Cactus for Weight Loss

With obesity becoming such a problem in the United States, Americans are constantly on the lookout for new diets, supplements and exercises to help with weight loss. Hoodia gordonii, a cactus-like plant, has become a common ingredient in diet pills due to claims that it curbs hunger without side effects. However, there's limited research into its effectiveness for weight loss.

History and Origins

Because of its prickly exterior, the hoodia plant is often mistaken for a cactus; the plant is actually a succulent. The only place it grows naturally is South Africa's Kalahari Desert, CBS News reported in 2004. Here the indigenous San people have been using it for centuries to stop thirst and hunger pangs during long hunting excursions.

How It Works

The hoodia plant contains ingredients called steroidal glycosides, the Cell Health Makeover website explains. These react with the brain and indicate that the body's blood glucose level is high — a reaction that typically occurs right after eating. As a result, the brain tells the body that it is full and suppresses the appetite. According to CBS, researchers at South Africa's national laboratory found that those who ingest the hoodia plant end up eating about 1,000 fewer calories a day than those who do not eat the plant. The NYU Langone Medical Center notes, however, that research into hoodia's mechanism of action was performed in animal studies, so it's not yet known if hoodia works the same in humans.

Side Effects and Dangers

Though the hoodia supplements react directly with the central nervous system, early studies by the South African national laboratory revealed no negative side effects, CBS notes. If after consulting your doctor you decide to take a hoodia supplement, do not exceed the recommended dosage and be sure to read the label carefully to ensure that it is actually extract from the hoodia plant.

Cactus in your Diet

Incorporating cactus into your diet might also help you lose weight. It's naturally low in calories -- a serving of four prickly pear cactus pads contains roughly 100 calories -- and comes packed with dietary fiber that keeps you full so you're able to stay within your daily calorie limit. Eating cactus also boosts your calcium and manganese intake, and provides you with beneficial vitamin C.

Preparation Tips

You'll need to do some prep work to incorporate prickly pear cactus into your diet. Cut away any thorns from the cactus pad, slice the pad into strips and then cut the strips into bite-size pieces. Lightly coat the cactus with a small amount of olive oil and then roast for a nutritious side dish. Alternatively, you can juice peeled cactus pads for a low-calorie beverage.