Nowadays people all around the world appears to be interested to the health benefits of food and they are much more aware to the food they eat or consume everyday. People want to start eat well and healthy since there are lots of disease which rise in modern era and they cause high mortality such as cancer, diabetes, heart disease, stroke and etc. Most benefits of food now more focusing on the plant based food since plant is the main source of healthy food since the dawn of humankind. People always try to know the benefits of any plant and try to maximize their potential.
Cactus leaves or known as Nopal leaves are the parts of Cactus plants (Opuntia ficusindica) . They also popular to be called as prickly pears. Cactus plant belong to Cactaceae family. All members of Cactaceae family have leaves, flower, roots and even flowers. There are almost 130 genera and 1500 species of cactus around the world. The plant of Opuntia ficusindica produces sweet fruits and a green bulky leaves. The cactus leaves used as common green vegetable and consumed as salad or juice.
Cactus lives well in dry area since it belong to succulent plant or plant which need not much water to live. The cactus plants absorb the water and store it in their stem. Cactus is mostly grown in America, Mediterranean, Middle east, Australia, Africa, and India. Some literature mentioned that Nopal or cactus is originated from mountains in Mexico. Later this cactus plant especially Opuntia is cultivated in South Africa and they utilized the cactus as ingredients in food and cosmetic industry.
Cactus leaves have been used as traditional medicine and as culinary purposes in several countries around the world since long ago. Modern researchs found that cactus leaves contains many nutrients and active components such as polyphenols and flavonoids that may prevent the development of some disease. The nutrient content of cactus leaves is shown in the table below (Per 100gr serving of cactus leaves)
Benefits of Cactus Leaves
Since cactus leaves contains lots of nutrients, they bring many benefits to human health. Below are the benefits of cactus leaves that you didn’t notice before
1. Stabilizing blood sugar
Cactus leaves have been proven have anti-hyperglycemic effect and it is a good news for people who suffer from diabetes and other metabolic syndrome. Consuming cactus leaves regularly can help the body to control the sugar level within the blood. This benefits of cactus leaves in controlling blood sugar performed by the dietary fiber.
2. Prevent diabetes
If you have family history of diabetes and you worry to build same disease, consuming cactus leaves may be a good choice to prevent it. Since cactus leaves can maintain normal blood sugar level, it significantly can prevent the body from developing diabetes especially type 2 diabetes. Study also found that cactus or nopal leaves is a complete replacement of blood sugar drugs for diabetes patients.
3. Help in weight lose
Cactus leaves contains high amounts of fiber that can help to lose weight. The fiber in nopal or cactus leaves can maintain normal blood sugar levels and promotes satiety, reduce hunger and also control the calories intake to the body. Cactus leaves will surely be a great meal during your diet weeks.
4. Prevent obesity
Obesity has become epidemic and major public health problem nowadays around the world. WHO reported in 1998 that that 90% of diabetes mellitus type 2 and 30-40% of cardiovascular disease which rises the cases are directly caused by obesity. Cactus leaves contains fiber that can maintain normal body weight and antioxidants which can help to protect the body cells from mutation which lead to obesity.
5. Improve digestion
The presence of insoluble dietary fiber in cactus leaves can improve bowel movement and ease the food to pass the digestion tract. High dietary fiber in cactus leaves also promotes peristaltic movement and make the food easier to digest.
6. Relieve stomach upset
Cactus leaves can soothe the stomach and calming the uncomfortable feeling such as vomiting, nausea and etc. Cactus leaves considered as cool vegetable and can help to relieve problem within the digestive tract.
7. Prevent constipation
High fiber in cactus leaves can promotes bowel movement and add bulk to the stool. The cactus leaves also absorb water from the colon and it make the defecation process going easier. If you experience constipation, consuming cactus leaves in your meal can significantly relieve your constipation.
8. Lower cholesterol level
Cactus leaves contains abundant polysaccharide fibers and sterols that can slightly increase good fat or HDL ( High Density Lipoprotein) and reduce the LDL (Low Density Lipoprotein) or known as bad fat level in the blood. By reducing cholesterol inside the body, cactus leaves have helped the body to maintain healthy cardiovascular system.
