Note to readers: Ancient Wisdom is a series of guides that shines a light on age-old wisdom that has helped people for generations with time-honoured wellness solutions to everyday fitness problems, persistent health issues and stress management, among others. Through this series, we try to provide contemporary solutions to your health worries with traditional insights.
Fig, perhaps one of oldest fruits in the world, has a delightful sweet and creamy taste that gives you satisfaction of eating a dessert. Eaten both as fresh and a dry fruit, fig or anjeer has been used as natural sweetener in desserts as well as in treating infertility, digestive issues, promoting longevity and weight loss since time immemorial. There has been evidence of fig cultivation dating back to over 11,000 years ago in Jericho, a Palestinian city in the West Bank. Figs were a staple in the ancient Roman diet and were often used as a sweetener.
In ancient Egypt, figs were used as a sweetener and preservative. It was also widely used in Middle Eastern and Mediterranean cuisines. It is a fruit that is full of essential nutrients like magnesium, potassium, calcium, iron and Vitamin K and is amazing for heart health. The high fibre content in figs can curb cravings, keep one full and aid in weight loss. Figs are also a good source of antioxidants and may prevent certain kinds of cancer.
Benefits of figs
Figs are a nutritional powerhouse. They are rich in dietary fibre, vitamins, and minerals, making them an excellent choice for those looking to shed some pounds. The high fibre content helps control appetite and promotes a feeling of fullness, reducing overall calorie intake. Additionally, figs are a good source of antioxidants, which protect cells from damage and may help prevent cancer.
Dietitian Amreen Shaikh, Head-Dietitian, Wockhardt Hospitals, Mumbai Central shares many benefits of figs:
1. Helps relieve constipation
Fig is an age-old remedy to cure constipation and thus helps nourish the intestines. Figs act as a natural laxative due to their high soluble fibre content. Thus, eases out the strained bowel process. Try consuming 2 to 3 dry figs empty stomach to help relieve constipation.
2. Aids weight loss
Fibre-rich anjeer can be a perfect snack or mid-morning munchies, especially for weight watchers. Dried anjeer makes a great nutritious snack. 2 or 3 dried figs can make you feel fuller for longer and this can help keep longer gaps between your two meals.
3. Might control blood pressure
Fast-food consumption has been increasing day by day and this can lead to high blood pressure problems. High blood pressure often leads to an imbalance of potassium levels in your body. Figs being a good source of potassium can naturally improve potassium levels and thus might control blood pressure.
4. Can improve digestive wellness
Figs are a great source of prebiotics. Prebiotics can support the function of probiotics which can help improve the digestion process and overall gut health. Being fibre-rich, also adds bulk to the stool, enabling normal bowel movement.
5. Figs for fertility
Figs were reflected as love fruit since ancient Greek times, where figs were considered a symbol of fertility. This was later researched and was termed true based on its high iron content. Iron plays an essential role in the entire ovulation process in females. For males, low iron may affect sperm quality and motility. It is very commonly consumed with milk even today to boost reproductive health.
6. Could improve heart health
Being high in fibre and potassium, figs help remove excess fat from the body and pressure from the heart. This can drastically help improve the health of your heart. Along with these two functions, figs are also a great source of antioxidants which not only reduces the free radicals but also helps reduce triglycerides and bad cholesterol. Therefore, making your heart stronger and letting it live for longer.
How was fig used in ancient times
Figs have a long history of use in traditional medicine in various cultures. In ancient India, Ayurvedic texts mention the use of figs for their laxative and digestive properties. In other parts of the world, figs were revered for their healing properties. The Greeks considered them a symbol of fertility and strength, while the Egyptians used figs to treat various ailments.
Dietitian Amreen Shaikh shares how figs were used in traditional Indian medicine as well as other countries.
1. Ancient India
Culinary use: Figs were used in traditional Indian cuisine, often incorporated into various sweet dishes, desserts, and snacks. They were also consumed fresh when in season.
Medicinal use: In Ayurveda, the traditional Indian system of medicine, figs were believed to have medicinal properties and were used to treat digestive issues, respiratory problems, and as a general tonic. It is easily available in all over the world.
