Cactus water is the latest drink to hit the natural beverage market, alongside other plant-based drinks like coconut water and aloe vera juice.

Most cactus waters are made by squeezing the juice from the bright pink fruit of the prickly pear, or nopal, cactus. For this reason, cactus water is pink rather than clear.

The drink is naturally low in calories and sugar and rich in health-boosting nutrients and antioxidants. In addition, it’s often marketed to athletes, as it contains electrolytes that can aid hydration.

Cactus water can likewise be used for skin care, and many beauty and cosmetic products contain it.

Several brands of cactus water are available, and it’s easy to make your own using prickly pear fruit and a few common kitchen items.

This article reviews cactus water, including its nutritional content, benefits, and how to make it.

Cactus from which cactus water can be derivedShare on Pinterest

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Because it’s made from the fruit of the prickly pear cactus, cactus water contains a small amount of sugar and some nutrients.

One cup (240 ml) of cactus water contains the following (1):

  • Calories: 19
  • Protein: 0 grams
  • Fat: 0 grams
  • Carbs: 4 grams
  • Fiber: 0 grams
  • Magnesium: 4% of the Daily Value (DV)
  • Potassium: 3% of the DV

All of the carbs in unsweetened cactus water are in the form of natural sugars found in prickly pear.

However, certain brands contain added sugar, and therefore, more calories.

Cactus water also contains magnesium and potassium, two minerals that help manage fluid balance, muscle control, and heart function (2).

In addition, magnesium has countless other roles in the body, including supporting immune and bone health and decreasing your risk of chronic conditions like heart disease and type 2 diabetes. Yet, many people do not get enough of this mineral (3).

Along with these nutrients, cactus water contains several health-boosting antioxidants found in prickly pear.

Summary

Cactus water is low in sugar and calories, but certain brands may contain added sugar. The drink also contains magnesium, potassium, and antioxidants.

Animal and test-tube studies have shown that cactus water has numerous health benefits, although more research is needed to fully understand how it affects humans.

Rich in anti-inflammatory antioxidants

Prickly pear cactus contains several antioxidants, such as betanin, betacyanin, and isorhamnetin, which are associated with many health benefits (4, 5, 6, 7).

These powerful compounds can help prevent cellular damage caused by harmful free radical molecules (8).

Free radicals are unstable compounds that people are exposed to via natural biochemical processes, food, water, and air. At high levels, they stress the body and cause chronic inflammation, which can lead to conditions like type 2 diabetes and heart disease (8).

Fortunately, the antioxidants in prickly pear can neutralize these harmful compounds, and they are also highly anti-inflammatory (8, 9).

As such, drinking cactus water made with antioxidant-rich prickly pear may improve many health parameters.

For example, in a 2-week study in 22 men, supplementing with about two-thirds cup (150 ml) of antioxidant-rich prickly pear juice daily improved post-exercise muscle recovery while decreasing triglycerides, blood pressure, total cholesterol, and LDL (bad) cholesterol (10).

May help heal stomach ulcers

One of the most promising benefits of prickly pear is its potential to help heal stomach ulcers and treat a condition called ulcerative colitis (UC), which is characterized by inflammation and ulcers in the large intestine.

Some studies have noted that supplementing with prickly pear juice slowed the growth of stomach ulcers in rats. These powerful anti-ulcer effects are thought to be due to the antioxidant betanin (4, 11).

A similar study in rats found a decrease in intestinal damage from UC after supplementing with prickly pear juice (11).

However, these benefits have not been observed in humans, and more research is needed.

Skin benefits

Prickly pear also has some benefits for the skin.

According to some animal and test-tube research, applying prickly pear extract directly to the skin helps reduce damage caused by excessive sun exposure (12, 13, 14, 15).

In addition, several rat studies have noted that prickly pear extract speeds wound healing and kills harmful bacteria (16, 17, 18).

Furthermore, prickly pear extract may help diminish the appearance of scars (19).

