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What About Nopal Cactus? Where It Comes From? Is It Keto? How To Use It?

Nopal is a type of edible cactus native to Central America, Mexico in particular. There are over 100 different types. Opuntia ficus-indica – or simply nopal – is the most widely cultivated species for food consumption.

Nopales (or nopalitos) were grown and consumed as a vegetable in the Central American region before the arrival of the Spaniards. Spineless and spined varieties of nopal plant can be grown in southern California with ease in your yard. You can learn how to grow nopal here.

This cactus plant sprouts in the spring and the autumn. These are the best times of the year to eat nopales as they taste best when they are at their juiciest – when they’re young and newly sprouted.

Nopales leaves (called pads or paddles) are sold at Mexican grocery stores in cans or jars, dried or in juice form. The pads are commonly used in various Mexican dishes including carne con nopales (meat with nopal), huevos con nopales (eggs with nopal), tacos de nopales (tacos with nopal), and in salads with panela cheese, onion, and tomato.

Some of the more popular Mexican dishes that use nopales as ingredients are nopales con costillas de puerco y chile rojo (cactus paddles w/ pork ribs and red chili), pico de gallo con nopales (salsa with nopales), and chile colorado con nopales (beef stew in a red chile sauce and nopales).

Nopales leaves taste slightly citrusy and moist crunchy with a bit slimy and rubbery texture that resembles diced green bell pepper. Overcooked nopales leaves (diced or cut in strips) get slimy and rubbery, so they need to be removed from heat once the color turns pale.

Nutrition Facts

Nopal cactus with its "1 gram net carb per one cup of serving" is perfectly ketogenic!

One cup of raw nopales (according to US Gov. FoodData Central) contains approximately:

  • 13.8 calories

  • 1.14 grams (g) of protein

  • 0.08 g of fat

  • 2.86 g of carbohydrate

  • 1.89 g of fiber

  • 0.99 g of sugar

  • 19.8 micrograms (mcg) of vitamin A

  • 8 milligrams (mg) of vitamin C

  • 141 mg of calcium

  • 4.56 mcg of vitamin K

Benefits of Nopales

Nopales ...

  • is low in sugar (carbs), thus ketogenic.

  • is low in calories as it is mainly filled with water.

  • is rich in antioxidants.

  • is rich in health-promoting nutrients such as vitamins, and minerals.

  • contain antiviral and anti-inflammatory properties.

Nopal water is also rich in electrolytes that support hydration. The health food market Sprouts carries an organic nopal cactus juice under the brand truenopal cactus water. This juice with its naturally occurring seven electrolytes and minerals, including potassium and magnesium, will hydrate your body. It has a refreshing fruit taste and uses all-natural ingredients with no added sugars, sodium, preservatives, fat or GMOs, and it’s even vegan and gluten-free. In other words, it is straight from the earth, just the way it was intended to be.

Oh BTW, nopal water has less than half the calories and sugar as coconut water.

Nopal is used as traditional medicine for treating:

• liver conditions • ulcers • diabetes • glaucoma • high cholesterol • obesity • hangovers • fatigue • wounds

We use nopales in our perfectly ketogenic "Chicken Enchilada Casserole". Read more here.

Bon Appétit!

Your Master Keto Chef Janine

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