9. Cleansing the colon
Fiber contents in cactus leaves also can clean the colon from the toxic and other harmful substance which left inside the colon. By cleansing the colon, the fiber in cactus leaves can improve your guts health and it may affected to your body immunity.
10. Protect liver
Cactus leaves are high in antioxidant and flavonoids. They can neutralizes free radicals effect before they enter the liver. The antioxidant content on cactus leaves also can absorbs toxins, and help the liver work to flush away the toxin from the body.
11. Treat inflammation
Cactus leaves are high in atioxidant and they also completed with anti-inflammatory properties. The antioxidant content in cactus leaves will reduce and prevent the body from inflammation that caused by free radicals effects.
12. Reduce joints pain
The anti-inflammatory properties of cactus leaves can work everywhere including in joints. They can reduce pain inside the joints and reduce the symptoms of arthritis.
13. Prevent cancer
Study that conducted by Rodríguez-García et al in 2007 found that cactus leaves rich in calcium and it is effective in preventing colon cancer. The high antioxidant components in cactus leaves also provides protection against most types of cancer.
14. Treat ulcer
Cactus leaves have effect in controls excess gastric acid production in the stomach and they also protects the gastrointestinal mucus membranes from the strong gastric acid. This will be very beneficial for people who suffer from gastric ulcer.
15. Reduce the risk of heart disease
By reducing cholesterol, prevent atherosclerosis and maintaining the cardiovascular function, cactus leaves can reduce the risk of heart disease. Cactus leaves also contains some amounts of minerals that can keep normal heart beat and rhytm.
16. Treat urinary infection
Cactus leaves can be consumed as juice and it can decrease pain from urination which caused by urinary infection inside the dull ache in the urethra and bladder. Consuming cactus leaves regularly will remove the pain on urinary tract after some days.
17. Treat alcoholic symptoms
Several researches have reported that cactus or Opuntia leaves benefits include in treating alcoholic symptoms hangover in humans. The alcohol symptom can be removed by cactus leaves since thet have anti-inflammatory properties and high in antioxidant.
18. Healing wound
Cactus leaves has been used by many cultures around the world since long ago to treat cuts, burns, wounds, and other types of fractures. They believed that cactus leaves can remove pain and promote healing. Nowadays study found that cactus leaves can treat such wounds because thet have anti-inflammatory properties. (Train et al. 1941)
19. Maintain Healthy Vision
cactus leaves contains some amounts of Vitamin A that can help to maintain healthy eyes and improve vision.
20. Prevent Anemia
just like green vegetable, cactus leaves posses some amount of iron to the body that can help to promotes red blood cells production and prevent from anemia
21. Keeping strong bones
Consuming cactus leaves can help to keep the bone mineral density inside the body. Cactus leaves contains calcium which known as mineral that build the bones and maintain its strength.
Traditional medication also used cactus leaves in several cases even they still not proven ones. Those include :
- Sore throat
- Inflammation of the eyes
- Rheumatic disorders
- Chronic skin conditions
Health Risk and Tips to Consume Cactus Leaves
Cactus leaves can be well tolerated by the body, however some few cases reported that they can cause mild diarrhea, nausea, stomach fullness, headache, increased stool volume and frequency, and low colonic obstruction. People with liver or kidney disorder should consult doctor before taking cactus leaves as well as diabetes patient Since they can result in building hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) and other side effects. Cactus leaves also should be avoided by children, pregnant and nursing woman.
- Purchase the cactus leaves with bright green color and firm textures
- Its better to choose the young cactus leaves because it contains more water and have better taste rather than the old one
- Peel the cactus leaves to remove the spines. You can also use a small torch to burn it and then peel the skin
- Wash the cactus leaves under running water after you peeled it
- Cut it into slices then you can boil, stir fry and even grill it with adding some pepper and sald or other coating
- In Mexico, cactus leaves are popular dish and they used to be served boiled with salsa and taco Cactus leaves can be eaten raw fresh with salad, pie, desert, shakes and as topping. They also can be used as ingredients of of jelly and candy.
Cactus leaves maybe not familiar to us as a common dish but you can simply try it to prove the benefits. If you don’t find it at store may be you can grow your own cactus or opuntia and harvest it to get the cactus leaves.