Prickly Pear Health Benefits

Prickly Pear Cactus with Red Fruit
Close-up of prickly pears on a cactus. (Image: Olgaorly/iStock/Getty Images)

Prickly pears are the fruit of the prickly pear cactus. These tasty, oval fruits sprout from the tops of prickly cactus leaves and range in color from yellow-green to deep red or purple. Prickly pears are not only a diet staple but also a medicinal treatment for swelling and rheumatism among many indigenous peoples of the southwestern United States and Mexico. Whether eaten raw or dried, these prickly little fruits provide your body with several health benefits.

Dietary Fiber

Dietary fiber is a form of carbohydrate found in plants, such as fruits, vegetables and grains, that humans cannot digest. Fiber contributes to digestive system health and helps prevent constipation. Dietary fiber is also linked to lower cholesterol levels, decreased risk of heart disease and stroke, and improved glucose tolerance. Prickly pears are packed with fiber. A 1-cup serving contains 5.4 grams of fiber, which is 22 percent of the daily value set by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Supports Body Functions

Prickly pears are a rich source of the minerals magnesium and potassium. Both these minerals play important roles in activating enzymes that regulate your body's functions. They contribute to the metabolism of carbohydrate, fat and protein to produce energy. They aid in the regulation of your heartbeat and help ensure proper nerve and muscle function. They also contribute to the development of your body's DNA and RNA. A 1-cup serving of fresh prickly pear contains 127 milligrams of magnesium, which is approximately 32 percent of the DV, and 328 milligrams of potassium, which is just shy of 10 percent of the DV.

Strengthen Bones and Teeth

Calcium is crucial not only for the development but also the ongoing maintenance of bones and teeth. This mineral helps prevent osteoporosis, too. About 99 percent of your body's calcium is found in your bones and teeth. Eating a 1-cup serving of fresh prickly pear provides your body with 83 milligrams of calcium, or approximately 8 percent of the DV set by the FDA.

Weight Management

Limiting calories and saturated fats is an important part of any weight-loss or weight-management plan. A 1-cup serving of fresh prickly pear contains only 61 calories and 0.76 gram of total fat, including 0.1 gram of saturated fat. It also provides 1.09 grams of protein and 14.26 carbohydrate grams. Diet-friendly prickly pears are a good choice for people who are monitoring their weight.

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