Figs As A Powerhouse Of Essential Nutrients

  • Aysha FemyMD in Pathology/Pathologist Assistant, Yenepoya University, India

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Overview

Are you seeking a simple, yet powerful way to enhance your overall health? Then figs might be the answer. This naturally sweet, chewy fruit is packed with essential nutrients. 

Figs, both fresh and dried, have an incredible nutritional profile that can positively affect digestive, heart, and respiratory health, blood sugar control, and skin and bone health. They are also a rich source of antioxidants. Read on to learn how these little delicious fruits can be a powerhouse of essential nutrients.

Nutritional makeup

Figs or Ficus carica, L. are one of the oldest cultivated plants and form an important part of the Mediterranean diet. Though native to the Middle East and Southwest Asia, today these plants are cultivated around the globe in regions with warm, dry climates.1

Mature figs have thick skins that are green to dark violet in colour. Inside the fruit is a thick, sweet pulp in which tiny seeds may be barely noticeable. Figs can be consumed as fresh or dried fruit. They are commonly used in sweet treats like cakes, puddings and other baked products. They are also used in marmalades, jams and salads. In addition to their culinary use, figs have long been a part of traditional Chinese and Indian medicine, credit to the benefits of the bioactive molecules contained in this fruit.1,2

Figs are packed with several micronutrients and macronutrients. These include carbohydrates, dietary fibres, amino acids like aspartic acid and glutamine, vitamins (particularly thiamine and riboflavin), and minerals like iron, calcium, and potassium. Figs are also rich in organic acids, natural sugars and carotenoids like lutein, lycopene, β-carotene and cryptoxanthin.2 Interestingly, figs are sodium-free, fat-free, and cholesterol-free.3

Digestive health

Constipation is a common digestive issue. It is defined as fewer than three bowel movements in a week. Many studies suggest that figs act as natural remedies for constipation due to their high dietary fibre content. One study of patients with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) has shown that regular intake of figs significantly improved their symptoms, including frequency of pain, distention and frequency of bowel movements and hard stool. These findings suggest figs to be a valuable dietary addition for people seeking natural ways to manage IBS.1,4

The high fibre content in this fruit and the mucin content in its seeds support the efficient removal of waste from our gut. Therefore eating figs regularly may provide some protection against colon cancer.4

Antioxidant activity

Our body produces free radicals (highly reactive and unstable molecules) during metabolism. If not eliminated by antioxidants, these free radicals can be harmful, leading to inflammation and chronic diseases, such as cardiovascular diseases and diabetes. Figs are rich in phenolic compounds, possessing a phenolic content higher than red wine or tea. Therefore, figs are a great natural defense against free radicals, promoting overall health.

Studies suggest that darker varieties of figs have higher polyphenol molecules and therefore have greater antioxidant properties. It is not just the pulp, but also the peel, leaves and stem bark of figs that are rich in antioxidants.4

Heart health

Heart disease is one of the leading causes of death around the world and hypertension takes the top spot among the factors that lead to heart attacks, strokes and kidney disease. It is well known that a plant-based diet can significantly reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. Certain compounds like flavonoids, phenols and minerals such as potassium are known to reduce blood pressure, thus reducing the risk of heart disease in patients with high blood pressure.4,5

In addition, figs can reduce triglycerides (a type of fat) in the blood, which is another contributing factor to heart disease. The antioxidant properties of figs also help eliminate free radicals that can otherwise lead to diseases of coronary arteries.4

Effect on diabetes mellitus

Cases of diabetes mellitus are increasing in both developed and developing countries. Many patients consider plant-based medication owing to their affordability and reduced risk of side effects. Studies have concluded that figs can significantly reduce blood sugar levels by various mechanisms that include increasing antioxidant status, insulin sensitivity and by increasing insulin secretion.4

Alzheimer’s disease 

Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of dementia in the elderly. Excessive free radicals and inflammation are known to be a risk factor for this condition. Figs, as already mentioned, are a powerhouse of polyphenol compounds and micronutrients containing copper, calcium, iron, potassium, manganese, magnesium, and potassium, among others. This makes it a rich antioxidant and anti-inflammatory agent. Accordingly, recent studies suggest that dietary supplementation with this delicious fruit may help tremendously in improving cognitive function in patients with Alzheimer’s disease.1

