Nutrition, Health & Wellness

The 7 Unknown Nutritional Benefits of Figs

If you find yourself wanting a sweet and healthy snack but you’re tired of munching on berries or other traditional fruits, you may want to consider grabbing a few figs. Not only are they delicious, but the nutritional benefits of figs are outstanding. Thanks to its rich nutritional profile, figs are known to be incredible for supporting your immune system and your skin and hair health. Eating them regularly is even linked to having a lower BMI!

And the best part is that they’re quite versatile. Personally, I love to include them in my salads. In fact, they pair great with arugula, kale avocados, nuts, and a refreshing lemon-based dressing! But I also like to add them to pastas, rice, and even desserts. The options are really endless.

So, let’s take a closer look at what makes figs so healthy, and their unique nutritional profile. Then, we’ll review the many nutritional health benefits of figs.

 

What Makes Figs So Healthy?

In order to fully understand the nutritional benefits of figs, we must first take a closer look at what figs actually are.

While they’re native to the Middle East, figs are also commonly grown throughout the Mediterranean as well as in parts of Asia and North America. Interestingly, figs are commonly referred to as fruits, but they’re actually inverted flowers pollinated by tiny wasps commonly known as fig wasps! [1] Pretty surprising, right?

Now, figs are a rich source of many vitamins and minerals, including vitamins B6, A, and K as well as copper, calcium, potassium, iron, magnesium, riboflavin and many more. Another important mineral found in figs is strontium, which—along with calcium and magnesium—has been shown to support bone health.

In fact, strontium has been shown to increase bone mineral density in the spine by up to 14.4 percent and in the hip by 8.3 percent! [2]

Due to the fact that they’re high in polyphenols (beneficial plant compounds known as micronutrients), figs are also rich in antioxidants. As you may recall, antioxidants are compounds known to fight the free radicals linked to many chronic diseases.

Because dried figs have more concentrated nutrients, you’re actually likely to get more antioxidant benefits in the dried versions rather than fresh figs. This is helpful to know because dried figs are more readily available.

Figs are also high in fiber, meaning they not only support your digestive health but also aid in satiety and even help to regulate blood sugar levels. When you think of all the nutrients packed into this small food, it’s no wonder why it’s such a nutritional powerhouse, right?

So, let’s dive into those specific benefits of figs so you can see how the nutrient support your overall health

7 Nutritional Benefits of Figs

Now that you know more about the nutritional profile, let’s take a look at some of the specific nutritional benefits of figs.

1. Supports healthy blood pressure

As I mentioned above, figs are rich in potassium. In fact, one medium fig contains about 115 mg of potassium. But why does this matter? Well, your body requires a certain amount of potassium to help balance out the sodium you consume.

As you likely know, high sodium intake has been linked to high blood pressure. But you may be surprised to learn that high potassium consumption has been show to help mitigate the effects of sodium on cardiovascular health—including blood pressure and risk of stroke.

In fact, a 2014 study on more than 102,000 people confirmed that the more potassium that was found in the participants urine, the lower their blood pressure readings.

In fact, on average, for each 1 gram of potassium found in the participants’ urine each day, the subjects saw a decrease in their systolic blood pressure by 0.75 mm Hg as well as a decrease in their diastolic blood pressure by 0.06 mm Hg. [3]

As you can see from these findings, if you’re dealing with blood pressure concerns, it’s imperative to make sure you’re getting enough potassium into your diet. And incorporating figs and other potassium-rich foods can be a great—and tasty—way to do just that!

2. May contain anti-diabetic properties

When it comes to the nutritional benefits of figs, its ability to support healthy blood sugar levels may just be one of its best. And this is thanks to a few different nutritional elements: its high potassium and fiber content.

In fact, a deficiency in potassium, which is a vital electrolyte, has been linked to an increased risk of type 2 diabetes, largely due to the fact that low potassium causes disturbances in glucose metabolism. [4]

Meanwhile, a meta-analysis of 16 studies confirmed that those who consumed the most fiber had a statistically significant reduced risk of developing type 2 diabetes in comparison to those who consumed the least fiber. Moreover, fiber consumption was linked to lower fasting blood glucose levels. [5] This is due to the fact that fiber actually helps to your body’s absorption of sugar.

Given these nutritional components, researchers tested the effects of figs on blood sugar in a 2019 study. The researchers provided 10 health adults with test beverages containing different ingredients. The beverages containing higher doses of fig extract were found to have reduced glycemic index (GI) values by about 25 percent. [6]

Now, as you may know, the GI is a ranking system that determines how certain carbohydrate foods impact blood sugar levels. The higher the GI, the more it can increase your blood sugar. The fact that the fig extract was show to decrease the GI of the beverages showed that adding figs to your diet can help support healthy blood sugar levels by minimizing the effects of higher glycemic foods.

