LSU AgCenter Nutrition Expert Tells What Makes Figs So Special

Catrinel Stanciu  |  10/27/2006 11:53:13 PM

News You Can Use For November 2003

Figs are one of the earliest fruits cultivated in the United States. They are nutrient-dense, versatile and very easy to pack and transport, says LSU AgCenter nutrition expert Catrinel Stanciu.

Figs were brought to America in the early 1500s. Several types were cultivated and used for preserves or fig paste. California ranks number two in the world for fig production.

"Figs can serve as a delicious snack in the car or at the office, being a good source of fiber," Stanciu says, adding, "Dried figs are very popular, but you can also buy fresh figs, especially at farmers’ markets or small specialty grocery stores."

The LSU AgCenter nutritionist notes that fig puree can be used as a sweetener or as a fat substitute in many recipes. You can make your own fig puree by combining 8 ounces of figs with 1/4 to 1/3 cup water in a blender. Figs can be part of any diet, since they are sodium, fat and cholesterol-free.

Figs add nutrients and minerals to your diet, without adding any fat. One serving of dried figs equals 1/4 cup, or about three to five figs, and provides about 5 grams of fiber (insoluble and soluble).

Stanciu says compared with other common fruits, figs have the highest content of minerals (potassium, iron), and their calcium content is second to oranges.

"This doesn’t mean, though, that you can eat as many figs as you want, because remember, they still add calories to your diet! Stanciu points out.

Did you know that figs are considered functional foods? Functional foods are those foods that naturally contain certain substances that have benefits beyond the basic nutrition and may prevent disease or promote health.

Dried figs contain omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, which are essential amino acids. They also contain phytosterols, which are credited to decrease the synthesis of cholesterol in the body, thus decreasing the total levels of cholesterol. Figs also contain substances (benzaldehydes, coumarins) that may help prevent certain types of cancers.

Figs have a very long shelf life, up to two years from the production date. They should be stored in a cool, dry place. Figs also can be frozen, but because of their high sugar content, they will not freeze solidly.

Stanciu offers additional ways to enjoy figs besides as a snack and add more fiber to your diet, too.

• Add chopped figs to green salads for sweetness and texture.

• Add figs instead of raisins to your oatmeal, for variety.

• Combine low-fat cream cheese with finely chopped figs and use as spread for bagels.

"If you haven’t experienced yet the benefits of figs, start now and make them part of your healthy diet!" Stanciu says.

For additional nutrition information and other family and consumer topics, contact an extension agent in your parish LSU AgCenter office. In addition, log on to the Family and Consumer Sciences section under the Louisiana Cooperative Extension Service at the LSU AgCenter Web site: http://www.lsuagcenter.com/.

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On the Internet: LSU AgCenter: http://www.lsuagcenter.com/

On the Internet: Valley Fig Growers: www.valeyfigs.com.

On the Internet: California Fig Advisory Board: www.californiafigs.com.

Source: Catrinel Stanciu (225) 578-3329, or cstanciu@agcenter.lsu.edu.

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