Nopal (Prickly Pear Cactus) Nutrition Facts and Health Benefits

Nopal (Prickly pear cactus) and prickly pear fruit
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Nopal (commonly known as prickly pear cactus in the United States) is grown in Mexico, southwestern desert regions of the United States, the Mediterranean, and in certain areas of South America. High in soluble fiber, vitamin C, and essential minerals, nopal is also rich in antioxidants, known as carotenoids, that protect your cells from damage by free radicals.

The cactus tastes like a cross between watermelon and a pear—a sweet, yet not overpowering in flavor. You also can consume the flat cactus stems and pads, referred to as nopales or nopalitos, when tenderized.

Nopal is also used to treat, protect against, and help manage certain health conditions, including diabetes, cancer, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol in both traditional and alternative medicine. But research on its effectiveness is limited. If you are considering using nopal to complement your health, talk to a healthcare provider to determine if it is right for you.

Nopal Nutrition Facts

This nutrition information, for 1 cup of Cactus (nopal), cooked, with no added fat (150 grams), is provided by the USDA.

  • Calories: 24
  • Fat: 0.135g
  • Sodium: 206mg
  • Carbohydrates: 4.98g
  • Fiber: 3.3g
  • Sugars: 1.72g
  • Protein: 1.98g

Carbs

The carb count for one serving of packaged nopal is a little under 5 grams. This amount is about the same as a regular-sized apple. The sodium count is higher than other many other produce items, however, because salt is used to dry the cactus out.

Fats

You consume almost no fat in nopal, as the fruit contains a little more than 0.1 grams of fats per serving. It also contains 0.027 grams of monounsaturated fat and 0.024 grams of total saturated fat per cup.

Protein

The protein count is less than 2 grams per cup. To get your recommended daily allowance of protein, you should also eat protein sources like lean proteins and nuts.

Vitamins and Minerals

Nopal also contains a number of vitamins and minerals. For instance, it contains 11.8 milligrams of vitamin C as well as 78 milligrams of magnesium, 24 milligrams of phosphorus, 246 milligrams of calcium, and 384 milligrams of potassium.

Calories

A cup of whole nopal contains 24 calories. The only ingredients in this cactus are iodized salt and raw nopal. Overall, it is low in calories and has a high-water content with 141 grams per serving. With three grams of fiber and a heavy water density, nopal can leave you feeling fuller longer and provide some hydration.

 

Summary

Nopal is a calcium-rich fruit that provides a strong dose of vitamin C and potassium. Although it does have a high water content, it also may contain sodium if salt is used to dry the fruit.

Health Benefits

Research on the health benefits of nopal is limited. However, some studies indicate that the fruit has shown some potential health benefits. More research needs to be done on humans before recommending nopal supplementation for certain health conditions. Here is an overview of what studies have shown about nopal.

May Lower Blood Glucose

Nopal could offer security against developing diabetes. A 2017 review found nopal botanicals are frequently promoted for their ability to help manage blood glucose levels. Because of nopal’s highly soluble fiber and pectin, the cactus can affect intestinal glucose uptake and reduce blood glucose and serum insulin.

Eating nopal is one way of adding variety to your fruit intake. However, due to the limited research available, nopal should not be considered a viable treatment for diabetes. If you are considering nopal as a form of complementary therapy, speak with a healthcare provider first.

May Provide Hangover Relief

Nopal could help relieve an alcohol hangover. In a study on the extract of the Opuntia ficus indica (prickly pear cactus), the fruit provided a modest effect in alleviating hangover symptoms.

In the double-blind trial, young, healthy adults were randomly assigned to receive 1,600 IU of prickly pear cactus or an identical placebo 5 hours before alcohol consumption. Results demonstrated that nausea and dry mouth were significantly reduced when taking prickly pear cactus. In addition, severe hangover risks were significantly decreased.

If you or a loved one are struggling with substance use or addiction, contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline at 1-800-662-4357 for information on support and treatment facilities in your area.

For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.

May Relieve Oxidative Stress

Oxidative stress is a biological process in which normal cells are damaged by free radicals, increasing the risk of aging-associated diseases like cancer and atherosclerosis or the hardening of the arteries. A study on cactus pears show that they offer strong antioxidant properties to combat oxidative stress due to their heavy contents of polyphenols, flavonoids, and ascorbic acid.

Other Potential Health Benefits

In a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized clinical trials, researchers found that cactus pear supplementation is effective in reducing body mass index (BMI), body fat percentage, systolic and diastolic blood pressures, and total cholesterol.

Meanwhile, an investigation on cactus plants showed anti-tumor effects of their polysaccharides, which are carbohydrates with sugar molecules bonded together. Researchers claim this makes cactus “an anti-cancer plant.” It is important to note that these studies were conducted on mice. The results cannot be applied to humans without human studies.

While these results are promising, more research needs to be done before recommending nopal supplementation for certain health conditions.

Allergies

Allergies to nopal are rare. But if you did happen to have an allergic reaction, it might include a skin rash, itching, and swelling. If you suspect that you are allergic to nopal, schedule an appointment with a healthcare provider. They can evaluate your symptoms as well as provide testing if needed to determine if you have a food allergy to nopal.

Adverse Reactions

Anyone taking diabetes medications should speak with a healthcare provider before adding nopal to their diet. Because nopal could lower your blood sugar, taking nopal in combination with diabetes medications could create an adverse reaction. Likewise, if you are considering nopal for other health conditions, speak with a healthcare provider to determine if it is right for you.

How to Prepare

Fresh nopal can be peeled and consumed either raw or cooked, or you can squeeze it for fruit juice. You can eat the fruit as a side or in fresh salads. Although fresh and packaged nopal juice has become increasingly available is specialty supermarkets, be sure to read the label if you want to avoid added sugars. To remove some of its gelatinous structure, you can dry the cactus out with salt.

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6 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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