The prickly pear is a fruit that grows on Nopales cacti. Widely known as the “cactus pear,” in Egypt it is called teen shoki. It has a firm outer skin with barbs and a soft and edible inner flesh. The fruit is oval in shape and can range in colour from yellow and light green to orange, pink, and red, depending on the variety and ripeness.
Prickly pears are rich in nutrients, vitamins, minerals, and dietary fibre, and this makes them a wonderful and healthy addition to your diet. Their low cholesterol and saturated fat content make them a suitable option for those suffering from obesity or heart disease. They also contain flavonoids that help to prevent macular degeneration and fight cataracts. They can also help to fight cancer cells, improve the digestive process, decrease the risk of diabetes, boost the immune system, and reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s Disease.
Here are some of the major health benefits of prickly pears:
With their high fibre and nutrient density, low calories, and saturated fat content, prickly pears can help keep your body healthy without adding any extra weight. Their fibre will help you feel full for longer and reduce hunger pangs.
Strengthening teeth and bones:
Prickly pears contain a significant level of calcium in every serving. By ensuring you have enough calcium in your system, you can help to prevent various dental issues, as well as age-related bone disorders like osteoporosis.
Boosting the immune system:
Prickly pears are rich in Vitamin C that boosts the body’s immune response against various infections. It increases the production of white blood cells that kill and eliminate infectious microorganisms from the body. Vitamin C also acts as an antioxidant and reduces free-radical damage throughout the body.
Prickly pears contain the skin-softening Vitamins E and K and a good amount of skin-hydrating and nourishing fatty acids. As a result, prickly pear oil is a good anti-aging agent that can help in preventing the formation of wrinkles and fine lines.
The fibre content of prickly pears can help eliminate LDL cholesterol, or “bad cholesterol,” from the body. Studies have shown that they can reduce both plasma levels and hepatic levels of cholesterol. Certain phytosterols found in their oil can also alter the cholesterol metabolism in a positive way, in addition to controlling hyperlipidemia, the condition of having high cholesterol levels.
Promoting digestive health:
Fibre is an important part of our diet when it comes to digestive health. And because prickly pears are loaded with fibre, they can aid the smooth digestion of the food we eat and enhance the activity of the digestive enzymes. Additionally, this fibre can help in the smooth elimination of waste from the body.
Prickly pears have high levels of flavonoids, polyphenols, and betalains, which can lower the risk of breast, prostate, stomach, pancreatic, ovarian, cervical, and lung cancers. They act as antioxidant compounds and neutralise free radicals before they cause healthy cells to mutate into cancerous cells. Studies have shown lower risks of cancer in people who regularly add these types of antioxidants to their diet.
Prickly pear oil has great inflammation-fighting capabilities because of its anti-inflammatory compounds. Betalains and phenolic compounds also have this effect when the oil is applied topically on the skin. When consumed, the antioxidants and minerals in prickly pears can lower inflammation, particularly in conditions like arthritis, gout, or muscle strain. The oil can also be topically applied to eliminate swelling from bug bites in a method that has been used for hundreds of years.
Protecting the heart:
Studies have showed that prickly pears can help to prevent atherosclerosis, coronary heart disease, and strokes. Significant levels of potassium in the fruit can help lower blood pressure by relaxing the blood vessels and reducing the stress on the cardiovascular system. The betalains found in prickly pears have been connected to strengthening the endothelial walls of the blood vessels, reducing the chances of a weakening of the circulatory system.
The antioxidants in prickly pears can help to protect the skin, lower the chances of premature aging, improve vision, prevent macular degeneration, and increase the functionality of the brain.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 12 August, 2021 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly