People have enjoyed sweet and juicy figs dating back 6,000 years.1 Figs are bell-shaped, filled with little seeds, and have an edible purple or green peel.
Figs or Ficus carica (scientific name) are a type of tree or shrub native to the Middle East and Southeast Asia. Today, figs grow all over the world in warm, dry environments.1 I even have fig trees in my backyard in Southern USA.
Upon eating, figs explode with flavor and nutrition. Figs are known for their phytonutrients, antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals.1
Dried or fresh figs contain health-promoting components for digestion, reducing inflammation, healthy weight maintenance, and controlling blood sugar levels.
In this article, you will learn about fig nutritional facts, health benefits, potential risks, how to pick and choose figs, and some recipes for dried or fresh figs.
Nutritional Value of Figs
Fresh figs are a portable nutrition powerhouse. Below are the nutritional values for fresh and unsweetened dried figs. When dried, the water is extracted from the figs, yielding a similar portion size weight, but includes six dried figs3.
One small fresh fig (37 g) contains:2
- 90 calories
- 1 g protein
- 0 g fat
- 24 g carbohydrates
- 3 g fiber (14% daily value)
- 0 g added sugar
- 60 mg calcium (6% daily value)
- 0.7 mg iron (4% daily value)
- 1.2 mg vitamin C (2% daily value)
One serving of unsweetened dried figs (40 g or six dried figs) contains:3
- 120 calories
- 1 g protein
- 0 g fat
- 29 g carbohydrates
- 5 g fiber (18% daily value)
- 0 g added sugar
- 60 mg calcium (6% daily value)
- 1.3 mg iron (8% daily value)
- 260 mg potassium (6% daily value)
Figs are a good source of dietary fiber and, in larger serving sizes, provide measurable amounts of copper, manganese, magnesium, vitamin A, and vitamin K.1
The glycemic index of fresh figs is 35, indicating it is a low glycemic index food.4 A food has a low glycemic index of between 1 and 55. Dried figs have a slightly higher glycemic index at 50 but are still considered a low glycemic index food.5
The glycemic index is a 100-point scale measuring your blood sugar response after eating a specific food. High glycemic index foods raise blood sugar levels quickly. In contrast, low glycemic index foods are digested slower due to fiber and other nutrient content, leading to a slower rise in blood sugar.6
Benefits of Figs
Fiber Improves Digestion
Due to the high fiber content of figs, they have been traditionally used to improve digestion.
In a 2019 study, 150 adults with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) constipation type were given 45 g of dried figs or 30 g of dried flixweed compared to a control diet. IBS symptoms were improved substantially in the dried fig group, with participants noting less pain or constipation.1
The fiber in figs is about 70% insoluble and 30% soluble. Both types of fiber are beneficial to the body.7
Insoluble fiber does not break down in the body but provides bulk to the stool, allowing easier passage through the intestines. Soluble fiber draws water into the intestines and helps to lower glucose and cholesterol levels.7
High in Antioxidants
Antioxidants protect the human body from free radicals, which damage cells and contribute to aging and chronic diseases, including cancer. Figs contain over ten antioxidants, such as polyphenols and carotenoids. Different fig varieties contain varying amounts of each phytochemical. The phenolic content in figs is higher than in red wine or tea. Phenols are strong antioxidants.
Anthocyanin content is similar to blackberries and blueberries. Anthocyanins are antioxidants that may help reduce blood pressure.1
No human studies show beneficial antioxidant activity directly from figs. Research indicates plant phenols (like those found in figs) benefit the heart by reducing the risk of heart disease and glucose metabolism.
Dark figs contain some of the same anthocyanins as berries, and it is proposed figs may benefit cognitive function.1 More research is needed to confirm these effects.
Helps Control Blood Sugar Levels
Limited human studies have been done on fig (and fig extracts) and controlling blood sugar levels. Most are on animals or use fig leaves.
A review article included several small studies with between 10 and 50 individuals comparing fig fruit extract drinks to glucose drinks without fig extract. Those consuming the fig extract version demonstrated lower glucose or insulin levels two hours afterward.1
These results are promising but not conclusive at this time.
Associated with Healthy Body Weight
Replacing empty calories like ice cream, sweets, and candy with fresh or dried fruit can help you achieve a healthy body weight.
A study on dietary patterns proposes that consuming 120 g/day of figs (3 fresh figs) displaces other foods like desserts and sugary beverages when included in the diet for five days.1
NHANES data associates dried fruit intake with a lower BMI and smaller waist circumference.1 NHANES is a program that studies trends in disease and risk factors among the United States population and contains many participants.8
Both dried and fresh figs are a rich source of fiber. Fiber helps keep you full, prevents cravings and mindless snacking, and aids in weight management.
Potential Side Effects: Who Should Avoid Figs?
Figs are beneficial for overall health in most people. But as with anything, too much of one thing can have unintended side effects or risks.
Risks of Consuming Figs
Any food containing vitamin K can interact with blood-thinning medications. Individuals taking blood thinners must keep their vitamin K intake consistent to allow the medicine to work appropriately.9
Figs contain vitamin K (more in dried figs). Keep your fig intake consistent each week to keep vitamin K levels steady. Speak with your healthcare professional about foods that may interact with blood-thinning medications.
