health benefits as well! 86
grams, one serving size of Nopal contains only 14 calories
with zero grams of fat, 1 gram of sugar, 1 gram of protein,
and 8% daily value (DV) of fiber.

A study conducted by Dr. Feugang at Mississippi State
University (2006) suggests that, “recent studies on
Opuntia spp. have demonstrated cactus pear fruit and
vegetative cladodes to be excellent candidates for the
development of healthy food.”

One cup of Nopal can provide 13% of your daily value
(DV) for many vitamins and minerals such as calcium,
vitamin C, Magnesium, Manganese, Fiber, calcium, and
much more.  

Here are our top 7 Nopal health benefits:

Help Control Diabetes

Nopal has been recently studied and looked at more closely
for its ability to affect blood sugar in our bodies, often
times when paired with foods high in carbohydrates.

Diabetes is one of the most serious illnesses in the United
States to date and with obesity rising each year; type 2
diabetes will continue to affect Americans who have it and
the loved ones of those who do as well. 9.3% of the
United States population has diabetes, over 29 million and
86 million people in the United States, age 20 and older are
considered to be pre-diabetic. These are alarming
numbers, but it’s never too late to start trying to naturally
control your  glucose levels.

Nopal is one of those magical foods, a gift from nature that
has been shown to lower glucose levels by 18%.

Research conducted at the Department of Internal
Medicine Specialites Hospital “La Raza” Medical Center,
Mexico (1997) by Dr. Castañeda-Andrade concluded that,
“Opuntia streptacantha dialysate [found in Nopal] could be
considered as a new approach in treating non-insulin
dependent diabetes mellitus.”

Nopal is especially useful for controlling blood sugar
becuase it has the ability to lower glucose levels in Type 2
diabetes patients even when paired with high carb foods
such as tortillas, beans, and rice.

Lower Your Risk for Cancer

Nopal is extremely high in vitamin C, a powerful
antioxidant property that contains radical scavenging

One serving size of nopal, 86 grams, contains 8 mg of
vitamin C, 13% of your daily value (DV). Vitamin C is a
powerful antioxidant and antioxidant not only improve
overall immune health, but have been studied in the
prevention of Cancer.

Antioxidants from vitamin C block free radical chemicals
that cause damage to cells and may have a correlation to

Nopal’s high percentage of vitamin C can block these free
radical chemicals. A study by Dr. Tesoriere at the
Dipartimento Farmacochimico Tossicologico e Biologico,
Facoltà di Farmacia, Università di Palermo, Italy (2004)
concluded that, “Supplementation with vitamin C at a
comparable dosage enhances overall antioxidant defense
but does not significantly affect body oxidative stress.”

Sure, you could pop a few vitamin C pills and be done with
it, but that’s hard on the liver. Why not enjoy a great meal
with nopal cactus and achieve the same antioxidant levels
and possible preventive cancer results.

Prevent Inflammatory Diseases

There are various types of inflammatory diseases out there
bursitis, colitis, cystitis, dermatitis, and
arteriosclerosis, to name a few.  By eating edible cactus,
you can lower your chances of  ever getting one or,  if you
already suffer from inflammatory problems, you can help
ease the pain.

Extracted ethanol from Nopal has been utilized in the
suppression of leukocytes and plasma, the main causes of
acute inflammation.

Studies on the Pharmacological Action of Cactus:
Identification of its Anti-Inflammatory Effect (1998), by
Dr. Park at the College of Pharmacy, Sookmyung Women's
University, Korea found that Nopal causes, “potent
inhibition in the leukocyte migration of CMC-pouch model
in rats.”

The suppression of plasma and leukocyte migration in the
body can help you prevent and protect against acute and
chronic inflammatory diseases in the future.

Cactus Provides Calcium for Bone Health

Nopal is as rich in calcium as it is rich in vitamin C and the
health benefits of calcium are just as crucial.

Nopal contains 141 mg of calcium per serving size of 86
grams, 14 percent of your daily value (DV).

Calcium is important in muscle contraction, bone health,
nerve transmission, blood clotting, and some studies have
shown a link to lower blood pressure as well.

Only one percent of calcium is in the blood stream, with
most of it stored in your bones, according to a 2014 study
from Dr. Datta and Dr. Vitolins at the Wake Forest School
of Medicine in North Carolina.

Calcium is an excellent mineral, but when paired with
vitamin D, a power bond is formed which can prevent the
absorption of fat and decrease overall cholesterol levels.

Nopal does not contain Vitamin D, so you will need to pair
it with foods such as oily fish which do contain Vitamin D.

Lower Cholesterol Levels

Nopal has pectin, a fiber found in certain fruits such as
oranges, lemons and apples.  Pectin is sticky which helps
to carry cholesterol out of your blood stream, according to
a 2011 study from the College of Life Sciences and
Technology in South Korea.

Nectin also has about 2 grams of fiber per serving. The
high pectin content and fiber in Nopal can also help curb
your eating and promote a healthier diet and help you
fight weight gain at the same time.

Fight Ulcers

The use of nopal can be dated back 12,000 years when
indigenous peoples used this earthly gift as a natural
medicinal properties.

In regions all over the world where nopal has been
growing locally for centuries, places like Mexico and Sicily,
Italy, people have been using it to treat gastric ulcers.

The prevention, protection, and relief delivered from nopal
is associated with the mucilage the plant contains, essential
for water and food storage over extended periods of time.

Mucilage is a thick substance, a polar glycoprotein that has
a direct effect on gastric ulcers and also contains anti-
inflammatory properties as well. In a 2013 study from
Mexico, scientists confirmed nopal's effectuveness in
treating ulcers.  That study, entitled "Antioxidant and
Anticlastogenic Capacity of Prickly Pear Juice" was led by  
Dr. Madrigal-Santillan at the Laboratorio Medicina de
Conservación, Escuela Superior de Medicina, Mexico. It
concluded that  “Nopal and cactus pears, as well as other
fruits and vegetables, have been used in Mexican
traditional medicine for the treatment of certain diseases
such as ulcers, dyspnea and liver diseases.”

Have a Healthy Thyroid

Among the many amazing natural vitamins and minerals
nopal offers, manganese is one of the most remarkable.

Manganese helps to keep your thyroid healthy. Your body
doesn't need a lot of manganese. Nopal contains 0.4 mg of
manganese, which may not seem like a lot, but it is 20% of
your daily recommended value.

Why should you care? A healthy thyroid helps to control
your metabolism. A happier thyroid is just another
exceptional reason to give nopal a try.

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Edible cactus helps to lower
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