The number of plants and crops that exist around the planet is incredible, countless types that possess, within their wonderful leaves and greenish appearance, great nutritional contributions and necessary chemical properties.
In this article, the properties and benefits of a fairly relevant plant in the world, the nopal, will be studied.
What is the nopal?
With the scientific name Opuntia spp or Opuntia ficus-indica , it is a cetacean-type plant, of the genus Opuntia that grows in arid areas and is found in a great diversity of species throughout many continents, which makes it a plant of increased demand and production, especially in the Mexico region.
Demand for what? The answer is simple, it has several nutritional properties, such as a high content of dietary fiber, it has great control over diabetes, and it acts as an antioxidant or an anti-inflammatory . It should be noted that they have other names such as tuna.
Note: According to an extensive study by the FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization) it mentions that “Cacti are becoming of increasing interest around the world, in particular the nopal or prickly pear (Opuntia ficus-indica) due to its unique characteristics, which provide it with resilience to limiting conditions . (1)
This cetacean is miraculous due to its numerous properties , some of which have been mentioned before, but let’s go deeper into this topic, since it is interesting. We present the main properties of nopal:
It mainly has vitamins C and E. Together they share similar traits such as being antioxidants, beyond that, these vitamins encourage the body to further healing, strengthening cartilage, tendons or blood vessels, especially vitamin E that participates in the formation of red blood cells.
Note: It is necessary to know that “A property of Opuntia spp., is the antioxidant capacity due to the presence of phytochemicals such as: carotenoids, flavonoids and other phenolic compounds, vitamin C and E, or some enzymes.” (two)
Aside from vitamins, nopal also contains a key variety of minerals. Especially the potassium and calcium that are very necessary for the body and relevant in the strengthening of bones and tissues, as well as the functioning of cells and organs in a fluid or concrete way. It should be noted that the nopal is also rich in the mineral zinc.
To highlight: Thanks to a study it is known that “Among the minerals that nopal contains, the main ones are calcium and potassium as well as magnesium, silica, sodium and small amounts of iron, aluminum, and magnesium among some others” . (3)
This cetacean is highly rich in fiber, a highly required component in the body to prevent constipation.
The reason is simple, it helps the proper functioning of the intestine , so the lack of this component can be serious, leading to chronic gastrointestinal diseases. But this component can help prevent diseases of this nature or others such as colon cancer.
What are the benefits of nopal?
Having explained the properties, it is time to start with those benefits that this rather special cactus provides us with. These are the main benefits for the body:
1. Reduces blood sugar and cholesterol levels
Not only does it reduce them, but it controls their levels properly to what the body must be used to and willing to do, this is achieved thanks mainly to fiber intake.
This helps control cholesterol or blood sugar level . Why is it important? To prevent the appearance of diseases such as diabetes, the increase in bad cholesterol, artery diseases or heart problems.
2. Reduces the risk of cardiovascular diseases
Continuing with the previous approach, the nopal or rather, its components prevent cardiovascular diseases, what types of diseases? You will ask yourself.
There are various disorders related to the heart, the most famous and feared is the unexpected myocardial infarction, but there are others that are closely related, such as heart failure or arteriosclerosis.
3. Combat gastrointestinal discomfort
The consumption of nopal helps with the reduction of bad cholesterol and the proper functioning of the intestine, preventing gastrointestinal discomfort. These pathologies can be gastritis, which occurs when most of the mucosa in the stomach is inflamed, or by contact with bacteria and colitis.
Note: One way to recognize these discomforts is permissive vomiting, prolonged stomach and belly pain.
4. Slows down aging
Premature or accelerated aging is due to a bad diet or inappropriate habits . But this is solved by eating foods rich in vitamins, the nopal being one of them.
To highlight: It is known that vitamins A, E and C are capable of slowing down aging to a great extent, not only the aging of the skin but also the functioning of organs such as the brain (preventing Alzheimer’s).
5. Reduces the risk of osteoporosis
This disease degenerates bone tissue and causes incredible fragility in the bones . Osteoporosis can be alleviated with adequate treatment and good eating habits , among them is the vast consumption of minerals, such as potassium, calcium and zinc, closely related to strengthening bones and tissue in general, which are also found within of the properties of the nopal.
6. Promotes healthy skin, hair and nails
This is achieved through the intake of minerals and vitamins in the body , since they are closely related.
Through the consumption of nopal, hair can be silkier, stronger and shinier with the help of proteins, also nail growth is favored by zinc, accelerating its development just like hair.
Note: On the other hand, nopal has the benefit of keeping human skin hydrated and healthy, thanks to the iron that is also present.
7. Relieves joint and muscle pain
Due to its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory actions, nopal can relieve joint pain caused by arthritis or bursitis.
As well as relieve muscle pain caused by infections , inflamed or red areas and also reduce the extent of these pains in muscle tissue, organs and bones.
8. Promotes weight loss
Weight loss is favored by chlorophyll , a green pigment present in this cetacean and very healthy for the human body.
To highlight: In short, chlorophyll is responsible for eliminating fats that are saturating the body, as well as promoting the growth of larger red blood cells or eliminating toxic fat levels in the blood.
9. Helps prevent cancer
Chlorophyll or the green pigment of the cactus helps prevent different types of cancer.
We mentioned colon cancer (related to gastrointestinal function), but it also works as a treatment for it, because it kills cancer cells and prevents metastasis, where cancer cells form tumors in the tissues as they spread.
How to consume the nopal?
The nopal is one of the few fruits of cetaceans or cactus species that can be consumed without side or adverse effects. These are the proper ways to consume it:
1. Nopal juice
The consumption of this type is very healthy and contains in liquid all the benefits or chemical properties for the body.
- prickly pear cactus
- Lemon juice
- sweetener to taste
- Cut the stalks or stems of the nopal and place them in a blender.
- Add the sliced pineapple, the chopped or chopped parsley, water and ice.
- When you turn on the mixer, slowly add the lemon juice so that it mixes.
- Later you serve in a glass and sweeten to your personal taste.
2. Nopal salad
It is more elaborate, but it is a very tasty and rich dish . In addition to being nutritious and healthy, it is popular in Mexico and other nearby regions, calling them “nopales”.
- cooked nopal
- Cheese (of your choice)
- Olive oil
- Salt and pepper to taste
- You need to have prepared the nopales or nopalitos (cooked or fresh), cut and in your desired amount, as well as cut the onion, tomato, avocado and cilantro.
- In a bowl you are incorporating the fresh and washed ingredients. You mix them until they come together completely
- Then we put a tablespoon of olive oil, salt and pepper to personal taste (Parmesan or Pecorino cheese if you also like) and mix again.
- Finally, leave it in the fridge to cool a little more and you can serve it in all its splendor.
- The Opuntia spp. o Nopales is a cactus plant that grows in arid areas and is widely distributed, especially in Mexico.
- This plant has a high content of vitamins, minerals and fiber.
- Prevents gastrointestinal and cardiovascular diseases, strengthening the tissue and the body in general.
- The nopal favors the growth of nails, hair and hydration of the skin.
- It can be consumed in juices, salads or any other type of preparation.
University Professional in the area of Human Resources, Postgraduate in Occupational Health and Hygiene of the Work Environment, 14 years of experience in the area of health. Interested in topics of Psychology, Occupational Health, and General Medicine.