Late summer and fall brings us one of the most ancient and gorgeous fruits: Ficus Carica, also known as the fig.
For me the fig is a symbolically poetic fruit, from its ability to perish so quickly to its succulent and colorful appearance.
As a child my father and uncles would all have fig trees in their gardens and every year their bounty would be well awaited.
Just before the chill of winter would set in we would all chip in to preen and wrap these huge trees in black garbage bags and tie up with ropes.
The tree is a mild climate fruit, known to the Mediterranean and now California, but to the Italian Americans in New Jersey, their climate restrictions were not going to stop them from growing their figs.
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Why Figs Are A Great Snack
I eat them every chance I get because I know soon there their season will end, that is part of the lure they have over me.
In Positano, on the Amalfi Coast I had my most pristine fig.
It was large and plump and when open exploded with gorgeous shades of red and delicious edible seeds.
As with all my food obsessions I seek more reasons to eat them so I do research on the nutritional benefits of figs to justify my craze.
I found that they are packed with both soluble and insoluble fiber (check out our FREE Carb Manipulation Protocol here) and have been known for centuries to relieve constipation, aid in digestion, and help with anemia.
Recent studies also indicate that a compound found in figs help fight cancer cell growth.
Greeks and Romans have always known of the benefits of this fruit and it was part of their diet. The fruit is full of iron, potassium, beta carotene and magnesium.
It has been said that the nutrients in figs are comparable to breast milk. A phytochemical called ficin- found in figs promotes the breakdown of protein foods and also aids in liver health.
This special fruit has tons of nutritive qualities and are absolutely delicious.
When you do get your hands on figs from Black Mission, Calimyrna (which have yellow skins) to Smyrna, you have many ways to add them to your diet.
- You can bake figs in a 425 degree oven for 15 minutes, and then they can be used as toppings on ricotta cheese or cottage cheese.
- Cut them up and with some balsamic vinegar make a crostini on whole wheat cracker.
- Prosciutto wrapped figs are great snacks.
- Braising with figs in various meat dishes.
- Add figs to baked products as a substitute for sugar.
Take the opportunity to enjoy these mythic fruits before they are all gone. September is when you will find them everywhere.
Store them in a cool place but eat right away and do not store them for more than two days, because they deteriorate quickly. Eat them skin and all or peel if you prefer.
Dried figs are good but add more sugar to your diet. Fresh is always best. Eat up!
(You may also want to check out Green Apples for Weight Loss!? The Mini Project).
*Since this article went live, we've had many requests for additional info on figs. So, without further ado, here are 7 more benefits of figs!
7 Benefits Of Eating Figs
Figs Contain Important Nutrients
Figs are a good source of manganese (~6% DV), dietary fiber, calcium (~4% DV), copper, potassium, phosphorus, vitamin B6 (pyridoxine), and the antioxidant vitamin A.
Manganese is required for the proper function of certain enzymes. Copper is a good example of an enzyme requiring manganese, as it functions in conjunction with copper to form elastin, which forms connective tissue that supports ligaments and tendons; without suppleness or elasticity, these tissues would be inflexible, which is why both are necessary for normal range of motion.
Potassium is important in electrolyte balance. Phosphorus is an essential component in the formation of bones and teeth, as well as adenosine triphosphate (ATP), the source of energy in cells.
The B6 (pyridoxine) forms red blood cells and plays a critical role in the metabolism of amino acids (the genetic coding material that's used to make proteins).
The antioxidant vitamin A is necessary for healthy eyesight, and also helps protect nerves.
Figs also contain trace amounts of iron, zinc, and magnesium.
Figs Contain Prebiotics
Prebiotics are non-digestible food ingredients that stimulate the growth of beneficial microorganisms in the gut. They do this via two mechanisms, by providing them with energy (like food) or by nourishing their host (the gut).
The microbiota (AKA microbiome – the totality of organisms living within a particular environment) that inhabits the human GI tract is a complex and dynamic system.
There are trillions of microorganisms, outnumbering human cells by 10 to 1, which means their collective genome (the sum total of genetic material in an organism) contains 100 times more genes than do humans.
These microbes have been linked with numerous important functions related to human health, including immune function and metabolism.
Their main food source is prebiotics – e.g., oligosaccharides (fiber) that resist digestion by gastric acidity and enzymatic action in the small intestine, therefore making it to the large intestine where they serve as nourishment for gut bacteria.
Not many foods have prebiotics (not to be confused with probiotics), but figs are one of them. That's another reason they're so good for you.
Figs Contain Antioxidants
Figs are also good sources of the antioxidant phenolic acids, ellagic acid being by far the most prevalent (>0.1 mg/g), with gallic acid, protocatechuic acid, and cinnamic acids making up most of the remainder.
The total antioxidant activity of figs is about 2-3 times higher than that of apples, pears, grapes, or strawberries.
The antioxidant activity in fresh figs (both raw and cooked) is due mainly to the presence of vitamin C and phenolic acids (e.g., ellagic acid), as well as their glycosides, which are metabolized in the gut by intestinal microflora to release active antioxidants such as ferulic acid and vanillic acid.
Ellagic Acid has been studied extensively for its anti-cancer properties. It seems to suppress cancer in several ways; it has an anti-inflammatory activity that inhibits tumor growth, acts as an antioxidant with positive effects on cellular response to oxidative stress (a cause of DNA damage like mutations), and also functions as an antimutagenic (prevents or slows down mutation).
Figs Contain Soluble Fiber
Figs are high in soluble fiber (one cup has about 14% of your recommended daily value). Soluble means it turns to gel during digestion and takes a long time to leave the stomach.
This gel can bind with substances like toxins or fat and carry them out of your body, leaving it cleaner and healthier (like a detoxifying lollipop).
Figs also contain insoluble fiber, which is great for digestion and regularity. It adds bulk to your stool, easing its passage through the colon.
Figs Are Loaded With Potassium
Figs are also packed with potassium, about 7% of your recommended daily value in one cup. Potassium is essential for the proper functioning of every cell, organ, and system in the human body.
It's particularly important in maintaining fluid and electrolyte balance, which is crucial for nerve transmission, muscle contraction, heart function, and bone health.
Figs Are An Excellent Source Of Vitamin K
Figs are also a very good source of vitamin K by weight (11% DV), which is one of the most critical nutrients for the maintenance of good cardiovascular health.
Vitamin K has been shown to prevent hardening and narrowing of the arteries, to help control hypertension, and offer effective protection against osteoporosis.
Figs Are Low In Calories
One cup of figs contains only 141 calories, making it a sweet, delicious way to promote weight loss or maintain your current healthy weight. As you'll see below, the fiber content helps to keep you feeling full longer.
Also, because there are so many good nutrients in a serving of figs, you don't have to eat nearly as much for it to count towards your daily value.