Nopal (Opuntia ficus-indica) is a species of cactus that is sometimes known as prickly pear. It’s native to Mexico and is named after the fleshy pads (nopales) that protrude from the cactus body and are available to buy as a food item in many Mexican farmer’s markets and grocery stores.
Nopal is highly nutritious and, although it’s sometimes eaten raw, the nopales are generally sliced or diced and then scrambled with eggs or added to more ambitious recipes. However, nopales have to be eaten when they are young and the flesh is still succulent and soft. Nopales taken from older plants are too tough to eat.
Although nopal is as versatile as it is nutritious and can be prepared and cooked in a number of different ways, the fact that it’s good to eat is not it’s only virtue. Nopal cactus extracts also have medicinal value and can be very good for improving the health.
Nine Nopal Benefits You Probably Didn’t Know
- It’s a Good Source of Antioxidants
Antioxidants are compounds that purge the organs of the free radical toxins that build up in the body and can rob it of vitality and encourage disease. Free radicals can be very damaging to all the cells of the body and if their build-up is left unchecked it can lead to premature ageing. Lots of plants contain antioxidants, but nopal is a particularly potent source.
- It’s Antiviral
A number of studies show nopal has antiviral abilities and some preliminary research shows extracts taken from the plant may have value for treating some very dangerous and unpleasant viruses including herpes and HIV.
- It Regulates Blood Glucose Levels
Keeping blood glucose levels under control is a problem diabetics have to live with every day of their lives and failure to get to grips with the problem can have devastating consequences including blindness, coma, and death. Some research shows nopal extracts may have value as a complimentary medicine and one study, conducted in Korea, suggests the plant’s ability to regulate blood glucose is made possible because it inhibits glucose absorption in the intestines and enhances glucose uptake from insulin-sensitive muscle cells.
- It Protects Nerve Cells from Damage
Nerve cells are no different to any other cell in the body. They can be damaged in a number of different ways and when this occurs it can cause pain and sensory loss. Some research shows nopal cactus extracts may have the ability to shield the nerve cells from damage.
- It Reduces Hunger
Hundreds of years ago, people used to dice up the fruit and chew on the resulting chunks to ward off their hunger. Back then, nobody knew how it worked, but modern day investigations into the hunger suppressing ability of nopal suggest it creates a feeling of satiety that prevents the release of a hunger hormone named ghrelin.
- It Can Treat Enlarged Prostate
Many older men find themselves having to endure discomfort caused by an enlarged prostate gland. This unpleasant condition can also result in an increased need to dash to the toilet and pee. Some research shows nopal is a good option for men who are searching for a natural remedy for enlarged prostate and has the potential to be a superior option because, unlike many of the drugs used for treating prostate problems, it does not present the same risk of side effects.
- It Blocks Fat Absorption
Consuming nopal extract can be a good way to lower the amount of calories provided by food because it acts as a fat blocker (it should be noted that it is not generally accepted to be one of the best fat burners though). Each gram of fat that is eaten normally provides the body with nine calories. That’s more than double the amount of calories provided by protein and carbohydrate. The results of a study involving 20 healthy volunteers shows nopal causes a large percentage of dietary fat to pass through the body unprocessed and be excreted from the body without releasing any calories. This ability gives nopal value as a dietary aid.
- It Reduces Cholesterol
Early research shows nopal cactus also lowers LDL cholesterol levels. This is the bad kind of cholesterol that is dangerous for the heart. Further study is required but the ingredient may have the potential to end the misery of thousands of people all over the world who are presently forced to live the side effects caused by the use of traditional cholesterol-lowering medications called statins.
- It May Cure Your Hangover
The morning after a good night before is often spoiled by a pounding head and other symptoms of a hangover, but there is evidence to suggest it does not have to be that way. According to an article published in Scientific American, people who drink a glass of nopal cactus extract five hours before consuming alcohol can cut the risk of a severe hangover in half.