Figs Can Help Lower Your Cholesterol

by Emilia Klapp, B.S., R.D.



Held in high regard as part of an authentic Mediterranean diet, figs are a major contributor to low cholesterol levels of people living in the Mediterranean region. Figs can lend you a helping hand to restore to normal your cholesterol if you do what Mediterraneans do: make figs part of your daily diet. If you follow this recommendation, you will be surprised at the rather quick results.

Figs were deemed so important in Classical Greece that sportsmen ate them before entering a competition. In addition, every time a new city was founded, a fig tree was planted as a


symbol of wisdom and prosperity. However, in spite of figs having a concentration of very healthy properties, their consumption is not that common. Maybe this is due in part to myths such as figs being fattening or causing constipation. Well, as you will see, these myths have no foundation. Let us take a look at what figs can do for you.

Figs have no fat and no cholesterol, but they do have a lot of soluble fiber, the kind that helps lower LDL cholesterol, the bad one. How can figs do that? Because they have a high amount of soluble fiber.

Fiber 101

Fiber is what gives plants their structure. It's found mainly in fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, and seeds, as well as whole grains. It is the portion of plants that our systems cannot break down because they doesn't have the appropriate mechanisms to do so. Consequently, our cells have very little use for fiber. Fiber can be soluble and insoluble, and most plant foods contain a combination of both.

1. Soluble fiber means that the fiber dissolves in water and forms a jelly-like paste with other foods in the intestine. This feature is very important because it reduces the amount of cholesterol circulating in the blood. Soluble fiber not only lowers LDL cholesterol, the “bad” guy, but it also raises HDL cholesterol, the “good” guy.

2. Insoluble fiber does not have any effect on cholesterol but it is very beneficial for our whole body because it acts as a natural laxative.

How figs help remove cholesterol from your system

Bile, produced by the liver, is a substance necessary to break down the fat we ingest in food.

To produce bile, the liver grabs the cholesterol from the blood, converts it into bile, and sends it to the gallbladder where it's stored until needed. Then, when we eat, the gallbladder sends the bile to the intestines to help break down the fat portion of the food. Once the bile has done its job in the intestines, one of two things can happen:

  • If our meal has enough soluble fiber, the fiber grabs the bile and takes it out of the body through the feces. Once the bile is eliminated, the liver responds by drawing more cholesterol from the blood to make new bile. The result is less cholesterol circulating in our system.
  • If our meal does not have enough soluble fiber, the bile is not taken out of the body. In this case, the liver doesn't need to draw more cholesterol from the blood to produce more bile because there is plenty available in the system. The result is more cholesterol navigating in our blood vessels.

Figs stop cholesterol from even forming

When our meal includes soluble fiber, bacteria in the colon ferment it. This fermentation produces certain compounds that prevent the formation of cholesterol. This results in lower levels of cholesterol circulating in your blood vessels.

High blood pressure

Figs contribute high amounts of minerals such as potassium, magnesium, and calcium, three essential minerals for the health of our heart. On the other hand, they are very low in sodium, a major contributor to hypertension. Thus, by their mineral contribution, figs can help lower high blood pressure, a major risk for atherosclerosis and strokes.

Potassium is vital for the transmission and generation of nerve impulses as well as for normal muscle activity. It is involved in the equilibrium of water inside and outside our cells. Keep in mind that the heart is a muscle and as a result needs an adequate amount of potassium. Potassium has diuretic properties, highly recommended in cases of hypertension. Figs are not recommended for people who require a control of potassium because of kidney disease.

Magnesium is vital for the functioning of the nervous system and muscles such as our heart.

Calcium is a mineral needed not only to build strong bones but to work with magnesium in the transmission and generation of nerve impulses of our cells as well as our muscles. Most people obtain their calcium supply from dairy products. Figs are an excellent alternative, especially for those who are lactose intolerant.

Nutritional value of figs per 100 grams or 3.5 ounces

  • Fresh figs contribute 53 calories, 1.6 grams of fiber, 44 milligrams of calcium, and 1.1 milligrams of sodium.
  • Dried figs contribute with 272 calories, 12.9 grams of fiber, 193 milligrams of calcium and 40 milligrams of sodium.

Final Thoughts

Figs are a mouthwatering Mediterranean fruit that can lower your cholesterol and high blood pressure. They are also rich in antioxidants such as polyphenols, the same substance found in grapes or wine. Polyphenols, through their antioxidant activity, contribute to healthy arteries. So, next time you go to the market, look for figs, either fresh or dry. You will feel great knowing you are helping with your heart's health.



(Posting date 2 January 2009)

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