Figs come from the ficus tree. They’re fresh fruits that have a slightly unusual sweet flavor, along with a soft texture and distinct chewiness. They also contain tiny edible seeds. These have a slight crunch to them and contrast excellently with the texture of the fruit.
The balance of texture and flavor makes figs incredibly popular. You’ll even see them featured in many high-quality recipes and served at top-rated restaurants.
However, fresh figs are delicate and they don’t last for very long. Because of this, you’ll often find them dried instead. Dried figs are still delicious, although their taste and texture is different than their fresh counterparts (just like raisins and grapes are quite dissimilar)
What about health then? Are figs good for you?
To answer this question, let’s take a close look at the various nutrients found in figs, along with their vitamin and mineral content. We’ll also compare fresh figs to dried ones, as the differences between these types are relevant to your health as well.
Are Figs Good For Your Health?
- Benefits Of Figs
- How Figs Could Be Harmful
- Are Dried Figs Healthy?
- Ways To Use Figs
- Are Figs Vegan Friendly?
- Final Thoughts
Benefits Of Figs
They’re An Excellent Snack
Fresh figs are fantastic as a snack, especially when you’re trying to lose weight. What’s not to love? They’re sweet and delicious, while also being unprocessed and a decent source of fiber.
They’re fairly low in calories too, with a large fig containing less than 50 calories. Of course, you don’t need to eat an entire fig at a time. Even half a fig could make a decent snack.
Dried figs work well as a snack too. In fact, a single dried fig contains slightly more than 20 calories and has close to a gram of fiber. Just be cautious with your serving size here, as it’s much easier to eat multiple dried figs in a sitting than to do so with fresh figs.
Dried figs are often the most practical choice, as they last much longer than fresh figs do. You can even rehydrate them somewhat in water to create a more appealing texture.
They Contain Some Nutrients
Fresh figs aren’t an incredibly rich source of nutrients. In fact, a single fig contains less than 5% of your daily intake for all vitamins and minerals.
Still… you are getting some nutrients in each fig and these do contribute to your daily intakes. After all, the goal is to hit your targets for the various vitamins and minerals each day, so every little bit counts.
Some of the most significant nutrients are potassium, calcium, and magnesium, which are all very important indeed.
Can Improve Your Digestive Health
One of the biggest benefits of figs comes from how they can help with your digestion. This effect is directly related to the fiber content.
You know about the importance of fiber, right? Fiber is what keeps our digestive system ticking along smoothly, reducing the risk of both constipation and diarrhea. Getting enough fiber can help with weight loss too, as you feel full for longer.
This effect is strong enough that figs can be used as a remedy for constipation. Dried figs are often the preferred choice for this effect, as they’re fiber rich and easy to eat. However, fresh figs could easily be more powerful, as they contain more water, which helps with constipation as well.
May Lower Disease Risk
Fresh fruits and vegetables are powerful for decreasing your risk of various health problems, including type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and obesity. The fiber is a key reason for this effect, as it helps to buffer the effects of sugar and can decrease blood cholesterol levels.
Then there are all of the nutrients and antioxidants that you find in fruits and vegetables. These are relevant too, helping to keep your body functioning as it should.
The potassium in figs is particularly critical here, as potassium decreases blood pressure (and high blood pressure is a risk factor for heart disease). While potassium isn’t a rare mineral, many of us would benefit from consuming more of it, especially as potassium helps to offset some of the impacts of high sodium intake.
Provide Antioxidants As Well
We can’t forget about the antioxidants either. These are present in most types of fruit, including figs.
Antioxidants do exactly what the name suggests – they help to reduce oxidation. The effect is a critical one, as too much oxidation in the wrong places can cause significant health problems.
Having an antioxidant rich diet is one of the most powerful ways of protecting yourself. Plus, antioxidants can promote health in other ways too, like by lowering inflammation.
Even with their ORAC score, figs are far from insignificant. Indeed, ORAC scores are not officially supported these days, as they only measure antioxidant activity in a specific situation and don’t account for all the other effects of the antioxidant compounds.
How Figs Could Be Harmful
They’re A High FODMAP Food
FODMAPs are a type of fermentable carb, found in a variety of foods, including fruits. While many people can digest FODMAPs without a problem, some experience significant side effects, including bloating, diarrhea, stomach cramps, and more.
High FODMAP foods are particularly concerning for anyone with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Unfortunately, both fresh and dried figs are high in FODMAPs, making them a poor choice if you have IBS.
There is some good news though.
First, you can often still have small amounts of high FODMAP foods, even on a low FODMAP diet. For figs, a serving of 20 grams is considered low FODMAP.
