Figs: Nutrition, Benefits and Recipe Tips

Figs: Nutrition, Benefits and Recipe Tips

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Figs, scientifically known as Ficus carica, are teardrop-shaped fruits that come in a variety of species. The fresh kind, which is about the size of your thumb, contains sweet meat and about hundreds of seeds. The dried ones, despite their shrivelled appearance, are just as delicious.

More than just being an appetizing snack, figs can actually improve your health. From improving your digestion to minimizing your risk for heart attack, here’s everything you need to know about the health benefits of figs.

A Brief Fig History

Figs have quite a history, as their presence could readily be traced to the time of Adam and Eve. After all, scripture suggests that after their misadventure with the forbidden fruit, the couple dressed themselves with fig leaves. According to some believers, if they wore it, you could assume that they ate the fruits.

Apart from these famous religious figures, ancient civilizations have also enjoyed their fair share of figs recipes. The Egyptians, for one, were well-aware of the benefits of fig fruits. Greek Olympians, on the other hand, wore the fruit as a medal for their sporting achievements.

Originally grown in the Mediterranean, specifically Greece and Turkey, figs have eventually found their way all around the world. Thanks to the entrepreneurial spirits of many Spanish missionaries, figs are now grown in other semi-arid climates. In the United States, for example, most figs come from farms in California.

 Figs come in different varieties, including:

  • Black Mission, the common variant that comes with pink flesh and black/purple skin
  • Kadota, which has yellow skin and purple meat
  • Calimyrna, which is a big yellow-green variety

These fruits are usually available during the fig season, which is July to October in the UK.

Are Figs a Superfood?

Yes! Not only is it rich in nutrients, but it boasts of a variety of health benefits as well. If you are curious about the figs’ nutrition facts, then here’s a rundown of what you’ll get with each 40-gram serving:

  • Figs calories: 30
  • Carbohydrates: 8 grams
  • Fibre: 1 gram
  • Copper: 3% of the daily value
  • Magnesium: 2%
  • Potassium: 2%  
  • Riboflavin: 2%
  • Thiamine: 2%
  • Vitamin B6: 3%
  • Vitamin K: 2%

Fresh Figs vs Dried Figs

Fresh Figs vs Dried Figs

Apart from having multiple varieties, figs also come in 2 forms: fresh and dried. While they have some differences, both of them are particularly good for your health.

Fresh figs

  • Fresh figs have a high water content, making them more filling than their dried counterparts. Because of such volume, eating 1 fig is equal to consuming 5 dried portions.
  • While it is known for its superb flavour, it only has a short shelf-life. Figs are only good for about 1 week after they were harvested.

Dried figs

  • Dried figs calories are lower at 20, compared to 30 for the fresh variants.
  • This variant contains 1,000 times more calcium, making it a better source than skim milk.
  • It also has a lower amount of carbohydrates at 5 grams and sugar at 4 grams.
  • Dried figs have a higher sodium content (1 milligram).
  • Despite its lower sugar content, dried figs have a slightly higher glycaemic load at 65 (compared to 55 for fresh figs). This means they spike your blood sugar levels faster than the fresh ones.

What are Figs Good For?

A lot of people often ask the question “Are figs good for you?” Well, the answer is a resounding yes. Eating this fruit daily entitles you to the many health benefits of figs:

Improves digestive health

If you have gut issues such as constipation, then you need to know how to eat figs. After all, this fruit can keep your intestinal tract in check. For one, it is rich in fibre, which works by softening and adding bulk to stool for easy passage. According to a mice study, figs also help ‘speed up’ the movement of digested materials through the intestines.

The digestive benefits of figs were proven in a study involving 150 patients with irritable bowel syndrome. A four-month fig regimen helped improve their bowel movements, reducing abdominal pain and distention along the way. 

Apart from easing constipation, fig fibre also serves as a food source for the good bacteria in your digestive tract. Also known as probiotics, these microorganisms can help keep your gut in pristine working condition. Apart from that, these good bacteria may help boost your immunity as well.