Other benefits

Prickly pear cactus has long been used as a natural treatment for conditions like type 2 diabetes, constipation, pain, and even hangovers. In fact, some animal research supports these claims (7).

Cactus water is sometimes touted as a hangover cure, and some animal studies have shown that prickly pear reduces liver damage caused by alcohol and other liver toxins (20, 21, 22, 23).

In addition, prickly pear has been shown to reduce blood sugar levels in rats with type 2 diabetes (24, 25).

Moreover, in animal and test-tube studies, prickly pear cactus reduced constipation, improved blood iron stores, relieved pain, and killed cancer cells (26, 27, 28, 29).

Most of these benefits are credited to the antioxidants in prickly pear (30).

However, more human research is needed to substantiate these claims.

In addition, much of this research was conducted using highly concentrated prickly pear extract, so any health effects from cactus water would be much less powerful.

Summary

Prickly pear is rich in antioxidants and may help heal stomach ulcers and boost skin health, along with several other potential benefits. However, more human research is needed.

Cactus water is typically made from prickly pear cactus fruit. Because prickly pear can have a laxative effect, cactus water may cause diarrhea or other gastrointestinal problems in some people (31).

Moreover, high doses of prickly pear may decrease blood sugar levels. Thus, taking them in combination with blood-sugar-lowering medication could lead to hypoglycemia, a dangerous condition characterized by low blood sugar levels (24, 25).

Conversely, some cactus water beverages contain added sugar. Excess added sugar in the diet can lead to weight gain, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease (32, 33).

You should limit your intake of added sugars to less than 10% of your daily calories, although limiting them to 5% or less is ideal. Try to choose cactus water drinks that don’t contain added sugar (34).

If you have any concerns about cactus water, discuss them with your healthcare provider.

Summary

Cactus water may have a laxative effect in some people. If you are taking a blood-sugar-lowering drug, you should avoid drinking large amounts of cactus water, as it may lower your blood sugar levels too much.

Making cactus water at home is a fairly simple process. You need the following ingredients and items:

  • a saucepan
  • a cheesecloth
  • a knife
  • water
  • 1–2 prickly pear cactus fruits
  • sugar or sweetener (optional)

If you are harvesting fresh prickly pear fruits, you need to wear leather gloves to protect your hands from the long, pointed spines that grow on the leaves of the cactus.

However, you may be able to find prickly pear fruits at a local grocery store or farmer’s market.

Follow the steps below to make cactus water at home:

  1. Thoroughly wash the prickly pear fruits and cut their ends off, then slice them halfway through their diameter without cutting them completely in half.
  2. Bring water to a boil in the saucepan, then add the fruits to the boiling water. Cover and reduce to a simmer. Allow the fruits to simmer for 45 minutes to 1 hour, or until soft. Remove them from the water and allow them to cool.
  3. Place the cheesecloth over a bowl or cup. Scoop the flesh of the prickly pear fruits out of their peels and into the cheesecloth.
  4. Allow the liquid from the fruit to strain through the cheesecloth and collect in the bowl or cup. You can squeeze the cheesecloth to speed this process.
  5. Optionally, you can add sugar or sweetener to your cactus juice. If the concentrated cactus water is too strong for your taste, simply water it down.

Cactus juice should be stored in the refrigerator and can be kept for up to 3 days.

How much water you are able to extract from the prickly pears depends on their size and how soft they became during cooking.

Summary

It’s easy to make cactus water at home using only prickly pear fruits and a few common kitchen tools. Your homemade cactus water can be refrigerated for up to 3 days.

Cactus water is made from the fruit of the prickly pear cactus.

It’s low in calories and sugar while providing nutrients and antioxidants.

Given cactus water’s antioxidant content, it may help with inflammation, stomach ulcers, and many other issues.

If you’re looking for a unique, natural beverage with some promising health benefits, you can purchase unsweetened cactus water — like this product — at select stores and online.