Consuming large amounts of fresh or dried figs can cause a laxative effect. For example, if you ate three servings (18 dried figs), you would consume 15 g of fiber in one sitting.3 Adults need about 25 to 35 g of fiber daily for good health.7 This portion of figs would be over half your daily fiber needs.
Figs help ease constipation, but when eaten in large amounts, they could produce the opposite effect temporarily.1
Some people are allergic to figs and may not realize it before they eat them. Allergies to fresh figs are associated with a birch pollen allergy.10 Be wary of figs if you have a birch pollen allergy.
Some people react to the peel of fresh figs. They have a burning sensation or a sore tongue from eating too many figs. This same sensation can occur with pineapple and papaya. This happens due to protease found in figs called ficin.11
More ficin is present in less ripe figs.11 I found this out the hard way when harvesting my backyard figs without gloves. Picking hundreds of figs evoked this reaction.
You can wear gloves when picking fresh figs, limit your intake, or remove the peel before eating, especially if the figs are less ripe.
How to Eat Figs: 3 Healthy Recipes
When eating figs, remember that unripe figs ripen a little after picking. It is best to pick ripe figs. Fresh figs should be stored in the refrigerator and can last for several days. You can freeze whole figs for about one year.
Dried figs are similar to other dried fruit and should be stored in an airtight container. Moving them to the refrigerator can extend their shelf life to about six months.
You can eat figs fresh or dried. Often, fresh figs are hard to find. Choose unsweetened dried figs for comparable nutrition to fresh figs. Sweetened figs contain added sugar that can detract from their health benefits. When buying products that contain figs, like jams or jellies, be mindful of possible added sweeteners and ingredients.
Check out three fig recipes to optimize your diet.
Toast one or two slices of whole-grain or sourdough bread. Spread one tablespoon of ricotta cheese, slice two fresh figs, and place on top of the ricotta. You can drizzle with some honey or sprinkle with salt for a tasty snack or breakfast.
These naturally sweetened snack bars are reminiscent of childhood Rice Krispy treats but made healthier.
This recipe uses dried figs for those who don’t have access to fresh figs, along with pistachios and puffed brown rice. These ingredients provide fiber, healthy fats, and protein to satisfy your hunger.
You could easily swap ingredients for allergies or taste preferences.
This oatmeal recipe uses fresh figs and almond butter for a mix of sweetness, protein, healthy fat, and fiber to keep you full until lunch.
If you could only access dried figs, they would soften as you prepared the oatmeal in a saucepan.
Learn More About Nutrition and Improve Your Eating Habits with Signos
Learn how nutrition plays a role in your health with support from Signos’. Figs can be part of a healthy diet offering fiber, vitamins, minerals, and beneficial phytonutrients.
Tools like a continuous glucose monitor (CGM) can help you know how your body responds to different foods, aiding your journey toward better health.
Topics discussed in this article:
- Sandhu, A. K., Islam, M., Edirisinghe, I., & Burton-Freeman, B. (2023). Phytochemical Composition and Health Benefits of Figs (Fresh and Dried): A Review of Literature from 2000 to 2022. Nutrients, 15(11), 2623. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu15112623
- US Department of Agriculture. (2021, October 28). Mission figs. https://fdc.nal.usda.gov/fdc-app.html#/food-details/2057455/nutrients
- US Department of Agriculture. (2023, January 26). Unsulfured and unsweetened dried mission figs. https://fdc.nal.usda.gov/fdc-app.html#/food-details/2448427/nutrients
- Glycemic Index Guide. (n.d.). Fig (fresh). https://glycemic-index.net/fig-fresh/
- Glycemic Index Guide. (n.d.). Fig (dried). https://glycemic-index.net/fig-dried/
- The Nutrition Source. (n.d.). Carbohydrates and blood sugar. https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/carbohydrates/carbohydrates-and-blood-sugar/
- The Nutrition Source. (2022, April). Fiber. https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/carbohydrates/fiber/
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2023, May 31). National health and nutrition examination survey. https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/nhanes/about_nhanes.htm#:~:text=The%20National%20Health%20and%20Nutrition%20Examination%20Survey%20(NHANES)%20is%20a,combines%20interviews%20and%20physical%20examinations.
- American Heart Association. (2021, August 5). Are figs good for you? Get the whole sweet story. https://www.heart.org/en/news/2021/08/05/are-figs-good-for-you-get-the-whole-sweet-story
- Hemmer, W., Focke, M., Marzban, G., Swoboda, I., Jarisch, R., & Laimer, M. (2010). Identification of Bet v 1-related allergens in fig and other Moraceae fruits. Clinical and experimental allergy : journal of the British Society for Allergy and Clinical Immunology, 40(4), 679–687. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1365-2222.2010.03486.x
Reddy, V. B., & Lerner, E. A. (2010). Plant cysteine proteases that evoke itch activate protease-activated receptors. The British journal of dermatology, 163(3), 532–535. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1365-2133.2010.09862.x