Prickly pears, sometimes called cactus fruits, have a pleasantly sweet taste with a hint of tartness. The fruit, which can range in color from pale green to vibrant red, is commonly consumed in Mexico and also grows in the United States. Prickly pear makes a welcome addition to healthful drinks, and its rich vitamin, mineral and fiber content means it adds nutritional value to your diet.
Macronutrients and Fiber
Prickly pears offer nutritional value thanks to their macronutrient content. Each 1-cup serving of prickly pear -- approximately one and a half fruits -- contains 10 grams of total carbohydrate, including 5.4 grams of fiber. It also contains 1 gram of protein and less than a gram of fat. Its carbohydrate content serves as a source of fuel for your cells and tissues, supports brain function and promotes intestinal health. The fiber in prickly pair plays an important role in disease prevention, including the prevention of obesity, cardiovascular disease and some types of cancer. The fiber in a serving of prickly pear makes up 14 percent of the suggested daily intake for men and 21 percent for women, set by the Institute of Medicine. The small amounts of protein and fat in the fruit aid in tissue maintenance and vitamin absorption, respectively.
Each serving of prickly pear provides small amounts of B-complex vitamins, a family of nutrients that help activate enzymes needed to derive energy from food. Prickly pear also provides a considerable amount of vitamin C. Each serving contains 21 milligrams, or approximately one-quarter of the vitamin C intake recommendations for men and slightly less than one-third for women, according to the Institute of Medicine. Vitamin C provides tissue strength by boosting your body's collagen levels, and it also helps your body absorb and use iron.
Prickly pear boasts an impressive mineral content. It provides a considerable amount of copper -- 13 percent of your daily intake recommendation, based on guidelines from the Institute of Medicine. A serving of prickly pear also contains 40 percent of the daily magnesium intake for women and 30 percent for men. Magnesium plays a key role in activating enzymes -- proteins that perform chemical reactions -- that your cells need to function, while copper supports your immune system and aids in red blood cell growth. Prickly pear also provides small amounts of potassium and calcium, as well as phosphorus.
How to Eat It
The prickly pear lives up to its name, and even fruits that don't appear to have spikes can cause discomfort. Use gloves to protect your hands when handling the fruit. Eat the peeled fruit on its own as a light snack, or blend it with cucumber, iced green tea and fresh mint for a refreshing and nutritious beverage. Alternatively, blend fresh and frozen chunks of prickly pear for an icy, slushy drink in warm weather.
- Palomar Community College: Edible Stems & Fruits of the Cactaceae
- USDA National Nutrient Database: Prickly Pears, Raw
- McKinley Health Center: Macronutrients: the Importance of Carbohydrate, Protein, and Fat
- Colorado State University Extension: Water-Soluble Vitamins: B-Complex and Vitamin C
- University of Maryland Medical Center: Copper
- University of Maryland Medical Center: Magnesium