3. Promotes healthy digestion

Another one of the great nutritional benefits of figs is their ability to promote healthy digestion. The very same fiber that can help to support healthy blood sugar levels also aids digestive health.

Several studies have shown that consuming a paste made from figs for three weeks can actually relieve chronic constipation in animals, leading researchers to surmise that the same may be true for humans. [7] But there’s more.

In a 2018 study, researchers tested the effects of both red sugar and fig syrup on 30 children suffering from constipation. After four weeks, the researchers found that both the red sugar and fig syrup were incredibly effective at not only relieving constipation but also relieving the pain and discomfort that accompanies constipation. [8]

Given what we know about how sugar impacts your blood sugar levels, figs would be the better option of the two methods tested in the study. So, if you find that you’re suffering from digestive concerns, and specifically constipation, try eating a few figs to see if helps to provide some relief.

4. Supports healthy weight management

Given their high fiber content, it shouldn’t be surprising to hear that one of the most popular nutritional benefits of figs is its positive influence on weight management. But just how effective is?

Well, according to findings published in 2011, adults who eat fibrous dry fruit on a regular basis not only have higher nutrient intake and overall diet quality scores, but they also tend to weigh approximately five pounds less! Moreover, they tend to have a lower BMI by one full point and a smaller waistline by about 2.5 cm. [9]

As I mentioned above, dried figs are more readily available than fresh figs and actually offer more “bang” for your buck in terms of nutritional content. So, consider snacking on a handful of dried figs once a day to help meet your dried fruit quote and tap into the incredible nutritional benefits of figs!

5. May support respiratory health

Now, here’s one of the nutritional benefits of figs you likely haven’t heard about before: Consuming figs may actually support your respiratory health. In particularly, practitioners of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) use figs to help control symptoms of asthma attacks.

So, how does this work? Well, as you may recall, TCM is all about finding the balance with your body and nature. And because figs are considered to be “cooling,” they’re commonly used for any inflammatory (or “hot”) condition in the body, such as a respiratory infection or asthma attack.

There’s another element here as well, though: In TCM, figs are commonly used to help move fluid and energy through the lungs and respiratory tract, which helps to provide moisture to dry lungs.

While there isn’t much research to cite on this TCM therapy, it’s commonly recommended to eat two or three figs that have been soaked overnight in honey to help moisturize your respiratory tract and help relieve dry coughing spells. [10]

6. Supports immunity

If you’ve ever been sick with a cold or respiratory infection, you’ve likely been told to consume lots of vitamin C and zinc—and with good reason. Both of these nutrients are known to support your immune system.

Figs are a great source of zinc, offering a great whole food source for this important mineral. But how effective is zinc in fighting off viral and bacterial invaders?

Well, according to researchers, zinc deficiencies are not only linked to having a higher risk of developing cold and bacterial infections, but it’s actually connected to increased incidence and duration of pneumonia. And, according to research, this deficiency is especially noted in our elderly population. [11]

Now, it’s important to note that I’m not saying you can eat one fig a day and have all the zinc you need, but making sure you’re consuming zinc on a daily basis is very important to support your overall immune health. So, whether you want to include some dried figs in your diet or eat them fresh when they’re in season, just know you’re getting some immune-supporting zinc in the process.

7. Supports healthy skin and hair

Finally, figs are a great whole food treatment to incorporate in your beauty regimen. Why? Well, studies have found that the nutritional benefits of figs actually extend to promoting the health of both your skin and hair!

In fact, according to a 2015 study, a formulation containing fig extract was found to significantly reduce wrinkle depth and length by 11.5 and 10 percent respectively, as well as inhibit the breakdown of collagen in the skin. [12]

Additionally, certain nutritional deficiencies have been linked to hair loss, making the need for optimal nutrition vital for hair growth and retention. [13] In fact, an iron deficiency is notably linked to hair loss. According to a 2013 study, iron levels were 39 percent lower in women with female pattern hair loss than in those with normal hair growth. [14]

Because figs have a highly nutritious profile, including serving as a rich source of iron, they show promise in helping to support your skin health and fighting hair loss as well.

 

Nutritional benefits of figs - Dr. Pingel

 

Key Takeaways

  • There are many nutritional benefits of figs due to their highly nutritious content—from polyphenols to antioxidants to numerous vitamins and minerals.
  • Some of the top nutritional benefits of figs include supporting healthy blood pressure, blood sugar levels, and digestion.
  • Other nutritional benefits of figs include their ability to promote healthy weight management, support respiratory health, support immunity, and even promote skin and hair health.

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