11 Impressive Benefits of Nopales

by John Staughton (BASc, BFA) last updated -

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Nopales are a spectacularly healthy type of cacti with a wide range of health benefits. These include their ability to aid in weight loss, anticancer Potential, improving skin health, and protecting heart health. These cacti also help regulate and improve digestion, boost the immune system, optimize metabolic activity, build strong bones, treat insomnia, and reduce inflammation throughout the body.

What are Nopales?

Nopales are a form of vegetable made from the soft pads of underdeveloped prickly pear cacti. The useful vegetative pads are either green or purple and are roughly the size of a person’s hand. They have a consistency somewhere between green beans and green peppers and are regularly added to eggs and steak stir-fry. They are native to Mexico and Central America, and it is in these cuisines that you most commonly find fresh nopales. They are mainly found fresh in Mexico, either canned or pickled as an export, particularly to the Southwestern United States and Texas.

Closeup of nopal plants in a field

Nopal plants Photo Credit: Shutterstock

Nutrition Facts

Nopales, raw
Serving Size :
Water [g]94.12
Energy [kcal]16
Energy [kJ]66
Protein [g]1.32
Total lipid (fat) [g]0.09
Ash [g]1.14
Carbohydrate, by difference [g]3.33
Fiber, total dietary [g]2.2
Sugars, total including NLEA [g]1.15
Calcium, Ca [mg]164
Iron, Fe [mg]0.59
Magnesium, Mg [mg]52
Phosphorus, P [mg]16
Potassium, K [mg]257
Sodium, Na [mg]21
Zinc, Zn [mg]0.25
Copper, Cu [mg]0.05
Manganese, Mn [mg]0.46
Selenium, Se [µg]0.7
Vitamin C, total ascorbic acid [mg]9.3
Thiamin [mg]0.01
Riboflavin [mg]0.04
Niacin [mg]0.41
Pantothenic acid [mg]0.17
Vitamin B-6 [mg]0.07
Folate, total [µg]3
Folate, food [µg]3
Folate, DFE [µg]3
Choline, total [mg]7.3
Vitamin A, RAE [µg]23
Carotene, beta [µg]250
Carotene, alpha [µg]48
Vitamin A, IU [IU]457
Vitamin K (phylloquinone) [µg]5.3
Fatty acids, total saturated [g]0.02
16:0 [g]0.01
18:0 [g]0
Fatty acids, total monounsaturated [g]0.02
16:1 [g]0
18:1 [g]0.02
Fatty acids, total polyunsaturated [g]0.05
18:2 [g]0.04
18:3 [g]0.01
Tryptophan [g]0.01
Threonine [g]0.04
Isoleucine [g]0.05
Leucine [g]0.08
Lysine [g]0.06
Methionine [g]0.02
Cystine [g]0.01
Phenylalanine [g]0.05
Tyrosine [g]0.03
Valine [g]0.06
Arginine [g]0.05
Histidine [g]0.03
Alanine [g]0.05
Aspartic acid [g]0.09
Glutamic acid [g]0.15
Glycine [g]0.05
Proline [g]0.04
Serine [g]0.04
Sources include : USDA

Nopales Nutrition Facts

The wealth of health benefits that come from nopales are mainly attributable to its nutrition and vitamin content, which includes riboflavin, vitamin B6, copper, iron, fiber, vitamin A, vitamin C, and vitamin K, calcium, potassium, magnesium, and manganese. Nopal is also an important source of certain organic compounds like phytochemicals and certain polysaccharides that contribute to its health-boosting power.

Health Benefits of Nopales

Let’s explore some of the health benefits of nopal that people have been enjoying for thousands of years.

Improve Digestion

Nopales are a form of cacti, so they are very fibrous and contain a great deal of dietary fiber. Dietary fiber is essential in the digestive process as it adds bulk to the bowel movements, which makes it easier for them to pass through the smooth muscles of the digestive tract. It also stimulates peristaltic motion to move the bowels along the tract and reduces symptoms of diarrhea and constipation. Furthermore, excess fiber in the body can actively reduce the amount of cholesterol, thereby protecting your heart health as well.

Weight Loss

There are a number of components within nopales which can aid in weight loss. First, fiber can make the body feel full and inhibit the release of ghrelin, which is a hunger-causing hormone, so overeating is reduced. Secondly, this plant is very low in saturated fat and cholesterol, but it is packed with metabolic potential, so the body works at a higher level without gaining weight. The presence of vitamin B6, thiamin, and riboflavin also makes the metabolic function work quickly, and these vitamins maximize fat burning and the transformation of food into usable energy.

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Skin Care

The phytochemical and antioxidant characteristics of nopales make them a good defensive mechanism against premature aging symptoms, like wrinkles and age spots. The free radicals left after cellular metabolism can impact the skin and by eating nopales, you can keep your skin looking healthy and young.

Anticancer Potential

An animal study conducted on mice suggested that cactus pear have the ability to suppress tumor growth in them. The results, however, are not clear and further mechanism of nopales’ anticancer potential is still being studied.

According to a 2014 study, cacti seed oil is also known to have high levels of polyphenols which exhibit anticancer properties. Moreover, the same study shows that this cactus is also a source of gallic acid, which exerts cytotoxic activity against tumoral cells from leukemia, lung, and prostate cancer origins.

Boost Metabolism

One of the most important aspects of nopales in terms of health is their mineral and vitamin content. Nopales contain thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, and vitamin B6, all of which are vital components of cellular metabolism that regulate the enzyme activity throughout the body. A healthy organ system and hormonal balance help in losing weight easily, promoting healthy muscle gain, and toning the entire body.

Build Strong Bones

The mineral content of this powerful cactus leaf includes a modest level of calcium, which is an essential part of building strong bones and repairing bones after being damaged.

Improve Sleep

This plant also contains magnesium, which is a useful mineral for inducing sleep in people suffering from insomnia, chronic anxiety or restlessness. It induces the release of serotonin in the body, which results in increased melatonin levels. It also has a slightly sedative effect, which reduces nerve function and calms the body, helping you fall asleep.

Anti-inflammatory Agent

The juice from the leaves of nopales has anti-inflammatory effects on various body parts, including symptoms associated with arthritis, joint pain, and muscle strain. Apply the juice topically to the affected area, or consume the vegetable itself to enjoy the benefits.

Control Diabetes

The extracts from the leaves of prickly pear cactus can be powerful regulators of glucose levels within the body. For patients with type 2 diabetes, it can cause a reduced spike in glucose levels, which makes the management of diabetes easier, as per a research published in the journal Complementary Health Practice.

Help Treat Ulcers

Following the traditional use of nopales as a treatment for gastric ulcers, recent studies have verified these effects. Apparently, the mucilage and fibrous material in nopales inhibit the development of gastric ulcers that develop due to excessive consumption of alcohol, so people who regularly suffer from this painful condition should add some of these powerful plants to their diet and improve their health.

Word of Caution: Due to their ability to regulate and affect blood sugar levels, nopales can sometimes make people hypoglycemic, and should also not be consumed excessively before an operation. Other than these health concerns, nopales are a delicious and highly nutritious addition to your diet.

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About the Author

John Staughton is a traveling writer, editor, publisher and photographer with English and Integrative Biology degrees from the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana (USA). He co-founded the literary journal, Sheriff Nottingham, and now serves as the Content Director for Stain’d Arts, a non-profit based in Denver, Colorado. On a perpetual journey towards the idea of home, he uses words to educate, inspire, uplift and evolve.

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