Yes, you heard it right. Eating cactus leaf, also known as Nopal, prickly pear cactus or by its scientific name Opuntia, is actually beneficial for health. It grows in warm, dry parts of the world and also in desert climatic conditions. Its fresh, gentle pads known as “Nopalitos” are mainly used in Mexican cuisine and are gradually gaining prevalence amongst Europeans and US for its health benefitting properties.
The flat, oval shaped stems of the cactus also known as Pads (4 inches to 16 inches long) are often misinterpreted as leaves offer medicinal benefits also. For example, the sap from the pads is a mosquito repellent and also cures minor cuts and burns. While the thought of eating cactus leaf may sound strange and scary, you may reconsider it again, especially once you know the many benefits it offers. With no further ado, let us take you through the many benefits of the cactus plant.
1. Prevents Cancer
Cactus leaf contains two plant compounds- Phenolics and Flavonoids, both known for their antioxidant properties. Oxidation produces free radicals that cause damage to healthy cells. These compounds protect the healthy cells in the body by increasing antioxidant activity and decreasing oxidation of lipids. Cactus leaves can help prevent cell damage and slow the growth of cancerous or malignant cells in liver, prostate, colon and breast.
[ Read: How To Reduce Your Risk of Cancer ]
2. Anti-Inflammatory Action
Prickly pear has robust levels of anti-inflammatory activity. It has high levels of betalins which is an antioxidant that reduces inflammation. Cactus juice has been known to prevent inflammation in the arteries, urethra, bladder, cardiovascular region, gastrointestinal tract and also in the muscles. It also contains anti-ulcer properties, and thus is used in many natural remedies.
3. Lowers Cholesterol
The University of Vienna recently revealed that one can reduce the effects of cholesterol by consuming the juice of cactus. France researchers also confirmed the same impact on 68 women, who in a four week long test reported reduced levels of cholesterol and triglyceride levels in their body. The American Heart Association also states that Nopal Cactus Nectar which is high in soluble fiber, helps in regulating cholesterol levels in the body. With so many researchers and universities stating the cactus can indeed help in combatting cholesterol levels, there is no harm in trying it out, is there?
[ Read: How To Do “Good Fats” Lower Cholesterol? ]
4. Blood Sugar Control
An abnormal increase in levels of blood sugar causes diabetes, stroke and heart diseases. Patients who are obese or have diabetes can be benefited by eating cactus leaves. It helps stabilize blood glucose and insulin levels. When combined with exercise, the cactus leaf helps lowering blood sugar levels and also improves insulin sensitivity. University of Vienna researchers conducted a study on 24 non-obese people who consumed cactus leaf. After 8 weeks the results showed that there was a 11 percent drop in blood sugar levels of the patients.
5. Prevents Obesity
Cactus curbs hunger that helps you to reduce weight and prevents obesity. It is a low calorie food that is rich in amino acid, vitamins and also has small amounts of minerals like calcium, potassium, magnesium & iron which boost weight loss. It has 17 amino acids- – that provide energy which serves 16 calories per 100 grams intake.
6. Improves Digestion
Cactus improves digestion and body metabolism in humans. It helps in reducing cellulites and accelerates bowel movement by enhancing the body’s capacity to retain water. Cactus juice also has a laxative effect which is shown to efficiently treat constipation. It can help reduce pain experienced by people with bladder infections and gall stones. Cactus is rich in fiber content that diminishes carcinogens thereby promoting digestive health in human beings and detoxifying human body.
7. Avoids Brain Cell Damage
Quercetin 3-methyl, a flavonoid compound present in the cactus stems and its fruits, is regarded as a powerful neuro-protector. This compound shields the neuron cells in the brain, thereby preventing damage to the brain cells. Additionally, Nopal cactus has betalins that promote optimal cellular health.
8. Strengthens Immune System
Studies on lab animals have shown to reduce tumor growth due to increased immune response on regular consumption of cactus. It is a good source of phytochemicals that strengthens the body’s immune system.
9. Improves Sleep
People suffering from insomnia, chronic anxiety or restlessness cactus can benefit from cactus consumption. Cactus contains magnesium that improves sleep patterns. It releases serotonin in the body that in turn induces melatonin levels. This has a sedative effect on the body which calms you and helps you to sleep by reducing nerve function.
10. Increased Metabolism
Cactus is replete with vitamins and minerals that are essential for normal body functioning. It contains thiamin, riboflavin, niacin and vitamin B6 that helps in normal, regulated enzyme function in the human body.
11. Healthy Skin
Harsh weather conditions and poor lifestyle choices take a toll on the body and skin health. As a result skin looks dull and lacks luster. Premature aging symptoms like wrinkle and age spots can be combatted by using cactus on your skin. The compounds present in the cactus have phytochemical and antioxidant characteristics that improve skin health considerably.
Prickly pear cactus, like most of all foods is at its best when taken in its pure, all natural form. So go to your nearest supermarket that embraces international cuisine and multicultural perspectives to grab your pack of cactus jellies, fruits or syrups. It is also available as a supplement usually as oil or in capsules.
Try cactus today, for a better and healthy YOU!