What is Nopal?
Nopal is the the Mexican name for the cactus commonly known as prickly pear. It has a special place in Mexican cuisine and traditional Mexican dishes. The pads of the nopal cactus are used in making eggs, salads and tacos after cooking. This plant can be eaten cooked or raw, and is considered as a super-food by many because of its anti-oxidant and cholesterol lowering properties. The fruit of this plant is called prickly pear that tastes like watermelon with a tinge of bubblegum flavor. The pads as well as the fruit are consumed by removing the spiny needles and skin. It is also used in beverages by blending it in with ice which serves as a refreshing drink in hot summers.
Benefits of Nopal for Weight Loss
Nopal is a popular favorite among those who want to lose or maintain their weight for the following reasons:
- It helps in regulating and reducing your appetite by making you feel full
- It may reduce the fat in your body by promoting the breakdown and excretion of fat
- Because of being high in amino acids, the excess fluid from the cells is sucked out into the blood, from where it is excreted – resulting in decreased fluid retention and cellulite
- The amino acids are also a source of energy which help your body in fighting fatigue
- It can regulate the blood sugar levels of the body by increasing your cells’ sensitivity to insulin
- It can help improve your metabolism
- It can help your body in metabolizing fats and thus lowers your total blood cholesterol
- It may also have the effect of preventing the conversion of blood sugar into fat
How Does It Work?
Nopal contains just the right amount of vitamins, fiber, amino acids and minerals to speed up the metabolism of the body. Increase in the body’s metabolism promotes the conversion of fat into energy, which is required to perform daily tasks. The fat mobilization prevents the storage of fat and synthesis of cholesterol.
It also inhibits the release of the hunger hormone – ghrelin, which results in no possibility of over eating. It reduces the absorption of sugar in the stomach and intestine which results in less sugar being absorbed into the blood and less extra sugar available to be converted into fat for storage.
Some other benefits of nopal in addition to weight loss include:
- Nopal is packed with nutrients such as vitamin A, B (1,2,3) and C, while minerals such as calcium, magnesium, potassium, iron and sodium are also present in it.
- The plant also serves as a good source of both soluble and insoluble fiber, which is responsible for many of its health benefits.
- The anti-oxidants in nopal help in strengthening your immune system
- It helps in the treatment of diverticulosis and constipation because it is high in fiber
- Nopal may help in preventing and curing cancer (yet to be proven)
- It improves and regulates digestion
- It helps in reducing inflammation
- It can improve the health of skin
- It helps in building strong bones
- It helps in fighting insomnia and improving sleep
A study (source) was performed in which 20 healthy volunteers were given either a placebo or a nopal supplement with meals for 45 days. It was found that the supplement group had increased excretion of fats which leads to reduction in body fat and ultimately weight loss.
Another study (source), in which either a natural fiber complex derived from prickly pear or a placebo, was used to test for the role of nopal in reducing weight. 125 overweight individuals took part in the study and received either the fiber complex or a placebo while following an exercise routine and diet plan. According to results, the group with prickly pear fiber complex reported significant decrease in BMI, waist circumference and body fat composition as compared to the placebo group.
Prickly pear is quite safe to use as food. All the parts of the plant – fruit, pads, stems, leaves, flowers and extracts are quite safe to be ingested and taken for short time. However, some people can experience mild side effects such as:
- increased frequency and amount of stool
A word of caution
You should exercise proper care and caution if you have one of the following conditions:
- pregnancy and breast-feeding
- if you have to go into surgery
There is no fruit, vegetable or medicine out there which can make you lose weight without a proper diet and exercise routine. These natural remedies and supplements are used to speed up and complement your weight loss process. Prickly pear is no exception. You can hope to lose more weight if you use nopal as a supplement with your daily diet and exercise. Just make sure to consult your doctor before you start on the supplement and don’t exceed the daily recommended dosage in the hopes of losing weight instantly – it would do more harm and no good.