Second, a low FODMAP diet doesn’t mean that you’re avoiding all FODMAPs forever. High FODMAP foods do still offer benefits and individual tolerances vary. So, even if you need to cut figs out right now, you might be able to reintroduce them later on without issue.
They’re High In Oxalates
The oxalates in figs are an issue as well. These naturally occurring compounds can increase the risk of kidney stones, especially for people who have had a kidney stone in the past.
As a result, anyone following a low oxalate diet may need to avoid figs entirely.
However, serving size matters. Figs are classed as a high oxalate food based on the typical serving size of two to four figs. You might find that you can still enjoy figs if you eat a single fig or even half of one in a serving.
The Sugar Content
There’s also the sugar in figs to talk about. The fruit isn't exceptionally high in sugar, but you do still get around 10.5 grams of sugar in a single large fig.
Now, the benefits of fruit tend to far outweigh the risks from the sugar content. This is why diets rich in fruit tend to be associated with many health benefits.
Even so, sugar is still sugar and even sugar from fruit can have negative effects on your health. This means you need to be wise about your portion sizes, particularly if you’re relying on dried figs rather than fresh figs.
You might even find that figs spike your blood sugar, despite their fiber content. This is something you’ll need to experiment with for yourself, as figs do contain some fiber and other interesting compounds, so the blood sugar effect my vary from person to person.
Can Give You Diarrhea
The fiber in figs helps to decrease constipation, but this effect isn’t always what you’re looking for. In fact, if you eat too many figs and you’re not constipation, they could easily give you diarrhea.
Similarly, eating figs when you already have diarrhea could make your symptoms much worse.
You might see some other fiber-related side effects too, like stomach cramps or bloating. These tend to be most significant when you dramatically change your fiber intake.
To avoid side effects, it’s best to increase your fiber intake slowly and drink plenty of water. Be particularly cautious if your digestive system is sensitive or if you have diarrhea.
Are Dried Figs Healthy?
Fresh figs aren’t your only option. Many people turn to dried figs instead.
When compared gram for gram, dried figs tend to be higher in calories and sugar than fresh figs. They also contain more vitamins, minerals, and fiber.
This pattern is true for all dried fruit and isn’t surprising. After all, drying the fruit removes water, which makes the fruit lighter and more nutrient dense.
Dried figs and fresh figs offer most of the same benefits.
The biggest difference is that it’s easier to overdo it with dried figs, so you need to be cautious with your portion sizes.
Ways To Use Figs
While figs might seem confusing at first glance, they don’t need to be. For fresh figs, you can simply wash them and then eat them directly. Dried figs can be eaten as-is or you can soak them in warm water to soften their texture.
Fresh and dried figs can also be used in many different recipes. You’ll often see them included in slices and energy bars, as they lend plenty of sweetness and an interesting texture to the recipe.
Countless other recipes rely on figs as well, including pies, tarts, jams, chutneys, and cake. You can get more creative too, like using slices of fresh fig in salads, on bread, or even on a pizza.
Figs and honey or figs and cheese are particularly good combinations. Don’t be afraid to experiment though, as figs work well with many different flavors.
Are Figs Vegan Friendly?
Normally there’s no question about whether a type of fruit is vegan friendly or not. However, some debate surrounds figs due to concerns that they can contain dead wasps.
There is some truth to this idea too, as female wasps do lay their eggs in figs and the female wasp needs to die to pollinate the fruit. However, this doesn’t mean that the crunchy bits of a fig are wasp bodies. Instead, they’re just the seeds, as the fig breaks down any wasp that does make its way inside.
Wasp pollination is a natural part of the fig’s life cycle, so it isn’t easy to avoid. Remember too that finding insect parts in fruit and vegetable isn’t that unusual anyway. Many symbiotic relationships exist between plants and animals. That’s simply the pattern of nature.
That said, modern farmers do have some ways to trick nature, making it possible to ripen figs without pollination.
For some vegans, the idea of eating a fruit that once contained an insect is abhorrent. You’ll need to decide on this one for yourself. Honestly though, there’s no way to completely avoid eating insects from time to time.
Figs are delicious and like many fruits, they offer a large range of benefits. The combination of fiber and antioxidants is particularly powerful, helping to lower your risk of many diseases.
However, figs do have some serious issues as well, as they’re high in both FODMAPs and oxalates. These natural compounds aren’t a problem for everyone, but if you are sensitive to them, you might need to avoid figs entirely.
There’s also the matter of how figs are pollinated. If you’re concerned by the idea that your fig once contained a dead wasp, try looking for companies that mature their figs artificially, rather than relying on pollination.
Still, the pollination process is entirely natural and enzymes in the fig break down the wasp body entirely, so there really isn’t anything to worry about.