Deserts, sand, tumbleweeds and needles – that’s what comes to mind when you hear about cactus and it’s got a pretty bad rep among food lovers for the same reasons. Surprisingly, this prickly food is one of the healthiest things you can include in your daily diet, for it is rich in vitamins and nutrients while also serving a lot of additional benefits. Nopales (the cactus leaf, scientifically called Opuntia) is a food staple in Latin America served mostly with eggs, and salads because of its health benefits.
Rich in phyto-nutrients, cactus adds plethora of fiber to the body when consumed while also helping to reduce cholesterol and decrease sugar level to prevent diabetes. Even if you don’t live in the Wild West or don’t grow cactus at home, it’s readily available in markets and organic stores all over the country in sliced and diced or juiced and jam form to consume at your need.
Check out 7 surprising health benefits of eating cactus.
1. It lowers cholesterol
Cactus leaf has been found to lower cholesterol level in the body in research done at the University of Vienna. Researchers in France verified the same effect on 68 women, who after four weeks saw a decreased level of cholesterol and triglyceride levels in their body. This functional food is also related with the reduction of risks involved with heart problems.
2. It cures diabetes
Elevation of the blood sugar level in the body leads to several illness including diabetes, stroke and heart diseases. Eating cactus leaf helps to decrease the blood sugar level in patients suffering from obesity and diabetes. Research done at the University of Vienna among 24 non-obese patients who consumed cactus leaf showed an 11 percent decrease in blood sugar level which proves its benefit to patients suffering from diabetes.
3. It fights cancer
Phenolics and flavonoids, two compounds with antioxidant properties are found to be contained by cactus leaf. These antioxidants help to protect healthy cells from damage by free radicals that are related with cardiovascular diseases and cancer. In the June 2009 issue of “Plant Food for Human Nutrition”, it has been reported that cactus pear’s phytochemical compounds slowed growth of the cells in the colon, liver, breast and prostate cancer without having a negative impact on healthy cells.
4. It improves digestion
Eating cactus has also helped to improve the digestion process in humans. Nopales, helps in reducing cellulites while also enhancing the ability to retain water in the body to speed up bowel movement. This fiber rich food reduces carcinogens and enhances digestive health in humans.
5. It helps to reduce weight
Cactus is a low calorie food rich in amino acid, vitamins and minerals, which makes it beneficial for weight loss. Containing 17 amino acids, 8 being essential, it provides a good amount of energy and serves 16 calories per every 100g intake.
6. It protects brain cells from damage
The steam and fruits of cactus has a compound quercetin 3-methyl, flavonoid which is considered as a powerful neuro-protector. This neuro-protector safeguards the neuron cells in the brain, thereby protecting brain cells from damage.
7. It reduces inflammation
Cactus is also said to possess anti-inflammation properties that fights against burns in muscles, cardiovascular system, gastrointestinal tract and arteries. It has been found to possess bio-flavonoid quercetin which neutralizes cell damaging compounds and serves as analgesic with its anti-inflammatory properties. It also contain anti-ulcer properties that fight edema and restrict leukocyte migration.
How can we eat cactus?
Now that you know the benefits of eating cactus, you might be wondering how you can prepare cactus in your daily diet to stay healthy. Cactus pads and pear and cactus fruits are readily edible, however, they can be dry and woody in some cases making it bland while eating. There are several ways you can prepare cactus according to your taste and requirement, but some favorite ways are mentioned here below.
1. Grilled Cactus Pads
Required: 1 pound cactus leaves, olive oil
This can be a interesting meal to cook. All you need is a pound of cactus leaves and olive oil to prepare the grilled cactus pads. Scrub the cactus leaves and remove spines if present. Also cut the spined nodules with a potato peeler and remove all of them. Now, grill the leaves over wood fire or charcoal for 10 to 12 minutes and brush the leaves with oil occasionally on both sides while grilling.
2. Scrambled Eggs Arizona Style
Required: 1 or 2 cactus leaves, 8 eggs, 1/4 pound cheese, Salt and pepper to taste
Another recipe including cactus is scrambled eggs Arizona style. You need to peel off the spiney nodules and scrub the cactus leaves before slicing them into small pieces. Now fry the leaves with butter for about 5 minutes and put it off the heat. Remove eggs from their shells and stir with shredded cheese in a mixing bowl together with cooked cactus leaves. Scramble it and serve warm.