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May promote better heart health

Cardiovascular diseases are often called lifestyle diseases. They are usually brought about by high blood pressure and cholesterol levels, which usually result from poor dietary choices.

According to the British Heart Foundation, about 170,000 deaths every year can be attributed to heart-related problems. As eating a healthy diet may help prevent coronary disease, your favourite recipes using figs may be your ticket to a healthier heart. After all, it is known to do 2 things that lower heart disease risk: and that is controlling high blood pressure and triglyceride levels.

To illustrate, a rat study has shown that fig consumption was effective in reducing blood pressure in hypertensive subjects. As mentioned, in mice, as with humans, high blood pressure may lead to heart failure – even a heart attack.

More than just curbing hypertension, figs may also help reduce your chances of succumbing from heart disease. As seen in another rat study, those who were fed figs demonstrated lower levels of triglycerides and interleukin 6. Both of these substances, when increased, put you at risk of a heart attack.

Conversely, figs also help increase the level of high-density lipoproteins (HDL) in the body. Known as the good cholesterol, HDL helps transport the bad cholesterol to the liver where they are eliminated.

May reduce blood sugar levels

Diabetes is another lifestyle disease that continues to ravage the globe. According to the Diabetes Council, it affects 6% of the UK population, which roughly equates to 1 in 16 British citizens. The cornerstone of diabetic therapy is lowering blood sugar levels, which are usually done with medications and exercise.

If you know yourself to be at risk of developing diabetes, then you should start improving your lifestyle choices right about now. Fortunately, consuming fig and milk (among many other combinations) may help do the trick. After all, multiple studies suggest that figs may help control high blood sugar levels.

One research showed that taking fig fruit extract may reduce glycaemic index by as much as 24%. This means figs are useful for managing glucose levels, making it a worthwhile treatment for people with prediabetes or type 2 diabetes.

The same promising results were seen in a study that utilized a decoction of fig leaves. Yes, their leaves are just as healthy! Not only did they help lower post-meal glucose, they even managed to reduce insulin dose by as much as 12%. Think about the savings you can make from expensive insulin if you manage to reduce the body’s need for this. With these effects, figs may serve as good adjunct therapies for those with type 1 diabetes as well. 

May help fight cancer

Cancer is another scourge of the UK population. According to Cancer Research UK, around 367,000 new diagnoses are made every year. With 1,000 cases adding up each day, the country’s disease incidence is markedly higher than 90% of the world.

While there’s no one best way to prevent cancer, making better dietary choices just might help. After all, eating salty, processed foods can up your risk in the long run. 

According to multiple studies, figs may be a worthwhile consideration for cancer prevention. After all, they are rich in antioxidants that exhibit some antitumour activity in the body.

In one research, figs were seen to reduce the proliferative effects of colorectal cancer cell lines. Also known as bowel malignancy, this affects about 42,300 Brits every year.

According to another study, figs may also be beneficial in inhibiting the proliferation of breast cancer.  Results show that its components, psoralen and bergapten, exert anti-cancer effects on such cell lines. This is quite promising, given that breast cancer is the most common oncologic diagnosis in the UK.

Figs may also hold some benefit against cervical cancer, as another study suggests. Not only can it fight HPV-related lesions, but it may also help curb rapid cell growth and invasion in the area. While it’s not that prevalent compared to breast cancer, it makes for 2% of the female cancer cases in the UK.  

May improve skin health

Figs are not only good for the inside. Do you know that they work wonders on your skin as well?  According to a study, figs, (alongside other substances) may help reduce wrinkle area, length, and depth. As such, eating figs may give you firmer skin – without those expensive creams and emulsions!

Apart from making you look younger, figs may help you combat skin disease as well. One study has shown that figs may be useful in reducing the symptoms of psoriasis, a condition hallmarked by dry skin and itchiness. In the UK, psoriasis affects about 1.3% to 2.2% of the population.

