Figs: Nutrition and Health Benefits

Figs have been associated with health and prosperity since ancient times. They’re symbolically linked to Demeter, the Greek goddess of agriculture and fertility, and were offered to the god Bacchus in ancient Rome.

Not your typical fruit, figs are technically a collection of inverted flowers that, if left alone, would bloom from the inside out. They grow commonly in the Mediterranean and the Middle East — locations that are hot, sunny, and dry for a large portion of the year.

Before sugar became popular, figs were commonly used to sweeten desserts — you’ve probably heard of “figgy pudding.” Today, as people begin to turn away from refined sugars, many are turning back to figs to provide a healthier alternative.

A fig is a soft fruit with a thin skin that can be either green or purple. The flesh of a fig is typically red, and the entirety of the fruit is edible.

People have used figs to help treat health conditions related to the endocrine, reproductive, and respiratory systems, as well as the digestive tract.

Fresh and Dried Fig Nutrition

Here’s what you’ll get when you eat 1 fresh fig:

  • 37 calories
  • 0 g fat
  • 10 g carbohydrate
  • 8 g sugars
  • 1.5 g fiber
  • <1 g protein

Here’s what you’ll get when you eat 1 dried fig:

  • 21 calories
  • 0 g fat
  • 5 g carbohydrate
  • 4 g sugars
  • 1 g fiber
  • <1 g protein

Health Benefits

One reason many healthy eating websites feature food with figs is that figs satisfy sweet cravings while also providing many important health benefits. In fact, even if you’re not looking to satiate a sweet tooth, you may benefit from adding figs to your diet. Here are some of the health benefits you can expect to enjoy when you eat figs.

Promotes digestive health

Figs are often recommended to nourish and tone the intestines, they act as a natural laxative because of their high fibre content. The fibre they provide also has prebiotic properties, feeding the gut bacteria and promoting a healthy gut environment which as a result improves digestive wellness.

Reduce High Blood Pressure

High blood pressure, also known as hypertension, can lead to complications like heart disease and stroke. One factor that leads to high blood pressure is a potassium imbalance caused by eating too much sodium and not enough potassium.

Figs are a potassium-rich food and can help correct that imbalance. Meanwhile, high levels of fiber in figs can help to flush excess sodium from the system.

May improve vascular and heart health

Figs may improve blood pressure and blood fat levels, which can help improve your vascular health and decrease your risk of heart disease.

One study found that fig extract decreased blood pressure in rats with normal blood pressure, as well as those with elevated levels.

Animal studies have also shown improvements in total cholesterol, HDL (good) cholesterol, and triglyceride levels when supplementing with fig leaf extract.

However, in a 5-week study in 83 people with high LDL (bad) cholesterol, researchers noted that those who added about 14 dried figs (120 grams) to their diet daily had no changes in blood fat levels, compared with a control group.

More human studies are needed to better understand the relationship between figs and heart health.

Increase Bone Density

Figs are a good source of both calcium and potassium. These minerals can work together to improve bone density, which can, in turn, prevent conditions like osteoporosis.

Studies suggest that a potassium-rich diet, in particular, can improve bone health and reduce bone turnover. Meanwhile, calcium is a key structural component of bones, and increasing calcium intake has been shown to improve bone mineral structure in children and adolescents.

Rich in antioxidants

Figs, especially ripe ones, are rich in protective plant compounds called polyphenols. These compounds have protective antioxidant properties, this means they help prevent oxygen from reacting with other chemicals and causing damage to cells and tissues, by so doing they are key to managing oxidation.

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May improve diet quality and aid weight management

Naturally high in dietary fibre and packed with vitamins and minerals, figs may be a useful dietary inclusion to improve the nutritional density of your diet and in turn help with weight management. High fibre foods provide feelings of fullness and can reduce hunger and cravings whilst key nutrients improve blood management.

Erectile dysfunction

Some people consider certain plants to be aphrodisiacs due to their potential ability to stimulate sexual arousal. Indeed, some people use figs for their alleged aphrodisiac properties.

A study in rats tested the aphrodisiac abilities of three plants: earth smoke, Chinese cinnamon, and figs.

The researchers measured the effectiveness of a mixture of these plants by studying the increase in mounting behavior. The rats that received this mixture had increased sexual activity, compared with the control group.

However, it is difficult to determine which of the three plants was responsible for the increased sexual activity.

Are figs safe for everyone?

If you have an allergy to birch pollen, you may experience a cross reactivity to certain fruit, including figs. Fig trees also contain natural latex, which some people have an allergy to.

If you have been advised to follow a low oxalate diet you should be aware that figs contain high level of oxalates. They are also rich in vitamin K so if you are prescribed blood thinning medication you should keep your intake of figs, as well as other vitamin-K rich foods, consistent from day to day.

Not all people feel comfortable eating figs, for example, vegans may avoid eating figs because some varieties are pollinated by wasps which die during the pollination process. Commercial figs are grown without wasp pollination and should, therefore, be acceptable

If figs are new to you, enjoy them in moderation because large amounts may have a laxative effect.

How to Prepare Figs

Figs can easily be eaten fresh as a snack, or halved and tossed into a salad or sandwich for added crunch and flavor. However, there are also a number of tasty ways to bake using figs as a sweetener.

One option is to cut figs up small and mix them into dough the way you might mix in raisins. Prepared like this, figs go great in breads, cookies, and muffins.

Fig bars can be made by cooking chopped figs over medium heat until they are soft and moist. Then, they can be pressed into a pan with other ingredients.

Another option is to cut your figs lengthwise, season with honey and cinnamon, and roast them in the oven for 40 minutes to make a sweet dessert or delicious side dish.

Bottom Line

Figs have a variety of potential health benefits. Along with the fruit, fig leaves and fig leaf tea appear to be beneficial for health. Dried figs in particular may help relieve constipation.

However, figs may interfere with blood thinning medications due to their vitamin K content, and dried figs should be eaten in moderation due to their high sugar content.

That said, overall, fresh figs, fig leaves, and fig leaf tea make great additions to a healthy diet.

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