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Prickly Pear Health Benefits, Nutritional Value and Uses

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What is Prickly Pear?

Prickly pears are the fruit of the prickly pear cactus. These tasty, oval fruits sprout from the tops of prickly cactus leaves and range in color from yellow-green to deep red or purple. Prickly pears are not only a diet staple but also a medicinal treatment for swelling and rheumatism among many indigenous peoples of the southwestern United States and Mexico. Whether eaten raw or dried, these prickly little fruits provide your body with several health benefits.

Health Benefits of Prickly Pear

Cardiovascular: “Biologically active flavonoids help to normalize blood platelet stickiness… and thereby are an important nutritional factor in maintaining proper cardiovascular health…”

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Diabetes mellitus: “In Europe, flavonoids have been used in the prevention and treatment of diabetic retinopathy…”

Age-related vision disorders: “Flavonoids have been credited with preventing macular degeneration and fighting cataracts presumably via an ability to deliver blood and oxygen to the eye…”

Antioxidant: “The oxidant reactions of free radicals… have been linked to many chronic and degenerative diseases including heart disease, arthritis, and cancer, in addition to the aging process. The human body is constantly subject to attacks by free radicals.

 Uses of Prickly Pear

Prickly pear is widely cultivated and commercially used in juices, jellies, candies, teas, and alcoholic drinks. American Indians used prickly pear juice to treat burns, and prickly pear has a long history in traditional Mexican folk medicine for treating diabetes. Its use in treating diabetes, lipid disorders, inflammation, and ulcers, as well as its other pharmacologic effects, have been documented. However, there is limited clinical information to support these uses.

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Nutritional value of Prickly Pear

Prickly pear cactus juice is extremely high in vitamin C – as well as vitamins E and A, iron, calcium, carotenoids and quercitin. The combination of antioxidants found in the plant work more efficiently than vitamin C does alone.

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 organic compounds, prickly pears have high levels of flavonoids, polyphenols, and betalains, all of which have a positive impact on human health.