The past few weeks in Mexico Chef Melgarejo has gotten me eating Nopal cactus, a local dietary staple which has a mild flavor and a slightly gooey, yet slightly crunchy veggie texture.

I’m a huge fan of Aloe Vera, which has an array of healthy nutrients, but with aloe you eat the inside gel only, not the skin.

With the Nopal cactus though, you eat the whole thing! It’s surprisingly healthy too, for a little-known vegetable.

People in Mexico and Central America have been eating this green veggie for thousands of years, and it can be considered comida prehisp√°nica, which is still commonly eaten today.

Check out these 5 ways Nopal can improve your health:

Anti-Inflammatory: The juice from nopales is said to have anti-inflammatory properties, which can aid in repairing joints, muscle tissues, and working as a defense against arthritis.

Benefits the Skin: High in antioxidants and phytochemicals, the nopal can fight against free radicals that cause wrinkles and age spots. Something I’m certainly becoming more aware of these days!

Aids in Digestion: Nopales are high in fiber, helping to act as a scrub brush for the intestines. Many of the diseases that we fight come from an unhealthy intestinal tract, so keeping things clean is important. The fibrous nature of the Nopal leaf aids in digestive health.

Increases Metabolism: One of the cool aspects of the nopal that flies under the radar is the mineral and vitamin makeup. They contain vitamin B6 along with riboflavin, thiamin, and niacin, which all help regulate enzyme functions and cellular metabolism in the body. A body in balance hormonally with healthy organs will be able to exercise and build muscle more easily, which helps in weight loss and toning.

Improves Sleep: Nopales contain magnesium, which is useful as a sleep aid along with benefiting repair and overall health of nerves, muscles, and bones. Magnesium helps the body to release seratonin, which increases melatonin levels for more relaxed sleep.

While it’s certainly not my favorite texture or taste in Mexico, it’s really common in the area where I’m staying right now, and considering how challenging it is to eat healthy and entovegan here, I’ll take it!