Figs have a rich and storied culinary history, appearing in texts as old as the Bible. In fact, they are thought to be the first fruits harvested and cultivated intentionally by people in the United States.
But why are figs so revered? Surely the must be magic, right? Not quite, but eating figs certainly has some great health perks! Not to mention how delicious and naturally sweet they are.
If you want to learn more about the health benefits of figs and why we’ve grown and loved them for centuries, you’ve come to the right place.
Types Of Figs
Figs are the fruit of the ficus tree, which are members of the mulberry family.
When it comes to varieties of fig trees, it’s easy to get overwhelmed. Over 800 types of fig trees fall into four categories: Caprifigs, Smyrna, San Pedro, and Common figs.
The first three varieties of fig trees probably won’t come into play for home gardeners. They either don’t bear fruit at all or require cross-pollination to fruit.
On the other hand, common fig varieties bear most of the fruit we eat. They’re self-pollinating, meaning you can plant one fig tree on its own and still get some tasty fruits.
Of the Common figs that are available in the United States, the most popular varieties include Adriatic, Black Mission, Brown Turkey, Calimyrna, Celeste, Chicago Hardy, Desert King, Kadota, LSU Gold, LSU Purple, and O’Rourke.
Of all of these, you’ve probably had Black Mission and Brown Turkey the most. But each type has its own unique coloring and flavor profile.
Nutritional Value of Figs
One serving of fresh or dried figs counts as one of your five-a-day servings of fruits and vegetables.
And thanks to their natural sweetness, eating figs can help satisfy cravings while still providing the health benefits and nutrients of the fruit.
Additionally, figs are naturally fat and cholesterol free, making them a heart-healthy fruit!
Of all the nutrients contained in figs, the ones in found greatest concentration are copper, vitamin B6, calcium, potassium, magnesium, fiber, and iron.
Copper helps you make red blood cells and keeps your nerve cells healthy, vitamin B6 helps to metabolize food and turn it into energy, calcium builds and maintains strong bones, potassium regulates cell fluid and health, magnesium supports muscle function and energy production, fiber helps keep your gut and digestive tract healthy, and iron makes hemoglobin that carries oxygen from the lungs.
The minerals and nutrients in figs are essential for ensuring your body functions and thrives. The health benefits of figs speak for themselves!
Figs are naturally low in calories, giving them a great caloric density (ratio of calories to nutritional value).
However, figs, especially dried figs, are higher in sugar than other fruits. It makes them taste great, of course, but keep an eye on the suggested serving sizes and your daily sugar intake.
One of the benefits of figs, compared to other fruits, are particularly rich in calcium, containing up to three times as much as the average fruit.
Though most notable for its bone health benefits, calcium plays an important role in a lot of other functions, too. Calcium also helps regulate your nervous system, and muscle activity, clot blood, regulate hormones, and maintain normal heart function.
Additionally, they are also notably potassium-rich. The biggest job potassium has in the body is to regulate fluids within our cells.
Potassium is also crucial in digesting and metabolizing proteins and carbohydrates. It’s important for our potassium and sodium levels to stay in balance, and since our modern diets are typically sodium-heavy, finding sources of potassium to incorporate into your diet is essential!
Health Benefits of Figs
Antioxidants are chemicals, whether artificial or naturally occurring, that help to prevent cell damage by reducing oxidation. You can often find antioxidants in fruits and vegetables; figs are no exception.
Figs contain a lot of polyphenols, a plant-based compound that is considered to be an antioxidant. For the most antioxidant payoff, the riper the figs, the better.
Improved digestion may be one of figs’ most well-known health benefits. Figs are rich in fiber, which explains why they’re often recommended as a natural combatant and laxative for constipation. Patients with IBS are often advised to incorporate eating figs frequently to help keep things regular.
Their fiber also has a lot of prebiotic properties that are important in maintaining your overall gut health and digestion. We love good bacteria, and figs help to nourish them!
Better Heart Health
Typical of the Mediterranean diet to which figs typically belong, the health benefits of figs are great for your heart. To reiterate, figs are fat-free and cholesterol-free
In some cases, high blood pressure, or hypertension, can result from a lack of potassium caused by a high sodium diet. Figs, alongside other fruits and vegetables, naturally contain potassium to help fill those gaps and better regulate blood pressure.
Improved Bone Health
The high calcium levels in figs compared to other fruits can serve your bone. But figs also contain magnesium and phosphorous; all these nutrients work together to increase bone density.
As such, this bone support can help to combat bone diseases like osteoporosis. The health benefits of figs truly work from the inside out.
How to Include Figs in Your Diet
Different Ways of Eating Figs
Thankfully, figs are so tasty on their own that you can just snack on them fresh or dried, plain or with a bit of honey or goat cheese. But they also go great in plenty of different recipes, so eating figs should be a walk in the park.
As a Sweetener
Because of their natural sweetness, figs go great in plenty of dessert foods. Before sugar became popular and widely accessible, people used figs in lieu of sugar as a sweetener.
These fruit-sweetened brownies include zero sugar, instead using figs and dates for sweetness.
To create your own all-purpose sweetener to have on hand, add eight ounces of figs and a 1/4 cup of water to a blender or food processor and puree until smooth.
You can use this mixture in baking recipes as you might use applesauce, or you can use it as a spread, dip, beverage sweetener, or any way that you might use honey.
Figs also add a sweet crunch to salads! It’s super common to see figs in a salad recipe. They go great paired with spinach, arugula, pears, soft cheeses, nuts, and vinaigrettes.
On a Sandwich
For a more handheld meal, combine some of the above ingredients between sourdough or whole-grain bread. Sweet figs, melty cheese, and crunchy bread is a delightful combo with lots of nutrients and is guaranteed to keep you full!
Tips for Picking Your Figs
It’s tough to incorporate new foods into your diet if you aren’t sure how to pick them in the first place. Luckily, you have a few options if you want to start reaping the health benefits of figs.
One tricky thing about fresh figs is catching them when they’re ripe. If you grow figs at home, you will typically harvest them in late summer. You can tell when figs are ripe when they are soft to the touch and hang down off their stem.
Figs are the type of fruit that will not continue to ripen after they are harvested, so timing is key – unripe figs are not very tasty and will also lack the nutrients and health benefits that ripe figs have.
You can also pay attention to the color of your figs as they ripen to know when to pick, but some varieties of figs are darker than others, so make sure you know what color your particular type of figs will turn before you use this method.
Fresh figs only last two or three days, a bit longer if you keep them in the refrigerator, so you have to eat them quickly!
Similar rules apply if you’d rather shop for your figs than grow them! Ensure the skin is unbroken and the fruit is soft but not mushy. Ripe figs smell fragrant, and overripe or rotting figs smell slightly sour.
Dried figs can keep up to six months, a huge improvement over fresh figs! Dried figs can also be used more or less like fresh figs, so they’re a great option if you aren’t sure how or when you want to use them.
However, dried figs have a higher sugar content, so make sure you adjust your recipes accordingly.
Benefits of Figs, or Nature’s Candy
The real secret to the health benefits of figs is that they provide a nutrient-packed alternative to sweets with a low caloric density. You can trust the millennia of documented enjoyment of figs that you won’t regret incorporating them into your meals for a healthy, well-rounded diet.
If you want to learn more about figs, or are interested in growing your own trees and reaping the benefits of figs at home, check out our post all about fig trees!