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Two parts of the cactus are typically eaten: the cactus fruit (prickly pear) and the flat cactus pad (nopales). When preparing cactus, you can eat the fruits and the pads raw, cook them into dishes, or squeeze them into juice. You can harvest them yourself or buy them in a local market.
Cactuses are known for their nutrients as well as their medicinal value. Both cactus pads and cactus fruit can help fight infections and ease the symptoms of anything from hangovers to high cholesterol.
Here are some of the health benefits of cactus:
Both the cactus pad and the cactus fruit are high in fiber, which can lower cholesterol levels in the blood. A study found that eating cactus can reduce body fat, blood pressure, and cholesterol levels. Incorporating cactus fruits into your diet can help reduce the risk of diseases like stroke, coronary heart disease, and peripheral vascular diseases.
Cactuses contain vitamins C, E, A, iron, calcium, and more. This wide range of nutrients and more can help reduce inflammation in the body. Research found that taking cactus extract after drinking five to seven alcoholic drinks resulted in fewer hangover symptoms (such as nausea, vomiting, or dry mouth). The cactus extract also reduced inflammation in the body, which is often linked to alcohol intake.
Controls Blood Sugar
High blood sugar in the body can be a symptom of several illnesses, such as diabetes, stroke, or heart disease. A study conducted in Mexico measured the difference between those who included cactus pads in their diet and those who didn’t, finding that those who regularly ate doses of cactus showed a significant decrease in their blood sugar levels. The study suggests that eating cactus may be a low-cost way to lower blood sugar for those with diabetes.
Boosts the Immune System
Cactus fruits in particular are an excellent source of vitamin C, which is one of the best immune boosters. Regular doses of vitamin C increase the production of white blood cells, which can make you less likely to catch an illness — and help your body fight off viruses if you’re infected.
Cactus fruits and pads offer a dose of vitamins and nutrients that have anti-inflammatory properties and can help reduce the risk of serious health conditions like diabetes and heart disease.
It’s also an excellent source of: Vitamin C; Vitamin A; Potassium; Calcium; Manganese; Copper; Iron; Omega 3
Raw cactus is very low in saturated fat, calories, and cholesterol. Keep in mind that the nutrition value may change if you roast cactus pads with oil, butter, or salt. In many forms of jams, candy, and juices, cactus juice may be mixed with other juices, such as pineapple, orange, or grapefruit. This can increase the amount of sugar you’re taking in.
How to Prepare Cactus
If you’re harvesting your own cactus fruits or pads, it’s important that you use the right gear. Always wear long sleeves and thick gloves when harvesting cactus. Once you’re home, use a knife to scrape off the spines and peel off the skin.
Depending on your location, you may be able to find fresh cactus in your local grocery store or market with the spines already removed. You may also find it processed, packaged, or canned.
Written by WebMD Editorial Contributors. Reviewed by Dany Paul Baby, MD on September 14, 2022 (Webmd.com)