2. Ancient Greece and Rome
Dietary staple: Figs were a dietary staple in ancient Greece and Rome. They were consumed both fresh and dried, and athletes often ate them for their energy and nutritional value.
3. Ancient Egypt
Dried figs: Figs were highly valued in ancient Egypt and were often used as a sweetener and preservative. Dried figs were a common food item, and they were sometimes used in the embalming process.
4. Middle Eastern and Mediterranean Regions
Traditional cuisine: Figs have been a part of Middle Eastern and Mediterranean cuisines for centuries. They were used in both savoury and sweet dishes, including fig-based desserts like baklava.
Trade: Figs were an important commodity in ancient trade routes, including the Silk Road, and played a role in cultural exchanges between different regions.
5. Ancient China
Medicinal use: Figs were used in traditional Chinese medicine for their believed health benefits, including aiding digestion, promoting longevity, and boosting the immune system.
In various ancient cultures, figs were not only consumed for their taste but were also associated with cultural and symbolic significance. They were often used as offerings in religious ceremonies and were featured in mythology and folklore.
How to add fig to the diet
According to Arpita Bose, Dietician at Ohio Hospital in Newtown, Kolkata, “Incorporating figs into your diet is easy and enjoyable. They can be eaten fresh or dried and make a tasty addition to salads, yogurt, or oatmeal. Fig jams and spreads are also popular choices. For a satisfying and nutritious snack, try pairing figs with a handful of nuts.”
Shaikh shares other ways figs can be eaten:
1. Fruits and fig: Add figs along with pineapple, strawberries and guavas and toss some raisins and pumpkin seeds to make a healthy fruit salad.
2. Oats and fig: Add few fresh, ripe anjeer fruits cut in four halves to a bowl of oats along with milk and other fruits like grapes to enjoy a healthy and stomach-filling breakfast to kickstart your day.
3. Anjeer yoghurt: Add few pieces of anjeer cubes to a bowl of curd, spread a tablespoon of honey and enjoy this fresh and delicious dessert after your meals.
4. Fig chutney: Add figs, a tablespoon of jaggery, chillies and blend in a mixer. Chill for 30 minutes and store in a container. Eat it with roti or bread
5. Milkshake: Blend figs with milk, add honey and pumpkin seeds, mix and enjoy this drink.
Who shouldn’t have fig
While figs offer numerous health benefits, they may not be suitable for everyone. Dr. Jayati Rakhit, MD, FACC, Co-Founder and Clinical Director at Ohio Hospital notes, “People with allergies to latex may experience cross-reactivity with figs. Additionally, individuals with certain medical conditions, such as diabetes, should consume figs in moderation due to their natural sugar content.”
Shaikh shares interesting facts about fig:
- Figs are one of the oldest know fruits in the world.
- Figs were known as the ‘poor man’s food.’
- Dried Figs are high in fibre, iron and minerals.
- Fig trees can grow to a height of over 100 feet tall
- Figs are the fruit mentioned most often in the Bible.
- Figs have mild laxative qualities.
- Figs produce protein-digesting enzymes that break down muscle and connective tissue in meat, making them an excellent tenderizer as well as flavour-enhancer.
- When chopping dried figs by hand with knife or scissors, dip cutting implement into warm water occasionally to prevent sticking.
- If dried figs seem hard or too dry, they can be soaked, steamed or poached to restore moisture.
- Dried figs can be used interchangeably with prunes, dried apricots, and dates in most recipes.
“Figs are a delicious and nutritious addition to your diet, offering benefits like weight loss support and cancer prevention. With their rich history of use and versatility in culinary applications, figs are a superfood worth incorporating into your daily routine, but always consult with a healthcare professional if you have specific dietary concerns,” says Dr. Rakhit.
Next in series
Did you enjoy reading the thirteenth part of our series on Ancient Wisdom? Part 14 which discusses benefits of green peas for blood sugar management and heart health will be out on October 11. Stay tuned.
Courtesy – www.hindustantimes.com