The quest for the ideal body weight has been an eternal one. From trendy diets to rigorous exercise regimes, people have tried every trick in the book to shed those extra pounds. The unfortunate truth about these hyped weight loss methods is that they’re just that, hype — with no scientific evidence to back their benefits.
That’s why in this article, I’ll examine all the available scientific literature on the effectiveness of yet another one such dietary ingredient; Nopal cactus. Can it really help you achieve your weight loss goals, or is it just another overhyped fad? Let's find out.
What Is Nopal Cactus?
Nopal cactus — also known as the prickly pear cactus — is a type of flat pad cactus that commonly grows in Mexico. It is a popular part of Mexican cuisine with the delectable carne con nopales being my favorite.
I’ve also seen it used in traditional medicine for treating burns, wounds, and even obesity. So, the concept of using Nopal cactus for weight loss is not new. But, is it actually effective?
What does the science have to say
Based on my analysis of scientific research on Nopal cactus, here are its most significant associations with weight loss:
Dietary fat absorption
This is the most common reason I’ve seen for the inclusion of Nopal cactus in weight loss supplements. In essence, consuming a high-fat diet will make you gain weight, but Nopal cactus can prevent that from happening.
This is because Nopal binds itself to the dietary fats you consume and prevents them from getting absorbed by your body. Those fats are then removed completely from your system through digestion.
This can lead to weight loss even if you keep your diet the same. Of course I still recommend adopting a calorie deficit diet, but Nopal can help you lose weight regardless.
More active metabolism
You might find it difficult to lose weight if you have a slow metabolism. In my experience, folks with a slow metabolism just use fewer calories on average and their bodies store the rest of them as fat. This is where Nopal cactus can be the difference maker.
A recent 2022 study tested the impact of Nopal cactus — combined with caloric restriction and the addition of physical activity — on 36 obese women. After the 30-day test period, most participants showed a higher metabolic rate which also resulted in reduced BMI across the board.
Higher energy expenditure
According to a 2015 study on obese mice, Nopal cactus supplementation can increase energy expenditure, which can — in turn — lead to weight loss. Let me explain.
In simple terms, energy expenditure is the amount of energy your body uses during a given time period. If this energy usage is more than the number of calories you’re consuming, your body will compensate by converting stored fat into usable energy. This is also the principle behind the calorie-deficit diet everyone recommends for losing weight.
That being said, I did not find any research that demonstrates the same benefit of Nopal in human subjects. So, the impact of Nopal on energy expenditure in humans is not as concrete as I’d like it to be.
Sleep plays a bigger role in your weight loss journey than you might think. This might sound a bit odd since most weight loss programs are all about movement and working out, but it is true.
From what I’ve seen, not getting enough sleep can really undermine your weight loss efforts and even lead to weight gain. Fortunately, this works the other way around as well where getting more sleep can be a catalyst for faster weight loss. So, how does Nopal cactus fit into this equation?
Well, Nopal contains a healthy amount of Magnesium, which directly improves the duration and quality of your sleep.
Dietary fiber content
Another key component in Nopal cactus is fiber. While there are a lot of digestion-related benefits of fiber, the one I’m most interested in is its ability to reduce hunger. Consuming fiber can help you eat less without feeling hungry — making it easier to follow a diet and stay in a calorie deficit. I personally consume fruits like bananas, apples, and avocados daily to say topped up on my fiber intake.
It’s safe for me to say that Nopal cactus can help with weight loss — making its inclusion in fat burners quite sensible. While I would still like to see a direct human-focused trial for the effects of Nopal on humans, the existing evidence is fairly convincing regardless.
However, this does not mean that Nopal cactus is a magic food that will make you thinner all on its own. I recommend pairing Nopal intake with a calorie deficit diet and a regular workout routine for best results.
If you are interested in including Nopal cactus in your diet, there are plenty of mouth-watering options in Mexican cuisine waiting for you.