FIGS – A HEALTHY TREAT*
The Ficus tree, or the common fig (Ficus carica), is a large, deciduous shrub or small tree. It can grow to a height of 10 metres, and is a member of the Mulberry family. Its fruit, the fig, is 3-5 centimetres long, with a green skin, sometimes ripening towards purple or brown. Figs are unique in that they have an opening, called the ostiole or ’eye’, which is not connected to the tree, but which helps the fruit’s development by increasing its communication with the environment.
The majority of figs, commercially available, are dried, either by exposure to sunlight or through an artificial process, creating a sweet and nutritious dried fruit that can be enjoyed throughout the year. However there is nothing like the unique taste and texture of fresh figs. They are lusciously sweet with a texture that combines the chewiness of their flesh, the smoothness of their skin, and the crunchiness of their seeds. Unfortunately figs are one of the most perishable fruits.
Health Benefits of Figs
· High Fibre Content
Figs have a higher fibre content than any other fruit or vegetable. There are approximately 7 grams of fibre in 100 grams of fresh figs. Eating figs, being rich in fibre, is an ideal way to increase fibre intake.
There are two types of fibre, soluble and insoluble. Both forms are important to health and the presence of both soluble and insoluble fibre in figs makes them a most important food.
Foods rich in insoluble fibre facilitate the passage of substances to be expelled from the body through the intestine by adding water to them. They thus accelerate the digestive system and ensure its regular functioning. Foods containing insoluble fibre have a protective effect against colon cancer.
Foods rich in soluble fibre have been shown to reduce cholesterol levels in the blood by up to 20%. The intake of soluble fibre is also important in the regulation of blood glucose (sugar) by efficient emptying of the stomach.
It is also another major health advantage for soluble and insoluble fibres to be present at one and the same time. It has been shown that when both forms are present together, they are much more effective in preventing cancer than when they are on their own.
Fibre and fibre-rich foods may have a positive effect on weight management.
Antioxidants, present in fruit and vegetables, protect against free radical damage and the diseases arising from such damage. Many antioxidants are phytochemicals. Phytochemicals are complex and are discussed in detail in my January 2010 newsletter Phytochemicals. Figs are a good source of antioxidants, especially flavonoids and polyphenols. In one study, a 40 gram portion of dried figs (two medium size figs) produced a significant increase in plasma (blood) antioxidant capacity.
· Lipids and Fatty Acids
The essential fatty acids omega-3 and omega-6 are present in figs. These are ‘essential’ because they cannot be manufactured by the body and need to be absorbed from food. They are indispensable to the proper functioning of the heart, brain and nervous system. Phytosterols are also present in significant amounts (31mg per 100g raw figs). These permit the cholesterol in animal products (if these foods are eaten) to be expelled from the body without entering the blood stream.
Figs have a higher mineral content than most other fruits. Figs are a good source of:
Calcium (Ca) - 35mg per 100g raw figs
Magnesium (Mg) - 17mg per 100g raw figs
Potassium (K) - 232mg per 100g raw figs
Phosphorus (P) - 14mg per 100g raw figs.
The sodium content is low, 1mg per 100g raw figs.
Figs are a good source of potassium, a mineral that helps to control blood pressure. Low intake of potassium-rich foods, especially when coupled with a high intake of sodium (typical Western diet), can lead to hypertension.
The high calcium content of figs will promote bone density, especially when consuming a high alkaline diet (see my October 2007 newsletter Calcium).
· Carbohydrate and Energy
Nearly 20% of a fig is carbohydrate (fruit sugar) (19g per 100g raw). This is one of the highest of the various fruits. Figs are thought of as a ‘medicine’ which gives strength and energy to long-term patients as they seek to recover.
The energy in 100g of raw figs is 74 calories or 310 kilojoules.
[Data from USDA Nutrient Database for Standard Reference.]
Figs contain some oxalates. For this reason, individuals with kidney disease may want to avoid eating figs. Oxalates may also interfere with the absorption of calcium, but research has shown that this effect is relatively small and definitely does not outweigh the ability of oxalate-containing foods to contribute calcium to the meal plan.
Commercially grown and dried figs may be treated with sulphur dioxide gas during processing. They may also be treated with sulphites (220-224) to extend their shelf life. They should therefore be avoided by those individuals with sulphite sensitivity.
Figs may have a laxative effect.
The edible fig is one of the first plants cultivated by humans. Fossil figs have been found dating back to about 9400-9200 BC. This find predates the domestication of wheat, barley and legumes, and may thus be the first instance of agriculture. It has been proposed that they may have been planted and cultivated intentionally, in Egypt, one thousand years before the next crops were domesticated (wheat and rye). Fig leaves were around for Adam and Eve (Genesis 3:7). The biblical quote “each man under his own vine and fig tree” (1 Kings 4:25) has been used to denote peace and prosperity. Figs are referred to in the first verse of Surat at-Tin “[I swear] by the fig and the olive” (Qur’an,95:1). Figs were a common food source for the Romans.
The Californian Fig Advisory Board has described the fig as “nature’s most nearly perfect fruit”. The nutritional value of this fruit, and its health benefits as set out above, have led to its acquiring a whole new importance.
Figs give an opportunity to add a really healthy, high fibre food to your diet. Choosing figs and other high fibre foods more frequently means that potentially harmful foods will be eaten less frequently -- and this is great for lifelong health.
*Copyright 2010: The Huntly Centre.
Disclaimer: All material in the Huntlycentre.com.au website is provided for informational or educational purposes only. Consult a health professional regarding the applicability of any opinions or recommendations expressed herein, with respect to your symptoms or medical condition.
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