Bone health

As we age our bone mineral density reduces, leading to conditions such as osteoporosis. Therefore, foods rich in calcium and vitamin D are essential and recommended, especially in the elderly as they help to maintain bone strength. Research shows that figs are rich sources of calcium and other minerals, and are very beneficial for bone health.6,7

Anti-cancer activity

Some cancers have been linked to reduced consumption of fruit and vegetables. Many plants with medicinal properties have been shown to offer anti-cancer benefits. Likewise, research has shown that not just the fig fruit but also the leaves, bark, root and latex of this amazing plant have anticancer properties.8,9

Fig tree latex has shown promising anticancer properties. In one study, the latex was tested at different concentrations, and at 5 mg/ml, it was demonstrated to prevent the growth of stomach cancer cells. Several similar studies also revealed that fig tree latex seems to have a positive impact on inhibiting the growth of different cancer cells, showing its potential as an anticancer agent.8,9,10

Figs for skin health

Atopic dermatitis is a chronic skin condition that leads to symptoms such as repeated episodes of severe itching throughout the body. Cases of atopic dermatitis are increasing, especially among children and teens. The possible reasons for this could be lifestyle changes or abnormal changes in the skin barrier. Patients are prescribed long-term medications which may lead to potential side effects, and for some patients, this may become a financial burden.

A recent study has shown that consuming fig leaf tea for a prolonged period can help relieve symptoms of this condition.11 Therefore, fig leaf tea may be a cheaper and safer alternative treatment for atopic dermatitis. However, further research will be required to support this finding. 

The roots of fig plants are also known to be used in the treatment of conditions like leucoderma and ringworm infestation.4,11

Other uses

Fig extract is seen to produce an antipyretic effect meaning, similar to paracetamol, it can reduce the body temperature when taken in certain doses. Some studies also reveal that fig extracts have antimicrobial and antifungal properties.10

How to include figs in your diet

There are several ways to include this star ingredient in your diet to savour not just its deliciousness but also its health benefits:

  • Dried or fresh figs in oatmeal or in a smoothie for a healthy, naturally sweet breakfast
  • In your favourite sandwich or made into homemade fig jam and chutney 
  • In cakes and cheesecakes 

FAQs

What makes figs so special?

Figs are a nutritional powerhouse packed with fibre, essential vitamins, and minerals. Figs, whether fresh or dried, contribute to digestive, and heart health, and even possess antioxidant properties. Plus, they are a tasty addition to various dishes.

Do fig leaves have nutritional value?

Absolutely. Fig leaves are rich in bioactive compounds like polyphenols. While they may not be as commonly consumed as the fruit, fig-leaf tea has been studied and shown to have health benefits.11

Do figs boost immunity?

Figs, thanks to their antioxidant content and various nutrients, support overall health. So, including figs in a balanced diet may contribute to overall well-being.

Are figs good for sperm health?

A study was conducted to determine the impact of fig leaf extracts on testis health and sperm. The findings revealed that the extract had a positive effect, improving sperm count and sperm movement.11 A previous study also noted that the ethanolic extracts showed aphrodisiac effects. In simpler words, fig leaf extracts were found to improve sperm count and testis health. 

Summary

Figs are not just a delicious snack; this sweet little fruit is indeed a powerhouse of essential nutrients. They’re packed with dietary fibre, essential vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants that support digestive, heart, skin and bone health. Also, with their rich anti-inflammatory effect and potential anti-cancer properties among many other health benefits, figs can be a versatile and wholesome addition to a diet.

