I've seen prickly pear cactus promoted as a superfood. What's behind the hype?

Answers from Katherine Zeratsky, R.D., L.D.

Prickly pear cactus, also called nopales, is promoted for treating diabetes, high cholesterol, obesity and hangovers. It is also touted for its antiviral and anti-inflammatory properties.

Some preliminary evidence shows that prickly pear cactus can decrease blood sugar levels in people with type 2 diabetes. Research also suggests that prickly pear cactus extract may lessen the unpleasant effects of a hangover. However, more research is needed to confirm these benefits.

It's too early to call prickly pear cactus a superfood, but it can be part of a healthy diet. Indeed, prickly pear cactus is popular in many areas of the world, particularly Latin America, because it is high in fiber, antioxidants and carotenoids.

The edible parts of prickly pear cactus are the leaves, flowers, stems and fruit. Prickly pear cactus is eaten whole (boiled or grilled). It is also made into juice and jams.

If you'd like to try prickly pear cactus, consider easing into it. Prickly pear cactus can cause side effects, including mild diarrhea, nausea, increased stool volume, increased stool frequency and abdominal fullness, for some people.

Dec. 15, 2012 See more Expert Answers