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Results show that it’s safety, efficacy, and tolerability is comparable to 1% hydrocortisone, which is the gold standard for psoriatic treatment. While effective, this cannot be used for longer a week due to its systemic effects on the body. Add to that, it brings about pesky side effects, including nausea, headache, dizziness, and heartburn. This is why natural remedies, such as figs, are preferred. After all, they can help you achieve skin relief naturally.

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May enhance fertility in men

Male infertility is a hush-hush issue amongst men. If you have this problem due to low sperm count, then you’ll be happy to know about the benefits of figs for men.

According to a mice study, figs have positive effects on the reproductive system. It may help improve sperm count, apart from enhancing the motility of these cells. In a nutshell, figs may help you create more capable swimmers. As such, the figs benefits for sperm may help boost a man’s chances of siring a child.

Can Figs Help You Lose Weight?

Yes! For one, this fruit has a high fibre content. Not only does it help you maintain good digestive health, but it can also keep you full for a long time. When you are satiated, you don’t end up acting on your sinful cravings.

Figs also contain Ficin, a digestive enzyme that can fast-track the digestion process.

This fruit is also rich in omega-3 fatty acids, a substance that may help you achieve modest fat loss.

With its sweet taste, figs can serve as a healthier snack alternative. Instead of chocolate, why not chomp on figs instead? It’s low in calories, so you don’t need to guilty whenever you eat one.

Because of these benefits, you should know how many figs to eat in a day. After all, this fruit may be your ticket to having a leaner body.

Tips for Buying Figs

If you plan on cooking figs recipes, you should know that the prep period actually starts in the local organic shop or online health foods store. As mentioned, fresh figs can be delicate, so you need to be careful when choosing one. To get the best fruit possible, make sure to follow these tips:

  • Visually check the skin. Avoid ones with bruises or cracks.
  • Smell the fig. It should have a mild aroma. If you pick up a sour scent, it means that the fruit is near spoilage.
  • Touch the fruit. It should be soft, not mushy.
  • Don’t be afraid of shrivelling or dry-looking figs. These actually have the sweetest flavours!

Although dried figs have been sun-dried and packed well, it doesn’t mean that you should pick one haphazardly. Again, you need to be on the lookout for the content, making sure that they are clean and mould-free. As for the scent, the best dried figs bear the characteristic sweet scent as well.

How to Store Figs

Unless you are going to cook recipes with figs right away, you need to store them properly.

It’s best to keep your fresh figs refrigerated, placing them on a dish lined with paper towels. Cover them with plastic wrap to extend their lifespan by 2 to 3 days.

As for underripe figs, it’s best to store them at room temperature and away from sunlight. Remember to turn them every so often. You don’t want one side to end up ‘bruised’ more than the others.

When it comes to dried figs, it’s best to wrap them up. You can store them in a cool dry place, or even inside the fridge. By keeping these tips in mind, you can make your dried figs last for an additional 2 to 3 months.

How Do You Prepare Figs?

There are various ways of preparing figs and olives for your recipes. If you are going to use the fresh ones, you need to wash them before removing the hard stem portion.

When it comes to peeling, only the Calimyrna’s thick skin can be removed. Mission figs, after all, have very thin skins that can be easily eaten.  

When making dried figs recipes, it’s best to freeze the fruit before you chop it up. While your first instinct might be to use a knife, you’re better off using a scissor. Should any of these get sticky in the process, all you need to do is rinse the blade with hot water before you proceed.

If you want to puree your dried figs, you can soak them for 30 minutes to plump them up.

If you are planning to make dried figs recipes using cake batter, coat the fruit with some flour. This will prevent the fig from settling in the bottom.

How Many Figs to Eat in a Day?

While there is no formal recommendation regarding the consumption of figs, proponents advise eating 2-3 fig fruits every day.

For those suffering from constipati on, the benefits of figs soaked in water overnight are tremendous.  Eating 2-3 of these fruits every day may help ease bowel problems almost immediately. Don’t go overboard though, as you may end up having a bad case of diarrhoea.

