Five health benefits of figs and a dairy-free spread recipe

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Figs

Julie Daniluk

For centuries figs have been used to treat disorders like hemorrhoids and diabetes, along with liver, respiratory and urinary diseases. Many of their compounds, currently being studied in India, show great potential in the fight against these and other infections. When dried, they have the highest concentration of antioxidant polyphenols among all of the dried fruits.

Though figs can be enjoyed fresh or dried, we most commonly see them dried in salads, dips, soups, stews and baking. Fresh figs are best from May through November and when shopping be sure to look for ones that are soft and have a sweet aroma. If you opt for fresh over dried, eat them right away or keep refrigerated in a zipper bag for no more than 2-3 days. Personally, I prefer black figs over green as the flavour is much better.

Read on for five more ways figs can help you live a healthful, hearty life:

1. The antioxidants found in figs can protect lipoproteins in the blood from oxidation.

Studies show that eating figs produces a significant increase in antioxidant capacity that lasts for 4 hours after consumption. This boost in antioxidants allows the body to overcome the oxidative stress of consuming damaging foods like high fructose corn syrup found in carbonated soft drinks. Keep in mind that the darker varieties of figs contain a higher antioxidant capacity and many of these phytonutrients are found in the skin once the fruit is fully ripened.

2. Figs provide relief from chronic constipation and gastrointestinal disorders.

Three small figs contain 5 grams of fibre! Studies show that eating figs also helps to improve gut motility thereby preventing and improving constipation.

3. Figs are high in flavonoids.

Figs contain high levels of the flavonoid quercetin. Studies are showing that dietary intake of quercetin may be associated with the prevention of lung and colon cancers.

4. Figs can reduce inflammation that’s linked to the development of cancer.

Due to high levels of another flavonoid called luteolin, figs have very specific anti-inflammatory actions in the body. Luteolin has strong antioxidant capabilities and is very effective at neutralizing free radicals. When compared to other flavonoids, luteolin was the most effective at blocking the growth of tumours. Luteolin applied topically has been shown to be a key player in the prevention and treatment of skin cancer.

5. Eating figs can help control high blood pressure.

Figs are a good source of potassium. This important mineral helps to control blood pressure by causing blood vessels to relax which results in a drop in pressure. The potassium in figs works particularly well in ‘salt sensitive hypertension’ as it increases the urinary excretion of sodium chloride. Try this recipe for a great hit of fig:

Faux cheese fig spread

Fig Spread

When you’re dairy free, it may be difficult to watch people at parties eat cheese and figs. I made this spread taste cheesy by adding cashews and nutritional yeast. The great news is this sweet treat can even help you attain balanced blood sugar. Studies show that rats with type 2 diabetes, who were fed a fig extract, showed a decrease in fasting blood glucose levels. The anti-diabetic effect of figs, along with their antioxidant potential, has been proven to be beneficial in the treatment of type 2 diabetes.

Ingredients:
1 cup (250 mL) dried figs, soaked and stems trimmed
1 cup (250 mL) raw cashews, soaked 2 hours
2 tbsp (30 mL) nutritional yeast
½ tsp (2.5 mL) pink sea salt
1 tbsp (30 mL) lemon juice
Optional booster: 1 capsule powdered probiotic

Directions:

1. Place the figs and cashews in a bowl, cover and soak in water for 2-8 hours.

2. Drain the cashews and figs and add to a food processor.

3. Add remaining ingredients, and blend.

4. Halfway through blending, use a spatula to scrape down the sides to ensure proper mixing. Resume blending until consistently smooth.

Makes 2 cups (500 mL).

What’s your favourite way to eat figs?

Nutritionist Julie Daniluk hosts the Healthy Gourmet, a reality cooking show that looks at the ongoing battle between taste and nutrition. Her first book, Meals That Heal Inflammation, advises on allergy-free foods that both taste great and assist the body in the healing process.

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