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The healing power of nopal

  1. Many cactus leaves are edible. Nopal is a type of cactus that mainly grows in Mexico. You can eat the leaves of this cactus species. Nopal is on the market in Mexico and in supermarkets in the vegetable department. It is a popular vegetable. It is used, among other things, as a topping for tortillas and quesadillas, together with cheese. Obviously you will need to cut the spines off the cactus leaves before using it.


  1. Naming nopal General information nopal Distribution area Ingredients nopal Nopal as a vegetable levels blood sugar Nopal extract against blood sugar spikes Nopal against fatty liver Nopal against stomach ulcer Nopal against osteoporosis Nopal improves weight Nopal good for the skin

Name nopal

  1. The Latin name we use in science for nopal is Opuntia ficus-indican. Nopal can be purchased in the Netherlands under the name Opuntia. You can come across the name nopal on many a restaurant menu in Mexico. In Mexico you can also see the cactus leaves for sale under the plural form'nopales 'and the diminutive form'nopalitos'. The cactus can grow very large, so it is important to prune and eat it regularly. It cannot grow outside, or at most in the two summer months we have in the Netherlands. This cactus grows well on the windowsill indoors.

General information nopal

  1. Nopal is the national symbol of Mexico. It even appears in the coat of arms of Mexico where an eagle can be seen attacking a snake in a nopal cactus. Nopal is a wild vegetable; it grows here and there in Mexico and parts of South America. This cactus doesn't just grow in the desert. Many people have the nopal cactus around their home and can harvest some leaves from it a few times a week to use in a meal. There are also large plantations with nopal.


  1. In Mexico this vegetable is the most popular. Its distribution area is much larger than Mexico alone. It grows from the south of the USA as far as Patagonia in the south of South America. The fruit of the nopal is also very tasty. This fruit is mainly eaten in Mexico, Chile, Argentina, Peru and Uruguay. This cactus is cultivated in Italy and Spain.

Ingredients nopal

  1. Nopal contains many vitamins, polyphenols, polyunsaturated fatty acids, dietary fiber, phytonutrients and important amino acids. The most abundant flavonoids in nopal are isorhamnetin glycosides. These compounds together have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, according to a 2014 French-Moroccan study. Furthermore, these scientists report that nopal has antibacterial properties, blood sugar-regulating capabilities and nervous system protective effects.

Nopal as a vegetable levels blood sugar

  1. In November 2014, a study was published in the scientific journal Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and dietetics into the use of nopal in diabetes or diabetes mellitus. The researchers start by saying that the nopal cactus is a popular folk medicine for diabetes mellitus, but that there is insufficient scientific evidence that it actually helps people with diabetes. The study conducted among both healthy individuals and diabetics found that nopal levels blood sugar. This means that there are no blood sugar spikes when one consumes nopal. In other words, there is scientific evidence that nopal regulates blood sugar, and therefore this wild Mexican vegetable provides healing power for people with diabetes mellitus.

Nopal extract against blood sugar peaks

  1. However, scientists have been aware of the medicinal properties of nopal in diabetes for some time. For this reason, it has been investigated whether a dried extract can help with diabetes. There is already a 1989 study on this. The results of this study were that it did not help, although the blood sugar peaks became less great after the addition of dextrose when this addition was accompanied by the cactus extract. This research also proves that nopal has a blood sugar leveling effect.

Nopal against fatty liver

  1. Nopal weakens fatty liver, Mexican researchers concluded in 2012. Rats were fed too much sugar, causing them to develop fatty liver and obesity. The fatty liver disease was reduced by the administration of nopal. The oxidative stress in the liver decreased. Fatty liver disease is usually associated with insulin resistance and obesity.

Nopal against gastric ulcer

  1. On the Italian island of Sicily, nopal is a popular medicine for stomach ulcers. An Italian study from 2001 shows that nopal has a protective effect on the stomach. The researchers suggest that the mucilages in nopal could be the cause of the protective effect.

Nopal against osteoporosis

  1. The mineral density in the bones is improved by ingesting a dried nopal extract, Mexican scientists report in 2013. Of course, a fresh nopal has the same effect. The researchers use a dried nopal extract because it can be easily standardized so that it can also be investigated by other scientists. The mineral density in the bones, especially around the hips, was measured. Nopal contains many minerals that strengthen the bones. More and more scientists are discovering that minerals from vegetables are much better for the bones than milk, which can even lead to porous bones and osteoporosis.

Nopal improves weight

  1. Mexican research from 1998 shows nopal improves the digestion of sugars. This is related to the aforementioned fact that nopal prevents fatty liver disease. The 1998 study thus shows that eating nopal makes people who eat sugar less likely to gain weight.

Nopal good for the skin

  1. Besides internal, nopal also has external applications. In traditional Mexican folk medicine, nopal has been used since time immemorial against all kinds of skin problems. Especially the isorhamnetin glycosides but also kaemferol appear to have a medicinal effect, Mexican researchers found. They published their research in 2015.

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