That’s all great news but it causes people to overlook other healthy options, like figs.
For the most part, you probably know figs from fig newtons but those are fairly processed treats that are best avoided.
In fact, many people haven’t even tried figs on their own.
So, are figs good for you?
The simple answer is yes. They offer some fairly powerful health benefits and they’re also a good source of nutrients. Plus, they also taste good.
With this post, we’re going to take a look at exactly why you should be including figs in your diet, even if you’ve never tried them before.
The Nutritional Profile of Figs
The fig itself is a fruit from the species Ficus carica, a species of plant from the mulberry family. As with a number of fruits out there, figs aren’t considered a fruit from the botanical perspective. Specifically, they’re instead known as false fruit or an accessory fruit, much like strawberries are.
Nevertheless, their botanical classification doesn’t affect the fact that we call figs fruit. More importantly, it has no bearing on their health benefits.
So, to take a serious look at figs, we need to start with the basics – their nutrients.
Now, there are two main ways to eat figs, fresh or dried. Needless to say, which option you choose is going to affect the nutritional composition.
For fresh figs, 100 g of figs is around 74 calories and includes 3 g of fiber and 16 g of sugars.
That level of sugar may seem high but it isn’t so different than other fruit (1). Plus, it’s still more appealing than the refined sugar that you tend to find in processed foods.
Some of the key nutrients from figs include the following (2):
- 232 mg Potassium (7% DV)
- 0.1 mg Manganese (6% DV)
- 0.1 mg Vitamin B6 (6% DV)
- 4.7 mcg Vitamin K (6% DV)
- 0.1 mg Thiamin (4% DV)
- 17.0 mg Magnesium (4% DV)
- 35.0 mg Calcium (4% DV)
There are also other nutrients present, in smaller quantities.
On average, a large fig would be somewhere around 75 g or so, while a medium one might be around 50 g.
So, you would get the above nutrients from roughly 2 medium figs, which is a common serving size.
Now, as you can probably see, you don’t end up with an extreme amount of any particular nutrient from figs. Nevertheless, the nutrients do help to contribute to a healthy diet overall.
Additionally, having a variety of fruit and vegetables in the diet is appealing, as there are many plant-based compounds that offer significant health benefits, including compounds like flavonoids. In many cases, the specific compounds have not been identified, so the best way to get them is to ensure that you eat many types of fruits and vegetables.
With dried figs, the nutritional profile is a little different (3):
- 680 mg Potassium (19% DV)
- 0.5 mg Manganese (26% DV)
- 0.1 mg Vitamin B6 (5% DV)
- 15.6 mcg Vitamin K (19% DV)
- 0.1 mg Thiamin (6% DV)
- 68.0 mg Magnesium (17% DV)
- 162 mg Calcium (16% DV)
A similar pattern is present for the other nutrients in figs.
At first glance, the nutritional information for dried figs seems much better. You actually see that same pattern for any dried fruit, as the process of dehydration means an increase in concentration, so you get more nutrients for the same weight.
However, research does indicate that sun drying figs can help to produce a higher level of phenolic compounds to sugar. In this way, sun dried figs may offer more health benefits than fresh figs (4).
Nevertheless, one key reason for the change in overall nutritional profile is that drying figs removes the liquid, which creates a more concentrated product. As such, you get more calories and nutrients for the same weight.
So, in dried figs, there is around 48 g of sugar per 100 g of fruit, versus 16 g of sugar per 100 g with fresh figs. This difference is fairly significant, especially as you don’t want to be consuming too much sugar.
The end result is that dried figs may offer more nutrients but it is also much easier to eat too much of them.
As a general rule, fresh fruit is a better option for health than dried. The liquid in fruit means that you tend to feel full as you eat, so it’s harder to overeat. In contrast, dried fruit is almost like candy. Not only is it high in sugar but it tends to be unsatisfying. The end result is that you can easily eat more dried fruit than you intend to.
