by Phong Dao
When most of us think of figs, we think of the old school Fig Newtons. These are tasty lil’ cookies that are both chewy with a seedy crunch. This fruit is often overlooked as a healthy, vitamin and mineral filled treat in our healthy diets.
Native to areas from India to Turkey, these fruits were one of the first to be harvested and cultivated. The Spanish brought figs to the Americas in the 1500’s. Figs grow on the Ficus tree (Ficus carica), a member of the Mulberry family. They fully ripen on the branch and partially dry on the tree. They usually grow from June to late August.
They thrive on hot, dry summers and rainy winters. From August to September they are allowed to fully ripen. They then fall onto a carefully prepared ground to further dry and become harvested. Figs are harvested many times per season. They range dramatically in color and subtly in texture depending upon the variety.
Some of the most popular varieties are:
- Black Mission: blackish-purple skin and pink colored flesh
- Kadota: green skin and purplish flesh
- Calimyrna: greenish-yellow skin and amber flesh
- Brown Turkey: purple skin and red flesh
- Adriatic: the variety most often used to make fig bars, which has a light green skin and pink-tan flesh
Figs have a full flavor. Sweet and chewy, these fruits are also filled with crunchy seeds that give added health benefits. The fig tree has no blossoms on its branches. Instead the blossoms are inside the fruit itself. The crunchy seeds are actually many tiny small flowers.
Nutritional Benefits of Figs
These dynamos have extended health benefits. They hold about 5 grams of dietary fiber per serving. They are naturally fat and cholesterol free. They have zero grams of trans fat. Figs are also sodium free.
They contribute to the essential minerals such as 6% DV of calcium, 8% DV of iron, 7% of potassium, 6% DV of magnesium and 8% of copper.
Figs provide more calcium than milk, 2x dietary fiber than prunes, and 2x the potassium of bananas. (per 100 grams/3.5 oz.) Just eating 3 to 4 dried figs can give you one full fruit serving. These whole fruits are a great way to meet the necessary guidelines of 4.5 cups of fruits and vegetables per day.
Dried figs have high levels of antioxidants.
Lower Blood Pressure – Because figs are a great source of potassium, high contents of this mineral are beneficial to help control blood pressure. Since many people do not eat enough fruits/vegetables and eat foods high in sodium, especially processed foods, many are deficient on potassium. Research has proven that a diet in fruits and vegetables, such as the fig lowered their blood pressure. Dried figs contain phenol, Omega-3 and Omega-6. These fatty acids reduce the risk of coronary heart disease.
Lose Weight- Figs have more fiber than any other common fruit. One serving can give you over 20% DV of dietary fiber only found in fruits and vegetables. Fiber and fiber rich foods can have a positive effect on weight management. Eating fig leaves can lower the levels of triglycerides. Triglycerides are the major form of fat produced and stored in the body. Elevated levels of triglycerides are commonly linked to obesity and heart disease.
Healthier Bones – Figs are a great source of calcium. This mineral helps promote bone density. The potassium found in figs may also counteract the urinary calcium loss caused by high-salt diets typical of most Americans. This helps in the furthering of bones thinning out.
Alkaline – Figs are highly alkaline, thereby supporting the body’s pH.
Cancer – Preliminary tests show that fig leaves may have the ability to inhibit the growth of cancer cells. Further research is needed to confirm the validity of these tests. The fiber content in figs are thought to help with the ridding of colon and breast cancer type cells.
Diabetes – Research has shown that fig leaves have anti-diabetic properties. The American Diabetes Association recommends figs for a high fiber treat. Fig leaves reduce the amount of insulin needed by diabetic patients who need insulin injections. Rich in Potassium, figs help to control blood sugar.
Lower cholesterol- Figs contain Pectin, a soluble fiber. When fiber goes through the digestive system, it soaks up cholesterol and carries them out of body.
Prevention of hypertension- People used to take more sodium in the form of salt. Low potassium and high sodium level may lead to hypertension. Figs are high in potassium but low in sodium. So, it helps to avoid hypertension.
Prevent macular degeneration- Vision loss as we age is due to macular degeneration. Fruits and figs generally are good for prevention of this condition.
Sore Throat Relief- The high mucilage content in figs helps heal and protect sore throats.
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