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Diabetic Diet

Diabetic Diet


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Published by Sarah JT

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Published by: Sarah JT on Aug 06, 2008
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Prickly pear cactus has been used
successfully for centuries. The Aztecs were
busy cultivating the plant in Mexico when
the Spaniards arrived early in the sixteenth
century. The ancient Aztecs also used it for
medicinal purposes as described in the
Aztec Herbal of 1552. They referred to it as
"nohpalli." Today the Mexicans still call the
popular plant "nopal."

Parts of the prickly pear cactus have been
used in various ways throughout the world.
The Aztecs extracted the milky juice from
the plant and mixed it with honey and egg
yolk to provide an ointment to treat burns. The Chinese dressed abscesses with the fleshy pad
of the plant. The Indians used the fruit for food and also made syrup from it to treat whooping
cough and asthma.

In Italy, the flowers have served as a diuretic. A tea made from the blossoms has treated colitis.
In Israel, researchers found that the dried flowers may be used to battle an enlarged prostate.

In California, during the 1700s and 1800s, prickly pear cactus plants stood guard near the
Spanish missions and on the large Spanish ranchos. In addition to the cooked stems and sweet
fruits savored by diners, the cactus pads provided a source of sticky binding material for adobe
bricks during construction. More recently, the Mexicans have used the plant to treat diabetes
and obesity, as well as elevated blood cholesterol levels. They prepare the medicine by slicing
cactus pads into strips and boiling them like string green beans.



Prickly pear cactus belongs to the genus Opuntia, a large group of cacti that contains over 300
varieties--some with spines, some without. A common type of prickly pear cactus, also known
as Indian fig (Opuntia ficus-indica), grows in large thickets. Originally native to Mexico, it's now
cultivated in Mediterranean regions of Europe, the western United States, and throughout Latin
America. Today the cactus is commercially grown in California.

The many-seeded, fleshy, and sweet fruit known as cactus apple or tuna can be eaten raw or
made into a drink. Some people use the juice of prickly pear to make jellies and candies. The
cactus fruits have long been highly prized, and were traded by Native Americans in Central


In Mexican traditional medicine, prickly pear cactus (nopal) is used for the treatment of diabetes
and high cholesterol. Today nopal is a commonly called upon herbal agent for the treatment of
Type-2 Diabetes by Mexican Americans as well as American Indians. The blood sugar-lowering
action of nopal has been documented in a number of studies.

Extracts of prickly pear cactus have hypoglycemic effects when fed to animals with
experimentally induced diabetes, as well as to healthy animals with elevated blood glucose
levels. Researchers in Mexico found that patients with non-insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus
who were given broiled nopal stems experienced a significant drop in blood glucose levels,
while their insulin showed improved effectiveness. Furthermore, the regular use of sap from
prickly pear cactus has been shown to improve the general symptoms of a diabetic patient.


The use of prickly pear cactus may also lower blood lipid levels. In a recent study, the daily
consumption of 250 grams of broiled prickly pear cactus lowered total cholesterol and LDL
cholesterol levels (but not HDL cholesterol or triglyceride levels) in 15 young patients with
familial hypercholesterolemia. Although there are many species of Opuntia, only a few varieties
have been positively shown to be effective in normalizing blood sugar or blood lipid levels.

The stems of prickly pear cactus contain substantial levels of pectin and other soluble fibers. It's
the fiber content that is believed to be responsible for the ability of the cactus to lower blood
sugar and blood lipid levels. Broiling the cactus stems apparently increases its ability to lower
blood glucose levels. About 400-500 grams (one half pound) of broiled cactus stems is the
typical dose needed for the effect. The high content of pectin also provides the consumer with a
sense of abdominal fullness. This property may play a role in the use of prickly pear cactus for
weight reduction.


Prickly pear cactus appears to be safe when consumed as food. When used medicinally to
lower blood sugar levels, it has proven itself to be trustworthy and effective for individuals with
diabetes while not triggering hypoglycemia.


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