Prickly Pear: Nutrients, Health Benefits and Side Effects

About Prickly Pear:

Prickly pear is a sweet and delicious edible cactus fruit that grows on the top of the leaves of Nopales cacti.(1) It grows on the spiny edge of this cacti and its color ranges from yellow and light green to orange, pink, and red.

The flesh of Prickly pear fruit is juicy and has a sweet taste similar to watermelon. The juice of Prickly pear fruit is used in cocktails and is also mixed in jams. Also, the flowers of prickly pear are known to be edible.

Prickly pear is a common fruit in Mexico and American Southwest and also in Italy and other parts of the Mediterranean.(2) It is easily available in marketplaces and grocery stores in these areas.

Prickly pear has many beneficial compounds and nutrients and is therefore used in Mexico as medicine to treat ulcers, liver conditions, and other issues.(2,3)

Nutrient in Prickly Pear

Depending on the variety the nutrient value of prickly pear may vary. It is generally considered to be a good source of fiber and also many vitamins and minerals.

A cup of prickly pear contains 61 calories, 1 gram protein, 1 gram fat, 14 grams carbohydrates, 5 grams fiber, 30% of the daily value of magnesium, 23% of the daily value of vitamin C, 7% of the daily value of potassium, and 6% of the daily value of calcium.(4)

Prickly pear contains soluble and insoluble fiber both of which play an important role in digestion.(5)

4 Health Benefits of Prickly Pear

Due to the antioxidant and fiber in prickly pear, it is known for numerous health benefits that include:

Weight Loss

The fiber present in prickly pear binds with the dietary fat and helps in excretion and reducing energy absorption.(6)

A study was done on 20 healthy adults who were given 2 tablets containing 500 mg of dietary fiber, 3 times per day after meals. It was found that there was more fecal fat absorption compared with the placebo.(7) It was concluded that cactus fiber caused weight loss due to dietary fat absorption, as they did not measure the weight of the people.

Improves Skin and Hair Health

Prickly pear also helps in getting glowing skin and shiny hair. It is added to shampoo and skincare products.

It contains betalain and vitamin C, compounds that have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects. These antioxidants protect the hair and skin from oxidative stress that is related to aging, inflammation, sun exposure, and other cause.

Its seeds and peel contain polyunsaturated fatty acids that play a role in improving skin and hair health.(8,9)

A test-tube study done on rats found prickly pear to have antimicrobial effects against skin infection and wound healing.(10)

Whether eating or applying the prickly pear would be beneficial in a similar way, cannot be commented on and neither is its skin and hair benefits fully understood.

Diabetes

Prickly pear is also found to be beneficial in blood sugar management and related complications.

Pectin, a soluble fiber present in prickly pear has sugar lowering properties and also beneficial effects on blood fat levels. Studies showed prickly pear to be effective in decreasing fasting blood sugar level and post-meal insulin level in healthy adults as well as those with diabetes.(11)

Prickly pear is also known to be effective in reducing total and LDL cholesterol levels in those with diabetes and other metabolic conditions as well as in healthy adults.(12)

Improves Liver Health

The antioxidant compounds present in prickly pear can help overcome oxidative stress that can damage the liver.

A study was done on obese rats and it was found that eating prickly pear played a role in preventing nonalcoholic fatty liver disease.(13)

In another study, prickly pear consumption was found to prevent liver injury and oxidative stress caused by chronic alcohol consumption by enhancing the antioxidant status.(14)

Side Effects of Prickly Pear

Eating excessive prickly pear may lead to diarrhea, indigestion, bloating and nausea.

Prickly pear seeds are also linked with bowel obstruction when consumed in excess. It may lead to the formation of non-digestible obstruction causing fecal impaction.(15)

There is not much research on prickly pear. If pregnant or breastfeeding consult your doctor before consuming it.

There are prickles present on the exterior of prickly pear, which need to be removed so that they do not get lodged in your skin or get ingested.

Prickly pear is high in antioxidants and can be a healthful addition to a balanced diet. It may help control inflammation, cholesterol, and decrease blood sugar. They can have positive effects if used alongside the standard treatment.

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