Also known as the prickly pear cactus, nopal cactus is a type of fruit common in North American deserts and throughout Mexico. Nopal can be eaten fresh, canned or dried, and its light, slightly sour flavor lends the fruit well to sweet and savory preparations. Nopal cactus is also sometimes made into jams or jellies, and many grocery stores have them available for purchase. They can also be bought in Latin American grocery stores, where they are widely available canned, fresh or dried.
Basic Nutriton Profile
A 1-cup serving of nopal cactus has 61 calories per serving, a little over 1 gram of protein, less than 1 gram of total fat and over 14 grams of carbohydrate. It also has 5.4 grams of dietary fiber. As a low-fat, high-fiber food, nopal cactus is a healthy food choice, despite its sugar content. The recommended dietary allowance for carbohydrates is between 130 and 210 grams per day for adults. This means a single serving of nopal has 6.7 percent to 11 percent of the total RDA for carbohydrates.
High in Vitamin C
With 20.9 milligrams of vitamin C per 1-cup serving, chopped nopal cactus is rich in this essential vitamin. The recommended dietary intake of vitamin C is between 75 and 120 milligrams per day, so a single serving of nopal cactus provides 28 percent to 17 percent of the daily RDI. Vitamin C helps produce collagen, a protein that keeps your skin, tendons, ligaments, cartilage and blood vessels healthy. It is also important for healing wounds and keeping bones strong and healthy.
Rich in Natural Antioxidants
Partly because of its vitamin C content, nopal cactus is also known for its antioxidant properties. Nopal cactus is rich in flavonoids, too, containing eight different ones in total. A 2004 study in the "American Journal of Clinical Nutrition" found that nopal cactus significantly reduced the damage produced by lipids. It also helped improve overall antioxidant status in healthy adults, making them better at withstanding oxidative stress.
According to the University of Texas, nopal has traditionally been used for its anti-inflammatory properties, including to help treat symptoms of rheumatism. A study published in 1998 in the "Archives of Pharmacal Research" found that extracts from the prickly pear cactus were useful in reducing the amount of inflammation in the stomach. As this was an animal study, however, further research to determine its efficacy on humans is needed.
- USDA National Nutrient Database: Prickly Pears, Raw
- University of Texas El Paso: Prickly Pear Cactus
- University of Maryland Medical Center: Vitamin C (Ascorbic Acid)
- American Journal of Clinical Nutrition: Supplementation With Cactus Pear (Opuntia Ficus-Indica) Fruit Decreases Oxidative Stress in Healthy Humans -- A Comparative Study With Vitamin C
- Archives of Pharmacal Research: Studies on the Pharmacological Action of Cactus -- Identification of Its Anti-Inflammatory Effect
- Institute of Medicine: Dietary Reference Intakes -- Macronutrients