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Is Cactus Keto Friendly? [Nopales and Prickly Pear]

Did you know that cactus is both a vegetable and a fruit? Don’t lie, did you really? You may be wondering if cactus, nopales and prickly pear, is keto friendly, here's what you need to know.

Nopales and prickly pear, which are the cactus leaf and fruit, may be consumed while following a keto diet. Nopales has fewer carbohydrates than prickly pear with only 1 gram of net carbs per cup (86g), while Prickly pear, the cactus fruit, has 6.2 grams of net carbs per cup (149g).

Originally hailing from Southern California, I was exposed to a lot of cactus growing up. My grandmother used to have quite the variety in her garden, and would even cut off pieces and eat them, which at the time I found odd. 

However, after trying some, I found it quite delicious. Last time I visited my parents, I saw their cactus, and it brought back some memories.

In this article, I’ll go over the different types of cactus, the nutrition facts, health benefits, and even some keto-friendly cactus recipes for you to try at home.


Can You Eat Cactus On Keto?

Both the cactus leaf (nopales) and cactus fruit (prickly pear) are relatively low in carbohydrates. 

 However, the cactus leaf has significantly fewer calories and carbohydrates than the cactus fruit, making the leaf portion of the cactus more keto-friendly. 

But, both the leaf and the fruit portion of the cactus are considered keto friendly.

Is cactus fruit keto friendly? Cactus fruit is keto friendly but has more net carbohydrates compared to the cactus leaf.

Is cactus leaf keto friendly? Cactus leaf is primarily fiber, making it the most keto-friendly portion of the cactus, especially compared to cactus fruit.

Cactus Nutrition Facts


Cactus can be broken down into two parts:

  1. Cactus leaf (Nopales)
  2. Cactus fruit (Prickly Pear)

Nopales (Cactus Leaf)

Nopales, the thick, oval, flat stems of the cactus plant are eaten both raw and cooked. The soft pads are commonly referred to as nopalitos and used in Mexican, Tex-Mex, and Mexicali cuisine. 

How many carbs does cactus leaf (nopales) have? For one cup (86g) serving of raw nopales, it has a total of 2.9 grams of carbohydrates, with 1.9 grams coming from fiber.

 In total, raw cactus leaf (nopales) has only 1 gram of net carbs per cup (89g). 

Additional Vitamins and Minerals 1

  • Vitamin C 13% of the RDI
  • Vitamin K 6% of the RDI
  • Magnesium 11% of the RDI
  • Potassium 6% of the RDI
  • Manganese 20% of the RDI

Prickly Pear (Cactus Fruit)

Opuntia, commonly called prickly pear, also called nopal, is the fruit from the pads of the cactus. Prickly pears are very sweet and can be eaten raw, directly off the plant.

How many carbs does cactus fruit (prickly pear) have? In one cup (149g) of cactus fruit, there is a total of 9.9 grams of carbohydrates with 3.7 grams of that coming from dietary fiber.

 In total, prickly pear has 6.2 grams of net carbs per cup (149g) serving.  

Additional Vitamins and Minerals 2

  • Vitamin C 24% of the RDI
  • Calcium 6% of the RDI
  • Magnesium 22% of the RDI
  • Potassium, 6% of the RDI

Health Benefits Of Cactus

Both the cactus leaf (nopales) and cactus fruit (prickly pear) are quite nutritious, and some may even consider it a “superfood.” 

Here are just some of the health benefits of cactus.

High in antioxidants

Nopal cactus is full of antioxidants. This study shows cactus was able to reduce oxidative stress. 3

In a 2013 study, the juice from the purple-red prickly pear variety had the highest concentration of antioxidants. 4

Help regulate blood sugar levels

Eating cactus, combined with a ketogenic diet, is like a one-two punch at helping regulate blood sugar levels.

Extracts of the plant seeds increased muscle and liver glycogen while reducing blood glucose levels. 5

May help with certain cancers

Gallic acid, found in cactus flowers, may help against leukemia, lung, and prostate cancers. 6

May reduce cholesterol

One study found that cactus was able to decrease cholesterol, especially LDL (bad) cholesterol. 7

Eliminate hangovers?


Thinking of having a drink… or three? Taking cactus extract before drinking may help prevent a hangover. This study found that nopal cactus extract significantly reduced the severity of hangovers.

Other uses for cactus

Cactus is used for far more than just eating or decoration, it’s been used as a food colorant, to purify drinking water, and even a natural thickener.8 

Here are a few other uses for cactus:

  • As fodder
  • Natural red colorant
  • Purify drinking water
  • A natural thickener
  • For fencing material

Keto-Friendly Cactus Recipes

Have you been enticed enough to start using a little cactus in your keto diet? Here are some great ideas you can use to spice up your food.

Keto nopales tortilla recipe

Want a tasty, gluten-free, keto friendly tortilla? Look no further than this nopales tortilla recipe.

Low carb cactus salad

For you salad lovers, cactus can make a great main ingredient for salads. Top it with your favorite keto-friendly salad dressing or use a zero-calorie one, like that from Walden Farms and their keto friendly sauces and dressings. 


Photo and recipe courtesy of Savor The Flavour

Low carb cactus and steak tacos

Tuesday’s coming, so what are you going to have for taco Tuesday? I know what I’m having.

Keto friendly nopales beef tacos

Photo and recipe courtesy of Sweet C’

The Takeaway

Cactus is delicious, has a variety of health benefits, and can even be used for a multitude of purposes not relating to food.

Both the vegetable and fruit portions of the cactus are keto friendly. However, the fruit (prickly pear) does have a few more net carbohydrates compared to that of the leaf (nopales)

Feel free to enjoy some cactus while following a ketogenic diet.

Frequently Asked Questions

How can you tell if Nopales are good?

It's pretty easy to pick good Nopales. You need to look for bright green paddles that are flexible but don't flop aroud. Lastly, you need to be on the lookout for wrinkles on the skin.

How do you preserve Nopales?

To store the Nopales clean the paddles and place them in an airtight freezer bag. It's okay to store them both cooked and raw. If you store them raw they'll last for up to 1 week.

Can you eat Nopales raw?

Yes, it's perfectly safe to eat the Nopales raw. A lot of people claim that it tastes similar to green peppers.


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