Prickly pears - a great fruit to eat (in moderation)

By: Judy Davie - The Food Coach

Yesterday on Instagram, I saw a post on the Sydney Markets feed to say prickly pears were in season which reminded me of a hilarious story I was told by my friend Rocco, a greengrocer who trialed The Greengrocers Diet. At the time, he was hoping I might include them in the diet. I had never tried a prickly pear at the time and knew nothing about them so he hurried off to find one for me to sample: It was delicious.

He then told me the story of another of the greengrocer's on the trial who was taken to hospital after overindulging in prickly pears. It affected his digestive system so badly he couldn't go to the loo for days, developed a shocking bacterial infection in his gut, and ripped his colon to shreds.

I was intrigued. How could a fruit have caused such an adverse reaction, and are prickly pears one of the few fruits not good for you?
I'll answer the first question with a statement.

Greed is not good

When you eat 16 times more than the recommended serve nothing is good for you!

To question 2 the answer is this: Prickly pears are good for you, eaten in moderation, and provided you are well hydrated.

Prickly pears are also known as Indian Figs or,.here's the clue, cactus fruit.
Where do you go looking when you're stranded in the desert without water? To cactis - plants that hold water.

Two prickly pears provide approximately 8 g of fibre. Fibre in extremely important for digestive health and plays an important role in reducing the risk of heart disease, certain cancers, and diabetes.
Fibre is only found in plant foods and it is made up of the part of the plant that cannot be digested in the small intestine. As a consequence, it passes into the large intestine and there it either completely or partially ferments - that's when you get a little wind! Fibre helps reduce LDL cholesterol, moderate blood glucose and promote laxation (going to the loo)
For fibre to effectively pass through the digestive tract without complications however you must drink plenty of water. That's why when people talk about a healthy diet they always suggest drinking plenty of water. Water is absorbed by the fibre - like a sponge - increasing the size of faecal waste which helps to eliminate toxins.

If that's easy enough to imagine, imagine putting more than 3 times the recommended daily intake of fibre in one sitting. That's what our friend did when he consumed about 100 g of fibre in 25 prickly pears. Hit your body with that amount of fibre and its little wonder his intestines were shredded. The fibrous fruit - remember it's a cactus whose job is to hold water - would have sucked most of his bodily fluids from him, bulking his stools to a size where it would be almost impossible to pass and before you know it.. get the ambulance boys, I'm in trouble.

I'm sure it wasn't funny at the time but the boys certainly enjoyed telling the story as I am enjoying telling you now.

That's not to say you should avoid prickly pears.
During February and throughout most of autumn you'll be able to find these spiky cactus fruits. With their high fibre content they are promoted for treating diabetes, high cholesterol, obesity and even (some say) may help to lessen the effects of a hangover.

Prickly pears, particularly the more brightly coloured varieties - they range in colour from pale green to vibrant red - are a good source of antioxidants and carotenoids known to help combat free radical cellular damage.

Compared bananas, apples, and peaches - all delicious healthy foods - the prickly pear stacks up well. Being a good source of potassium it can reduce inflammation, magnesium helps to relax the muscles and assist muscle function while calcium supports strong bones - all for a surprisingly few number of kJ's.

So the take-home message from all of this is to incorporate these interesting fruits into your diet

Eat no more than 2 in one session per day.

Drink plenty of water (2 litres a day) whether you are eating prickly pears or not.

NB People who suffer from colitis, rohn's disease or diverticulitis should avoid prickly pears due to the small edible seeds they contain.

How to prepare
Arm yourself with a pair of gloves to protect your hands. Cut off each end and cut a slice down the centre of the fruit, then slide your finger under the fruit and prize it away from its thick skin.
How to select
Choose prickly pears that are firm and unblemished. Avoid fruit that is overly soft or that has dark soft spots.

How to store
Store unpeeled prickly pears in the fridge. Keep peeled prickly pears refrigerated in a bowl, covered with plastic, where they should remain fresh for several days.


Mar 16 2017 2:04PM
I have never tried the Indian Fig variety but have thought of growing one sometime but already have nearly 40 different fruit tree varieties in my orchard.
What I used to eat though was the fruit of the common leaf pear, an introduced weed into Australia to support a fledgling industry with the first fleet of cochineal production for the dying of red coats of the authorities.
I only ever ate one at a time and glad I didn't try more because they would be consumed when out in the bush and while I was alone.
Unlike the Indian fig, they have a light film of spiney hairs over the skin and had to be handled carefully. I would get my fork from my lunch box and spike the fruit.
Taking my pocket knife I would carefully peel the skin making sure none was left.
The taste was strong, sweet and superb, and bright red. I would appreciate it especially after being in the bush for a few hours and wanting more than water from the bottle and the fruit in my lunch box already gone.
Comment by: Jim

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