References

  1. Sandhu AK, Islam M, Edirisinghe I, Burton-Freeman B. Phytochemical Composition and Health Benefits of Figs (Fresh and Dried): A Review of Literature from 2000 to 2022. Nutrients [Internet]. 2023 [cited 2024 Jan 10]; 15(11):2623. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC10255635/.
  2. Mawa S, Husain K, Jantan I. Ficus carica L. (Moraceae): Phytochemistry, Traditional Uses and Biological Activities. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med [Internet]. 2013 [cited 2024 Jan 10]; 2013:974256. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3789402/.
  3. Wojdyło A, Nowicka P, Carbonell-Barrachina ÁA, Hernández F. Phenolic compounds, antioxidant and antidiabetic activity of different cultivars of Ficus carica L. fruits. Journal of Functional Foods [Internet]. 2016 [cited 2024 Jan 10]; 25:421–32. Available from: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S175646461630158X.
  4. Rasool IF ul, Aziz A, Khalid W, Koraqi H, Siddiqui SA, AL-Farga A, et al. Industrial Application and Health Prospective of Fig (Ficus carica) By-Products. Molecules [Internet]. 2023 [cited 2024 Jan 10]; 28(3):960. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC9919570/.
  5. Alamgeer, Iman S, Asif H, Saleem M. Evaluation of antihypertensive potential of Ficus carica fruit. Pharm Biol [Internet]. 2017 [cited 2024 Jan 10]; 55(1):1047–53. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6130763/.
  6. Ruszymah Hj. Idrus, Nur Qisya Afifah Veronica Sainik, Ayu Suraya Ansari, Mohamed S. Zulfarina, Rabiatul Adawiyah Razali, Abid Nordin, et al. Ficus carica and bone health: a systematic review. Sains Malaysiana [Internet]. 2018 Nov [cited 2024 Jun 11];47(11):2741–55. Available from: http://www.ukm.my/jsm/malay_journals/jilid47bil11_2018/KandunganJilid47Bil11_2018.html
  7. Hj. Idrus R, Sainik NQAV, Ansari AS, Mohamed SZ, Razali RA, Nordin A, et al. Ficus carica and Bone Health: A Systematic Review. JSM [Internet]. 2018 [cited 2024 Jan 10]; 47(11):2741–55. Available from: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/329750269_Ficus_carica_and_Bone_Health_A_Systematic_Review
  8. Morovati MR, Ghanbari-Movahed M, Barton EM, Farzaei MH, Bishayee A. A systematic review on potential anticancer activities of Ficus carica L. with focus on cellular and molecular mechanisms. Phytomedicine [Internet]. 2022 [cited 2024 Jan 10]; 105:154333. Available from: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0944711322004123.
  9. Abdel-Rahman R, Ghoneimy E, Abdel-Wahab A, Eldeeb N, Salem M, Salama E, et al. The therapeutic effects of Ficus carica extract as antioxidant and anticancer agent. South African Journal of Botany [Internet]. 2021 [cited 2024 Jan 10]; 141:273–7. Available from: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0254629921001472.
  10. Rahmani AH, Aldebasi YH. FICUS CARICA AND ITS CONSTITUENTS ROLE IN MANAGEMENT OF DISEASES. Asian J Pharm Clin Res [Internet]. 2017 [cited 2024 Jan 10]; 10(6):49. Available from: https://innovareacademics.in/journals/index.php/ajpcr/article/view/17832.
  11. Abe T, Koyama Y, Nishimura K, Okiura A, Takahashi T. Efficacy and Safety of Fig (Ficus carica L.) Leaf Tea in Adults with Mild Atopic Dermatitis: A Double-Blind, Randomized, Placebo-Controlled Preliminary Trial. Nutrients [Internet]. 2022 [cited 2024 Jan 11]; 14(21):4470. Available from: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/36364740/#:~:text=Therefore%2C%20here%2C%20we%20conducted%20a,in%2014%20of%2015%20participants
  12. Naghdi M, Maghbool M, Seifalah-Zade M, Mahaldashtian M, Makoolati Z, Kouhpayeh SA, et al. Effects of common fig (Ficus carica) leaf extracts on sperm parameters and testis of mice intoxicated with formaldehyde. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med [Internet]. 2016 [cited 2024 Jun 11];2016:2539127. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4745414/

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Aysha Femy

MD in Pathology/Pathologist Assistant, Yenepoya University, India

Dr. Aysha Femy, a dedicated pathologist and assistant professor at a leading medical school, excels in diagnostics and contributes to valuable academic research. Beyond her roles in teaching and research, Dr. Femy has honed her skills over the years, demonstrating versatility in crafting diverse content such as health blogs, case reports and research papers. Her writing encapsulates a perfect blend of expertise and enthusiasm, showcasing her unwavering commitment to demystifying medical complexities for a broader audience.

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