In search of some of the most nutrient-dense foods in existence, chemists at the University of Scranton in Pennsylvania started looking at dried fruit. Since 90% of a fruit's weight is water, they figured that dried fruit might be ten times more nutritious by weight than fresh. Well, it didn't quite work out that way. The drying process destroyed about 80% of the chief antioxidant compounds, but, given that the nutrition in dried fruit is ten times more concentrated, dried fruits did still come out ahead, finishing out with about 10% more antioxidant content than fresh (by weight). And with all the fiber and minerals intact, dried fruit did test out to be little nutrition powerhouses.
A new study out of Korea just found that the antioxidant boost provided by fruit consumption only seems to last about 2 hours. So carrying around some trail mix is a convenient way to make sure your body is constantly flooded with antioxidants throughout the day. Which dried fruits are the best? Of the six fruits tested--apricots, cranberries, dates, figs, raisins and plums--shooting to a surprise finish at number one was... figs! (OK, OK, the study was paid for in part by the California Fig Advisory Board, but still...).
Aren't dried fruits packed with concentrated sugars though? And isn't sugar a pro-oxidant? Well, yes, but dried (and fresh) fruits are so packed with antioxidants that not only do they successfully counter the potential detriment of their own sugar, they are powerful enough to take on a can of Coke, too. When you drink a dozen spoonfuls of sugar in a soft drink (aka "liquid candy"), the antioxidant capacity of your blood drops dramatically as your body starts using up its antioxidant stores to deal with the oxidant stress caused by all that sugar. Well what if you doubled the amount of sugar you ingested by drinking a cup of soda with a serving of dried figs on top? Even the high fructose corn syrup in the soda is no match for the antioxidant power of fruit. Despite the double sugar load, subjects washing down their figs with soda still experienced an overall rise in antioxidant levels in their bloodstream. No, that doesn't mean you can eat or drink all the candy you want as long as you pop a few raisins. Stick with the fruit.
In addition to having the highest antioxidant content among the six fruits tested, of the thousands of whole foods in the USDA nutrient database, figs make the top ten for fiber content.
(For the curious, the top five are #1. Cloud ear mushrooms (the number one fiber-containing whole food on the planet and I've never even heard of it?), #2. Flax seeds (I've heard of those), #3. Sesame seeds, #4. Dried unsweetened coconut, and #5. Air-popped popcorn).And fiber consumption, according a new review, may help boost energy levels. Half the fiber we swallow is eaten by the good bacteria in our colon. Our colonic comrades ferment the fiber we eat into short-chain fatty acids, which our body then absorbs and sends straight to our muscles to be used as a ready fuel source. Of course, another byproduct of this fermentation product is gas, some of which is absorbed by other bacteria to produce even more fuel for us, but the rest of which is indeed excreted. Maybe a more appropriate title would be Fight Fatigue with Fig Farts.