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Health Benefits of the Nopal Cactus

by Nicole Nutter

Prickly pear cactus doesn't sound like something you'd want to chew on, but due to its legendary qualities it has been consumed for over 12,000 years. Luckily in the last 20 years it has become available as a supplement. Found growing in the high volcanic mountains of Mexico, ancient Mexican cultures thought of it almost as a delicacy. This desert plant can survive through drought and scorching heat because it has the ability to absorb and then retain moisture in its flat spiny leaves. Also known as the Nopal Cactus, broiled stems, leaves, flowers, fruit, extracts, and natural supplements of this plant offer many interesting health benefits.

When used as a dietary supplement, the Nopal Cactus could be a source to obtain additional fiber and calcium. Did you know that experts suggest that the daily intake of fiber is about 38 grams for men, and about 25 grams for women? That's a lot of fiber. Some of the best sources of fiber are whole grains, fruits, and vegetables.

nopal cactus in healthy recipeIn its natural state, the fiber in each leaf of the Nopal Cactus acts as a sponge, so all the water, vitamins, minerals, and essential amino acids are stored there in a gelatinous mass. When ingested, it does the same thing in your stomach. When it comes in contact with water and sugars in the stomach, like a sponge, it absorbs them and expands. This will generally make you feel fuller for a longer period of time. After you eat or drink something very sugary, your blood glucose level can spike very high, but Nopal Cactus lowers this immediately by slowing and decreasing the body's absorption of sugar. It also is an excellent colon cleanser because the fiber absorbs waste in the intestines and bowels, helping to eliminate what your body doesn't need.

Calcium is an important part of a healthy and balanced diet as well as an essential mineral. Though it is crucial for bone and teeth health and in helping stop osteoporosis, it contributes to other parts of your body as well. Usually found in dairy products and green vegetables, calcium is necessary for coagulation and the normal functioning of nerves and muscles. Calcium also plays a major role in cardiac health. With a Nopal Cactus supplement, you could obtain up to 15 percent of your daily needed calcium value.

Nutritionally, it provides support for pancreatic, insulin, and blood sugar functions, enhanced bowel function, a healthy immune system and contributes to healthy cholesterol. For many of these reasons, type 2 diabetics may benefit from use of the Nopal Cactus, but are strongly cautioned to closely monitor blood sugar levels, especially if you are already taking medications to lower blood sugar. In addition to diabetes, Nopal Cactus may provide symptomatic relief to people with high cholesterol, colitis, diarrhea, or benign prostatic hypertrophy (BPH). Some researchers also believe that this plant can be used to fight and kill viral infections in the body.

Thirsty? Dried Nopal Powder or the contents of an open capsule can be mixed into very sweet drinks, like soda or smoothies, to counter the immediate high-sugar release according to the product information of Seagate's Nopal Cactus supplement. If you don't drink sugary drinks, the Nopal prickly pear can additionally help to reduce some symptoms of an alcohol hangover. When taken prior to drinking alcohol, it can significantly reduce nausea and dry mouth. Make sure to use sparingly, as the powder is naturally bitter in taste, and if too much is mixed in may affect the taste of the beverage. As always, whatever you're drinking, please drink responsibly.

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