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As for weight loss, consuming 3 servings daily may help you enjoy the slimming benefits of figs.

Can Diabetics Eat Figs?

Yes. While figs are sweet, their high fibre content helps to mettle the release of glucose into the system. As mentioned, they also help promote glucose control, which is advantageous to diabetics. Although this is the case, diabetic individuals should go for fresh ones. As mentioned, dried figs have a higher glycaemic index, which means they can increase blood sugar levels faster than the fresh figs.

Recipes for Figs

Recipes for Figs

With the many health benefits of figs, it’s best to include this fruit in your daily diet. From salads to desserts, you can make a lot of delicious recipes using figs.

1. Fig salad

If you’re tired of the usual lettuce and cucumber, then you should consider adding figs to the mix. Drizzle this with pink peppercorn dressing and Grana Padano for a savoury starter.

2. Easy fig recipe

If you don’t have time to grill or roast your figs, then you should try this easy-peasy fig recipe. Just add cherry tomatoes and mozzarella and you can have a healthy summer salad.

3. Vegetarian fig recipe

Are figs vegetarian? But of course! This fruit can be the star of your many vegan recipes, including this one. For starters, you can make a filo parcel with fresh fig and goat’s cheese. This canape is so easy to make, even your house visitors will adore it!

4. Breakfast croissant

Want a fig pick-me-upper in the morning? Well then, add some fig, gruyere, and prosciutto into your otherwise boring croissant. You’ll be surprised by the sweet and savoury flavours of this breakfast bunch.

5. Fig pancakes

Want your kids to eat their figs? Then add them to their favourite pancake! Better yet, do your batter with ricotta to make it light and fluffy. Top the pancakes with butter and maple syrup for a healthy and fruity breakfast.

6. Fig toast

Move over, avocado toast. There’s a new superfood in town, and its name is fig. Throw some fruit and goat’s yogurt labneh on bread for a delicious lunch that you can make under 15 minutes.

7. Fig tart

Hankering for some sweet treat? Well, you should try this sweet, crispy tart. All you need is puff pastry, curd cheese, and honeyed fig. With its 1-hour cooking time, it’s the perfect treat for any slow weekend.

8. Baked Alaska

If you want a flaming dessert, then you might as well throw some figs on them. With this delicious meal-ender, you’re sure to impress your friends, both visually and gastronomically.

Some Health Reminders

While the health benefits of figs cannot be understated, you need to be wary of some precautions when consuming this fruit. Since it helps promote bowel movements, eating too much of this can lead to diarrhoea.

It’s also rich in Vitamin K, which promotes blood clotting in the body. As such, it may decrease the efficiency of certain medications, such as Heparin and Warfarin. If you are taking any of these drugs, then you should be mindful when eating recipes using figs.

Lastly, if you have an allergy to latex or birch pollen, chances are you might have sensitivity to figs as well. Should you experience itching, sneezing, cough, or swelling after you eat figs, contact your doctor right away.

Conclusion

Fig is a superfood chockfull of fibre and many other nutrients.

It’s available in 2 forms: fresh and dry. Fresh figs spoil quite easily, though they are better in filling you up because of the high water content. Despite their high glycaemic index, dried figs have lower calorie content – and more calcium than a glass of skim milk!

There are many health benefits of fig soaked in olive oil or water. Apart from promoting better digestive and heart health, it may help reduce blood sugar and cancer risk as well. Not only is it a good fertility food for men, but figs may help enhance your skin health too. With its high fibre content, figs make for good weight-loss food.

When buying figs, it’s best to inspect them and smell them. As for storage and prep, the best practice will depend on your fig product (fresh or dried).

There is no recommended amount for daily consumption, although proponents recommend eating 2-3 fruits a day.

While figs are good for diabetics, some caution is needed as they are high in sugar. They are also rich in Vitamin K, and as such should be carefully consumed by those taking blood thinners.

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Luiz Presso
Luiz Presso