If you were to look at the nutrients of figs overall, you may well ask the question, are figs good for you?
After all, the nutritional profile isn’t amazing and is fairly similar to what you find in many other fruits. But, research does suggest that eating figs has the potential to help improve mineral levels (5).
Additionally, the nutritional profile doesn’t tell you everything. Instead, there are other indications that figs are truly good for you.
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The Health Benefits of Figs
One of the most significant advantages of figs is that they’re powerful antioxidants. This effect comes from their polyphenols and means that figs have the ability to help lower oxidative stress (6,7,8).
Additionally, there is growing evidence that antioxidants are best consumed as part of a healthy diet rather than as supplements.
One reason for this concern is that we are better off having a large variety of antioxidants in our body, versus simply getting a lot of antioxidants from a single source (15). As such, figs can offer one good source of antioxidants and by doing so, can contribute to your health.
Figs can be a key source of antioxidants
May Have an Anticancer Role
There is also a theory that figs may be able to help fight cancer. This idea seems to come from the role of figs in some traditional medicine (16).
Some evidence does also support the theory. For example, some studies have indicated that compounds within figs can fight some human cancer cell lines (17,18). This has led to recommendations for more research (19).
However, as the research is incredibly limited, the role of figs against cancer is not clear.
Furthermore, most research has focused on compounds in figs, rather than figs themselves, and the concentration of compounds in the research was probably fairly high.
So, the observed outcomes may not be relevant to fig consumption.
Nevertheless, the true connection between figs and cancer will not be clear until more research has been conducted.
There is also some evidence that consuming sufficient fiber may help to decrease the risk of cancer (20). However, studies into this connection have found mixed results, with some suggesting that fiber can help to reduce cancer risk and others unable to find a connection (21).
Nevertheless, fiber does play a role in weight management, as does eating a healthy diet focused on whole foods. Additionally, there is some evidence that being overweight can increase cancer risk (22). So, if nothing else, figs may help to fight cancer in this way.
Some of the compounds in figs may help to fight cancer, although more research is needed
Other Health Benefits
One interesting related area is that figs may have some role in boosting the immune system. This is not an area that has been studied extensively, but researchers have found that compounds from fig were able to have this effect in grass carp (23).
As such, similar outcomes may also occur in humans, although more research is needed to confirm that theory.
Beyond the antioxidants and the potential of fig compounds to help fight cancer, the biggest benefit of figs is simply the nutrients that they offer. This includes the vitamins and minerals that you commonly find, along with the plant-based compounds, like polyphenols.
In our modern society, people frequently rely heavily on processed foods, often simply because those options are fast and easy. Yet, those foods can have devastating effects on our health, both in the short-term and in the long-term.
At the same time, diversifying your food choices is important, as different fruits and vegetables offer their own combinations of nutrients.
So, figs certainly shouldn’t be the only fruit in your diet but they’re a valuable addition and can help to improve your health overall.
Figs may also help to boost the immune system and they are a healthy choice overall
Figs as Part of a Healthy Diet
With all of these various benefits, it’s easy to see how figs can be a good addition to a healthy diet. In fact, figs are a significant component of the Mediterranean diet (24), even though this connection is mostly overlooked.
The Mediterranean diet itself refers to the general diet type that is commonly found in Mediterranean countries. This diet has a strong emphasis on vegetables and olive oil, as well as an emphasis on nuts, seeds, wholegrains and fish.
The diet is fascinating because it has been connected to a large number of health benefits, including the prevention of heart disease (25), reduced risk of Alzheimer’s disease (26), better cognition (27) and improvement in health overall (28).
For the most part, research has suggested that these outcomes are a part of the diet as a whole, rather than from specific components of the diet.
Overall, the significance of the Mediterranean diet for health strongly indicates that figs can easily be part of a healthy diet and promote improved health outcomes in that role.
Figs are a key part of the Mediterranean diet, suggesting that they can certainly be part of a healthy diet and lifestyle
Are Figs Fattening?
