In fact, native Americans often used prickly pears as a hangover cure, and it has been used to reduce headaches associated with too much alcohol for hundreds (if not thousands) of years.
Although all cacti are technically native to the Americas, prickly pears and its fruit have spread across the world to Egypt, Morocco, various parts of Europe, the Middle East, and Greece. The prickly pears are used for food, as well as alternative medicine treatments, as it has a wealth of nutrients and potential health benefits. Let’s take a closer look at the unique health components found inside amazing fruits.
Apart from the unusual name, appearance, and origins of this fruit, it also has a very unique composition of nutrients, including high levels of vitamin C, B-family vitamins, magnesium, potassium, calcium, copper, and dietary fiber. In terms of phytonutrient compounds, prickly pears have high levels of flavonoids, polyphenols, and betalains, all of which have a positive impact on human health.
- Immune System Booster: A single serving of prickly pears contains more than 1/3 of your entire daily requirement of vitamin C. Also known as ascorbic acid, vitamin C plays a major role in the immune system, stimulating the production of white blood cells and acting as an antioxidant throughout the body. Furthermore, vitamin C is an important component of various enzymatic and metabolic processes, including the creation of bone and muscle tissue.
- Builds Strong Bones and Teeth: Calcium is an integral part of the human diet, and prickly pears contain a significant level of calcium in every serving. Calcium is a very important element in the creation of bone tissue in the body; in fact, 99% of the calcium in your body is found in your bones and teeth. By ensuring you have enough calcium in your system, you can prevent various dental issues, as well as age-related bone disorders like osteoporosis.
- Digestive Health: Prickly pears have a significant level of dietary fiber, like most fruits and vegetables, so these spiny fruits can help you regulate your digestive process. Fiber bulks up stool to help food pass through the digestive tract easier, thereby eliminating constipation, bloating, and more serious gastrointestinal issues, such as colon cancer or gastric ulcers.
- Heart Health: There are a number of components of prickly pears that make it very good for heart health. First of all, the levels of fiber in the fruit can help to lower the levels of “bad” cholesterol in the body, while the significant levels of potassium can help to lower blood pressure, by relaxing the blood vessels and reducing the stress on the cardiovascular system. Finally, the betalains found in prickly pear, have been directly connected to strengthening the endothelial walls of blood vessels, thereby reducing the chances of weakening or damage to the system. Reducing cholesterol, lowering blood pressure, and strengthening blood vessels can prevent atherosclerosis, coronary heart disease, and strokes.
- Cancer Prevention: Everyone is looking for the solution or cure for cancer, but unfortunately, our best bet is still to eat as many antioxidants as we can to combat the effects of free radicals. Prickly pears have high levels of flavonoids, polyphenols, and betalains, all of which act as antioxidant compounds and neutralize free radicals before they can cause healthy cells to mutate into cancerous cells. Studies have shown lowered chances of cancer in people who regularly add these types of antioxidants into their diet.
- Antioxidant Potential: These antioxidant compounds do more than prevent cancer; they also protect skin health, lower the chances of premature aging, improve vision, prevent macular degeneration, and also increase the strength and functionality of your brain. Free radicals are partially responsible for the oxidation of neural cells that can lead to dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Polyphenolic compounds have been linked to increased cognitive activity.
- Weight Loss Efforts: Like all fruits with high fiber and impressive nutrient density, combined with very low calories and very low saturated fat, prickly pears can keep your body in healthy form without packing on any extra weight and the fiber and carbohydrates prevent you from overeating!
- Inflammation: In traditional medicine, prickly pear was mashed and applied topically to parts of the body that were inflamed. When consumed, some of the antioxidant and mineral contents of prickly pears can also lower inflammation, particularly with conditions like arthritis, gout, or muscle strain. It can also be topically applied to eliminate the swelling of bug bites, a method that has been in use for hundreds of years.
One company is beginning to market a line of prickly pear extracts for use in foods and beverages to “support healthy glucose levels.” Some preliminary research suggests that fiber-rich prickly pear fruit may help reduce blood sugar levels, but it’s too early to draw major conclusions.
Plus, you won’t be helping your blood sugar all that much if you indulge in the most popular forms of prickly pear — candy, jellies, syrups and sweet beverages. You’re better off with the whole fruit — which is widely available in the Southwest, but increasingly found in supermarkets and farmer’s markets throughout the country.
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