The Amazing Health Benefits of the Nopal Cactus

The nopal cactus may not be nearly as well-known as other “superfoods” such as blueberries and leafy green vegetables, but it’s certainly not any less powerful. This amazing cactus plant is a vegetable with edible pads; however, the cactus also produces an edible fruit and a beautiful flower. Because of its shape, it’s often referred to as the “prickly pear” cactus due to the shape of the fruit and its thorny projections.

The plant is native to the Western hemisphere, growing mainly in northwestern Mexico and the desert of the southwest in the U.S. Evidence suggests that it was a staple for the natives in Mexico thousands of years ago and even used by ancient and pre-Columbian civilizations for many years due to its medicinal qualities.

While a prickly plant may not sound like an enjoyable treat, surprisingly the fruit of the nopal cactus is deliciously juicy and has a fresh, tangy flavor reminiscent of watermelon and bubble gum combined. Edible raw, it can also be juiced and added to recipes or beverages, pairing especially well with limes and paprika. The pads are often chopped or sliced and sautéed with scramble eggs, added to omelets, used in pico de gallo and many other traditional Mexican dishes.

Packed with antioxidants

The nopal cactus has a wide variety of health benefits including being especially rich in antioxidants, containing all 24 known betalains which are rare and potent anti-inflammatory antioxidants that help our body in its ability to heal. These antioxidant properties protect the inner lining of the blood vessels and lymph system with studies showing that the betalains in the nopal cactus were found to protect vascular endothelial cells from the negative effects of free radicals.


With incredibly strong anti-inflammatory effects, these betalains serve to protect against chronic inflammation which causes a wide range of disorders including heart disease, diabetes, stroke and arthritis. Inflammation arises from trauma, illness and the many dangerous toxins that we’re met with every day; toxins in our air, food, pollution, cosmetics and even nutritional deficiencies and stress.

Reducing blood glucose levels

The nopal cactus is known to help reduce blood glucose levels as it is packed with soluble fiber which serves to decrease the absorption of sugar in the intestine as well as the stomach. It was discovered that by adding nopal to the traditionally high-carb Mexican diet among patients who were diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes, that it induced a reduction in glucose concentration after a meal.

Lowering bad cholesterol

This very unique plant has even been confirmed to have the ability to lower LDL cholesterol levels. Studies found that a daily intake for six weeks helped to lower this “bad” cholesterol while helping to maintain HDL, or good, cholesterol levels.

Among tens of thousands of botanical species, the nopal cactus is the only one that contains all 24 of the known betalains. Just a few are found in beets and a handful of other plants. This is what gives the fruit their yellow-orange and reddish purple hue. While you may not have heard of this amazing superfood, it’s certainly one to try if you’re looking to get on the path to achieving optimal health.

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K.C. Dermody

K.C. Dermody is a freelance writer, writing for YCN, Yahoo! News, Yahoo! Sports, and OMG! Yahoo as well as other web content projects, and working on a historical fiction novel based in ancient Ireland. She has a passion for travel, having traveled to over 40 U.S. states, Ireland many times, as well as other European countries, Mexico, Barbados and St. Vincent. She also has a love of history and an addiction to sports, especially the Oakland Raiders.

Follow K.C. Dermody on LinkedIn: k-c-dermody and Twitter: @kcdermody

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