Figs can certainly be part of a healthy diet but it is still important to eat them in moderation. Like most fruits, figs do contain a decent amount of natural sugars, which can potentially make you gain weight.
The key way around this is simply to be aware of your calorie intake and not overdo it.
The other thing to consider is fresh versus dried figs. As a general rule, eating fresh fruit is always better for your weight, as it is much harder to overeat. In the case of figs, you’re also getting a decent amount of fiber, which helps to make you feel full.
As such, you will typically feel satisfied from figs without overeating, while the same isn’t really true for dried figs.
With fresh figs, the fiber and liquid helps to balance out the sugar but be careful with dried figs
Buying and Storing Figs
Figs are a strongly seasonal fruit, so there are only a couple of times in a year when you can buy them. The first season for figs is at the beginning of June and runs for just a few weeks. The second season is longer and goes from August to October (29).
When you’re buying figs, look for figs that are slightly soft to the touch and they will tend to have a rich color.
As with avocados and other sensitive fruit, it can take a little bit of trial and error before you learn precisely what you are looking for with figs. But, once you have, choosing fresh figs can be easy.
The best place to store them is in the fridge, in a small bowl (and not the container they were in when you bought them) (30).
Now, one of the biggest disadvantages with figs is that they don’t have an especially long life span. In general, they only last 7-10 days after they’ve been picked. Typically, this means that you will only have a few days between buying them and eating them.
The way around this issue is to eat dried figs. Dried fruit tends to have a much longer lifespan than fresh alternatives and it’s something that you can have all year long. If you store them well, dried figs can last well over a year, up to 24 months. That shelf life does increase your options for using figs.
You can make dried figs yourself using an oven or by sun drying them (see instructions here). Sun drying may potentially be a healthier technique (31), although the amount of research done on the topic has been minimal.
Figs are a seasonal fruit and don't last long. However, dried figs have a longer shelf life
There are lots of different recipes out there for figs and it’s beyond the scope of this discussion to go into them in depth. However, you can find an appealing list of recipes over at BuzzFeed and a list of fig-containing desserts at Serious Eats.
You can also simply eat figs as-is, without including them in any recipe. Even the skin of the fig is edible, although some people peel it off as they don’t like the taste or texture.
Another way to just eat the inside of a fig is to cut it in half and scoop out the insides. Figs are often served this way and can be paired with tangy cheese or other dairy products to create a nice contrast.
Figs can be eaten raw (including the skin) or can be used in a many different recipes
Potential Side Effects from Figs
For the most part, figs are safe to eat and are a common diet component for many people.
Nevertheless, you may need to avoid figs if you have an allergy to weeping fig, natural rubber latex or mulberry. All of these allergies mean that you may also have a reaction to the fruit or leaves of a fig tree.
Additionally, you should be careful about using figs medicinally, especially if you plan to consume a large amount of them. After all, figs are relatively high in sugar, which can affect glucose levels in the blood. That could potentially be an issue for anyone but is particularly significant for diabetics.
This isn’t something to be concerned about if you are just eating figs as regular fruit.
However, if you plan to consume large amounts of them for their potential health benefits, then it’s worth talking to your doctor first.
Some allergies will make people sensitive to figs and you should also be careful about fig consumption if you are diabetic
Are Figs Good for You?
The health benefits of figs may not be revolutionary but in terms of the question, are figs good for you, the answer is yes, without a doubt.
In particular, they act as a good source of antioxidants, as well as other plant-based compounds and various vitamins and minerals.
As such, they can be an important component of a healthy diet.
With figs, you have the option of choosing between fresh and dried versions. Each type has its own advantages; especially as dried figs will tend to last much longer.
However, if you are going to rely on dried figs, I recommend being careful about your serving size. It is far too easy to overeat when it comes to dried fruit and if you do consume too much, you risk undermining the health benefits that you get from figs.
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Are you a fan of figs? If so, what's your favorite recipe? Please let me know in the comments below.