Not only is cactus edible, but this prickly plant is also a great source of nutrients and hydration. Because of their desert climate, it’s essential that cacti are good at storing water. That means they’re also good at hydrating us. And because they’re high in fiber, full of antioxidants, and packed with carotenoids, cactus can promote our oral and overall health too!
The prickly pear cactus is becoming more popular as a superfood but has been a staple in Mexican and Latin American diets for centuries. The leaves, flowers, stems and fruit of a cactus are edible. The prickly pear cactus can be boiled or grilled and goes by many names including “nopal,” “nopalitos,” or “opuntia.” Whatever name you choose to call it, learn how to prepare it properly so you can take advantage of all the nutrients it provides.
Prickly Pear Cactus and Your Oral Health
Snacking on cactus can have anti-inflammatory effects throughout the body. Some claim this helps with fatigue and even a hangover. Additionally, it can support our oral health.
Half of adults age 30 and older suffer from some form of gum disease or gingivitis. One of the main symptoms of gum disease is inflammation in your gums. If left untreated, gum disease can develop into a much more serious issue called periodontal disease, which may lead to tooth loss. The good news is that with proper nutrition and dental care, gum disease is reversible!
If you have swollen, tender or receding gums, try introducing prickly pear cactus into your diet. The anti-inflammatory properties of cactus may help reduce the inflammation and infection in your gums. You may also want to reevaluate your dental care routine. Flossing once a day and brushing in the morning and before bedtime is your first line of defense in improving your gum health.
Recent research shows that inflammation in the body could be the key that links our overall health to our oral health. By consuming foods with anti-inflammatory properties, such as prickly pear, we’re helping to keep gum disease at bay and reduce inflammation elsewhere in the body.
Other Benefits of Eating Prickly Pear Cactus
The benefits of eating prickly pear cactus are still being discovered; however, there are a few things we do know:
- Cactus has been proven to lower blood sugar and can be an aid for individuals with diabetes.
- Studies have shown that eating cactus can reduce bad cholesterol and increase good cholesterol.
- Recent findings suggest that prickly pear cactus may reduce symptoms of an enlarged prostate.
- Some people swear by prickly pear’s ability to reduce the symptoms of a hangover, including nausea and dry mouth.
If you begin including prickly pear cactus in your diet, be sure to start slow. Some side effects of eating cactus may include mild diarrhea and increased stool volume.
Find recipes that include prickly pear as an ingredient. It can add a sweet, melon-like flavor that makes a great addition to many classic dishes!
Arizona’s Best Places to Eat and Drink Prickly Pear
August is prickly pear harvest season in Arizona and it’s a great time to seek out some of your favorite prickly pear drinks and dishes. Here are some of the best places to chow down on prickly pear in Arizona:
- Asi Es La Via – Located off the 51 and Indian School in Phoenix, Asi Es La Vida is an upscale Mexican restaurant that offers a Queso Fundido packed with nopales.
- Black Cow Café – This sandwich and dessert shop in Sedona dishes out prickly pear flavored ice cream. You can even try it as a sundae!
- Diego Pops – This hip Mexican joint in Scottsdale is known for their flavorful prickly pear margaritas. Stop by for happy hour 7 days a week!
- Gertrude’s – Fittingly located inside the Desert Botanical Garden, Gertrude’s serves up seasonal flavors from local Arizona growers, including a sweet prickly pear jam.
- Los Reyes de La Torta – This Mexico City-style restaurant in Tempe serves up a dish called Nopales con Asada (chuck roll beef with grilled cactus).
Whether you indulge in prickly pear while dining out or begin to include it as an ingredient in your own cooking, the nutrition it provides can support your oral and overall health.
If you want more low sugar summer treats that you can make at home, check out this Low-Sugar Non-Alcoholic Summertime Sangria.