There is no doubt that when you think of a cactus, tumbleweed and deserts come to mind, not “health foods.” But the prickly pear – which is technically known as the Nopal cactus –has been utilized as a natural medication for thousands of years in the United States and Mexico and now cactus is seeing a resurgence into the health world, making its way into beauty products and nutritious recipes. The reason: This fruit is high in fiber, vitamins and antioxidants, making it a healthy food to add to your diet.
1. Cactus is high in antioxidants
Antioxidants are strong molecules that help neutralize the harmful free radicals within our bodies. They are found in plants for the most part, including cacti. “Nopal cactus contains two kinds of antioxidants: flavonoids, which are linked with lowering the risk of some chronic diseases, and betalains, which have anti-inflammatory properties,” said Marin. The color of the cactus has and affect on how many flavonoids you get. The juice that comes from red-purple prickly pear has some of the highest antioxidant contents.
2. Cactus is rich in fiber
Fiber is the part of a carbohydrate that is hard to digest, so consuming high-fiber foods helps to slow the absorption of sugars into your bloodstream, which helps regulate our blood sugar levels. Cactus has twice as much fiber as it does sugar, so for every 1.9 gm of fiber, it has 0.9 gm of sugar, a healthy ratio. Females should aim for at minimum 21 to 25 gm of fiber every day and males should aim for 30 to 38 gm every day. “Due to their naturally high fiber and low sugar contents, cactus not only help to regulate blood sugar levels but it is also good for your gut,” says Marin. “The fiber draws water into your intestines and sticks to cholesterol in the gut before it is circulated into arteries and blood vessels,” she explains.
3. Cactus is low-glycemic
Our body tends to break down various carbs differently: Simple carbohydrates, such as table sugars or corn syrup, break down fast which could lead to an increase in blood sugar levels, which the Cleveland Clinic say could lead to a spike in insulin production, that will signal cells to store any unused energy as fat. These foods are called “high-glycemic.” Complex carbs are also known as “low-glycemic” foods since they do not elicit the same increase in blood sugar levels and are broken down much slower in our bodies. A low glycemic diet could improve your overall health and help prevent lifestyle diseases like prediabetes. Cactus is also a low-glycemic food that has both insoluble and soluble fiber and is low in carbs, so it is a great addition to any healthy diet.