Figs Nutritional Profile
Energy value (calories per serving): Moderate (fresh figs) High (dried
Saturated fat: Low
Fiber: Very high
Sodium: Low (fresh or dried fruit); High (dried fruit treated with sodium
Major vitamin contribution: B vitamins
Major mineral contribution: Iron (dried figs)
About the Nutrients in Figs
Figs, whether fresh or dried, are high-carbohydrate food, an
extraordinarily good source of dietary fiber, natural sugars, iron,
calcium, and potassium. Ninety-two percent of the carbohydrates in dried
figs are sugars (42% glucose, 31% fructose, 0.1% sucrose). The rest is
dietary fiber, insoluble cellulose in the skin, soluble pectins in fruit.
The most important mineral in dried figs is iron. Gram for gram, figs have
about 50 percent as much iron as beef liver (0.8 mg/gram vs. 1.9 mg/gram).
A serving of 10 dried figs has 17 g dietary fiber and 4.2 mg iron (30
percent of the RDA for a healthy woman of childbearing age).
The Most Nutritious Way to Serve Figs
Dried (but see How other kinds of processing affect figs, below).
Diets That May Restrict or Exclude Figs
Low-fiber, low-residue diets
Low-sodium (dried figs treated with sulfites)
Look for: Plump, soft fresh figs whose skin may be green, brown, or
purple, depending on the variety. As figs ripen, the pectin in their cell
walls dissolves and the figs grow softer to the touch. The largest,
best-tasting figs are generally the ones harvested and shipped in late
spring and early summer, during June and July. Choose dried figs in
tightly sealed airtight packages.
Avoid: Fresh figs that smell sour. The odor indicates that the sugars in
the fig have fermented; such fruit is spoiled.
Refrigerate fresh figs. Dried figs can be stored in the refrigerator or at
room temperature; either way, wrap them tightly in an air- and
moistureproof container to keep them from losing moisture and becoming
hard. Dried figs may keep for several months.
Wash fresh figs under cool water; use dried figs right out of the package.
If you want to slice the dried figs, chill them first in the refrigerator
or freezer: cold figs slice clean.
What Happens When You Cook Figs
Fresh figs contain ficin, a proteolytic (protein-breaking) enzyme similar
to papain in papayas and bromelin in fresh pineapple. Proteolytic enzymes
split long-chain protein molecules into smaller units, which is why they
help tenderize meat. Ficin is most effective at about 140-160°F, the
temperature at which stews simmer, and it will continue to work after you
take the stew off the stove until the food cools down. Temperatures higher
than 160°F inactivate ficin; canned figs—which have been exposed to very
high heat in processing—will not tenderize meat.
Both fresh and dried figs contain pectin, which dissolves when you cook
the figs, making them softer. Dried figs also absorb water and swell.
How Other Kinds of Processing Affect Figs
Drying - Figs contain polyphenoloxidase, an enzyme that hastens the
oxidation of phenols in the fig, creating brownish compounds that darken
its flesh. To prevent this reaction, figs may be treated with a sulfur
compound such as sulfur dioxide or sodium sulfite. People who are
sensitive to sulfites may suffer serious allergic reactions, including
potentially fatal anaphylactic shock, if they eat figs that have been
treated with one of these compounds.
Canning - Canned figs contain slightly less
vitamin C, thiamin, riboflavin, and niacin than fresh figs, and no active
Medical Uses and/or Benefits of Figs
Iron supplementation. Dried figs are an excellent source of iron.
As a laxative. Figs are a good source of the indigestible food fiber
lignin. Cells whose walls are highly lignified retain water and, since
they are impossible to digest, help bulk up the stool. In addition, ficin
has some laxative effects. Together, the lignin and the ficin make figs
(particularly dried figs) an efficient laxative food.
Lower risk of stroke. Potassium lowers blood
pressure. According to new data from the Harvard University Health
Professionals Study, a long-running survey of male doctors, a diet rich in
high-potassium foods such as bananas may also reduce the risk of stroke.
The men who ate the most potassium-rich foods (an average nine servings a
day) had 38 percent fewer strokes than men who ate the least (less than
four servings a day).
Adverse Effects Associated with Figs
Sulfite allergies. See How other kinds of processing affect this food.
Food/Drug Interactions in Figs
MAO inhibitors. Monoamine oxidase (MAO) inhibitors are drugs used as
antidepressants or antihypertensives. They inhibit the action of natural
enzymes that break down tyramine, a nitrogen compound formed when proteins
are metabolized, so it can be eliminated from the body. Tyramine is a
pressor amine, a chemical that constricts blood vessels and raises blood
pressure. If you eat a food rich in one of these chemicals while you are
taking an MAO inhibitor, the pressor amines cannot be eliminated from your
body, and the result may be a hypertensive crisis (sustained elevated
blood pressure). There has been one report of such a reaction in a patient
who ate canned figs while taking an MAO inhibitor.