Nopales are one of very low calorie vegetables. 100 g of fresh leaves carry just 16 calories. Nonetheless, its modified leaves (paddles) have many vital phytochemicals, fiber, anti-oxidants, vitamins, and minerals that can immensely benefit health.
The succulent paddles are rich sources of dietary fiber, especially non-carbohydrate polysaccharides, such aspectin, mucilage and hemicellulose. Together, these substances help bring reduction in body weight, LDL-cholesterol, and blood sugar levels. This rich fiber and mucilaginous content in cactus pads aid in smooth passage of digested food particles through the gut and help relieve constipation problems.
In addition, the juice extracted from the noples has been suggested to have immune-booster, and anti-inflammatory properties.
Cactus pads feature moderate amounts of vitamin A with 100 g fresh pads carrying about 457 IU of vitamin A, and 250 µg of ß-carotene. ß-carotene converted into vitamin-A inside the body. Studies found that vitamin A and flavonoid compounds in vegetables help protect from skin, lung and oral cavity cancers.
Further, nopal pads contain small levels of B-complex group of vitamins such as thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, vitamin B-6 (pyridoxine), and pantothenic acid. These vitamins are essential for optimum cellular enzymatic and metabolic functions inside the human body.
Fresh pads contain average levels of vitamin-C. 100 g provides 9.3 mg or 15% of this vitamin. Vitamin C is a water-soluble, natural anti-oxidant, which helps the body protect from scurvy and offer resistance against infectious agents (boost immunity), and help scavenge harmful, pro-inflammatory free radicals from the body.
They contain small amounts of minerals, especially calcium, potassium, magnesium and iron.
The nopal cactus is a staple food that has existed in the native Meso-American diet for more than 12,000 years, and it offers a nutritious supplement to many traditional Mexican dishes. Although there are over 200 edible varieties of the nopal cactus, the broad-leafed vegetable pads of the Opuntia ficus-indica species are most utilized in Mexican cuisine. Nopal cactus pads can be served raw, stir-fried, dried, or pickled and are commonly prepared as side dishes, salads, taco fillings, or omelets. Slimy, citrusy, and slightly sweet, nopal is a unique vegetable that can be an acquired taste.
Farmers can grow nopal in harsh arid climates and at high-altitudes (Photo Credit: Stock.xchng)
In addition, nopal has been extensively studied for its potential health benefits. According to studies conducted by University of California, Los Angeles, nopal is effective in reducing LDL cholesterol—the “bad” cholesterol—and regulating blood sugar for diabetic patients. In addition, 15 percent of nopal’s weight is fiber, making it a great food to manage gastrointestinal tract movement.
Often referred to as “prickly pears” in the United States, nopal pads are being cultivated in Mexico and border-states such as California and Arizona for commercial export. Farmers, chefs, medical researchers, and consumers are recognizing the benefits of nopal and demand has tremendously increased in recent years. The cactus industry in Mexico alone is worth $150 million and employs 10,000 workers. Read more about the health benefits of nopal cactus.
When 85 g of nopal was added to typical Mexican breakfasts, it reduced glucose levels for several hours and favorably altered the glycemic index of 3 different test breakfasts among 36 patients with type 2 diabetes.
Cactus leaf, known also as nopal, prickly pear cactus or its scientific name, Opuntia, has been a food staple in Latin America for centuries. It is a common vegetable served in eggs, salads, chili and stir-fry dishes. Although the thought of eating cactus leaf may make you shiver, you may reconsider once you look at all of its health benefits.
Wanna try Cactus Soup? My first reaction was, "Yucks!" Somehow, the staff at Kin Yan Agrotech managed to convince me to pour the mini cup-size soup into my mouth. The next thing I knew, I was totally intoxicated by the delicious soup!
Ingredients: Stew meat... beef or pork or local favorite 1/2 to one pound of nopales cactus prepared and diced sliced carrots a can of sweet corn (or fresh if available) two, three or four pickled or fresh jalapeno peppers (or to taste) three cloves or more (to taste) of garlic one to four medium onions one half bunch of cilantro (or more is better) a tender squash or three quarter cup of olive oil couple dashes of salt and some ground black pepper will add flavor
Cooked and hot Rice or barley to serve the nopales over
Brown the meat in olive or vegetable oil, you can add bacon strips if you like more fat... Add some water and let the meat simmer covered for an hour, then add one diced onion, and the sliced carrots and let simmer for another hour Add in the corn, peppers, cilantro and other spices.... and simmer for half an hour.... add in the edible cactus and squash and let it simmer for thirty minutes, then remove from the heat and serve hot over hot rice or barley.