Monday, December 6, 2010

Fruit of the Week: Figs!

Figs are one of mankind’s oldest fruits. Although considered a fruit, the fig is actually a flower inverted into itself. They are the only fruit to ripen on the tree. Originally native from Turkey to northern India, the fig fruit spread to many of the Mediterranean countries. The primary producers of dried figs today are the United States, Turkey, Greece, and Spain.

Availability: Fresh figs are available July through September. Dried figs are never out of season, and are available all year. You can find them in your favorite grocery store in the produce or dried fruit section.

Selection: Look for figs that are soft and smell sweet. Handle carefully because their fragile skins bruise easily.

Storage: Store fully ripened figs in the refrigerator up to 2 days; bring to room temperature before serving.

What are the health benefits of figs and why should you find room for them in your diet?
- They build stronger, denser bones: It might surprise you to learn that dried figs have one of the highest calcium contents of any plant based food. In terms of fruits, only the orange is a better source of calcium. Did you know a one-hundred gram serving has twice the calcium of milk? Dried figs are also a good source of magnesium and vitamin K which are important for building denser bones.

- They’re good for the heart: Not only are figs high in fiber, but they’re also a good source of potassium and magnesium which are critical not only for heart health, but for keeping blood pressure levels in the normal range.

- Antioxidant power: A study showed that dried fruits such as figs contain high levels of phenol antioxidants that fight free radical damage. Of the fruits that were tested, dried figs and plums proved superior to all of the other dried fruits in terms of antioxidant content.

- Fiberlicious: Dried figs are an excellent source of soluble and insoluble fiber. The insoluble fiber found in figs helps to keep the intestinal tract healthy, while the soluble fiber reduces LDL cholesterol levels to reduce the risk of heart disease.

- They’re good for healthy red blood cells: A 100 gram serving of dried figs supplies sixteen percent of the recommended daily iron requirement – a mineral that’s important for building healthy red blood cells to carry oxygen throughout the body. Most premenopausal women don’t get enough iron in their diet – but post-menopausal women and men should limit their iron intake unless they have a known deficiency since too much iron increases the risk of heart disease.

A Word of Caution
Dried figs are high in natural sugars. If you’re watching your weight or your blood sugar levels, look for fresh figs instead which are a less concentrated source of sugar.

Try eating a few dried figs as a quick energy snack instead of a candy bar or cookie or chop them up and add them to cold cereals and oatmeal. You can even use them to make salad dressings and sauces for savory dishes. If you haven’t considered figs lately, maybe it’s time to give them a second look.

Source: http://www.fruitsandveggiesmatter.gov, http://healthmad.com

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