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

Answer From Katherine Zeratsky, R.D., L.D.

Prickly pear cactus — or also known as nopal, opuntia and other names — is promoted for treating diabetes, high cholesterol, obesity and hangovers. It's 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. Some research also suggests that prickly pear cactus extract may lessen the unpleasant effects of a hangover, possibly due to its anti-inflammatory effects.

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

The edible parts 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. Side effects for some people include mild diarrhea, nausea, increased stool volume, increased stool frequency and abdominal fullness.

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Dec. 15, 2020 See more Expert Answers