The health benefits of figs are undeniable, no matter if eaten fresh or dried. Grab some at the grocery store or grow some in your own backyard. I originally wrote this story about the health benefits of figs for Lifetime Daily.
There’s a good chance your introduction to the fig came by way of the popular fig newton cookie.
But figs have been around much longer than those beloved biscuits filled with dried fig paste. In fact, figs are believed to be one of the first food crops ever to be cultivated. Fossils found near Jericho, Jordan, show figs were farmed before staples wheat, barley and legumes.
One can’t help but think farmers at the time knew they were on to something big when they domesticated these rich, syrupy sweet fruits. Dried or fresh, figs and their jammy flesh burst with flavor and health benefits.
The Health Benefits of Fresh and Dried Figs
1. Figs are high in fiber
One cup of figs provides about 45% of our daily fiber needs. Not only does that help keep our bowels in top working order, all that fiber makes us feel fuller and curbs cravings for unhealthy snacks. The insoluble fiber in figs (a type of fiber commonly found in the seeds and skins of fruit) also provides great roughage to clean out our digestive tract. This is particularly good for mature adults: as we get older, we’re at higher risk for colon cancer. Including plenty of insoluble fiber in your diet can lower your risk. Figs are also filled with prebiotics, a type of fiber that promotes the growth of beneficial bacteria in our guts.
2. Figs are a non-dairy source of calcium.
One cup of figs contains about a quarter of the daily calcium requirement for adults (1,000 milligrams). By incorporating calcium-rich foods into your diet on a regular basis, you can get all the calcium you need without relying on store-bought supplements.
Related: 14 Calcium-Rich Foods
3. Figs are loaded with potassium.
Just 2/3 of a cup of fresh figs — roughly two medium-sized fruits — contain more than 230 milligrams of potassium or 5% of what we need in a day (4,700 milligrams). In comparison, the same amount of dried figs provides a whopping 680 milligrams of potassium, which foils the effects of sodium and helps maintain normal blood pressure.
4. Figs build strong bones.
Figs, particularly dried, are loaded with minerals that strengthen bones, including manganese, magnesium, calcium and vitamin K. Snacking on a few dried figs each day can provide 1/5 to 1/4 of our daily needs of these nutrients, which are important for bone density and preventing osteoporosis.
5. Figs maintain healthy cholesterol levels.
Figs are packed with unsaturated sterols or fatty acids. Among the long list of those beneficial fats is oleic acid, which accounts for 10% of a fig’s fatty acid composition. Oleic acid has been reported to lower cholesterol in the blood stream.
Popular Varieties of Figs
Black Mission and Brown Turkey figs are some of the most popular varieties of fresh figs. Black Mission, made popular by California’s fig industry, are revered for their dark skin, pink flesh and luscious flavor. Velvety Brown Turkey figs are thought to be the most widely grown in the world. Both are delightful eaten fresh but remember that ripe figs are delicate and bruise easily.
How to Eat Figs
Try stuffing fresh figs with goat cheese, drizzling with honey and baking to create a simple but decadent dessert or sweet hors d’oeuvre. Stuff fresh figs with blue cheese and wrap in prosciutto for another crowd pleaser with more umami flavor. Dried figs can also be the star of preserves served on toast or added to a cheese platter.
Slicing fresh figs and scattering them atop pizza crust with ricotta, honey and fresh thyme makes a sweet and savory meal. Fresh figs also provide the perfect foil for bitter flavors, so add them liberally to salads with strident arugula and radicchio. Topping your morning granola or smoothie bowl with some yogurt and fresh or dried fig slices provides a satisfying kick-start to the day.
Dried figs, typically the Calimyrna or Turkish variety, are a great portable snack. Dried figs are among the most nutrient-dense dried fruits, which makes them a brilliant substitute in date bars, and a healthy addition to homemade granola bars or ever-popular fruit and nut energy balls.