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Carb Solution: The Fig Newton

By Dennis Linden
Image of Low Carb Fig Newton
Over half of the U.S. adult population, some 154 million, qualify as overweight or obese. Another 29 million of us have diabetes, many as a direct result of being overweight. Then there are the 23.9 million overweight children who are dutifully following the example of their XXL adult role models. Diabetes and these extra pounds cost this country billions annually in both medical and economic resources, not to mention the effect these weight-related disorders have on overall mental well-being and happiness. However, diabetes and being overweight are very manageable, even preventable, with a few lifestyle tweaks. By maintaining a sensible diet in conjunction with some regular exercise, no matter how minimal, we can all be in total control of our weight. One easy way to start taking control is to choose the foods we eat based on the glycemic index [G.I.] and glycemic load [G.L.].

Simply put, our bodies convert all foods into sugar calories that provide energy to the body via the bloodstream. The glycemic index assigns a score of 1 to 100 to all foods based on how speedy the body converts that food into sugar. Foods that break down slowly enable the body to assimilate these calories of energy more efficiently without overwhelming the body with more sugar than it can process. While this is especially important for people with diabetes who process sugars much slower than others, everyone can benefit from eating foods with low glycemic scores. They also reduce appetite and encourage the metabolism to burn body fat. Conversely, a diet of foods high on the glycemic charts has been proven to increase appetite and impede effective fat oxidation.

A Quickie Glycemic Primer:
  • The glycemic index of a food compares its effect on blood sugar level to that of pure glucose, which has a score of 100. White bread, made with processed white flour, is at the top of this scale, scoring a perfect 100 on the glycemic index. For perspective, a score of 55 or below denotes a low-glycemic-index food; 70 or above is considered very high. Serving size is not a consideration in arriving at a food’s glycemic index number.
  • On the other hand, the glycemic load focuses on how many digestible carbohydrates (sugars) a food contains in a typical single serving, defined as approximately 3.5 ounces. For glycemic load, a score of 20 or more is high, while 10 or less is low.
Before getting to the cookie solution for this famed snack food, let’s first consider the main attraction to these iconic fruit bars. Figs are a carb counter’s best friend! Fresh, dried or cooked, the fig contains very few carbohydrates and, therefore, has little impact on blood sugar levels in most any form. However, the devil is in the details if one is serious about decreasing carb intake for both blood glucose control and weight loss. While dried figs are still medium-low on the glycemic scale, the GI of “61” and a GL of “16” compared to the fresh fig’s score of 51 and 2 respectively should not be ignored, especially during June through November when fresh figs are in good supply.

The dehydration process of drying this fruit results in a higher concentration of sugar relative to weight, so dried figs have a higher concentration of carbohydrates—mostly in the form of sugar—than fresh figs. For instance, a 60 gram serving of dried, uncooked figs has 6 grams of fiber and 29 grams of sugar. A 60 gram serving of fresh figs has 2 grams of fiber but only 10 grams of sugar. Plus, the serving of fresh figs also has 48 grams of water, compared to 18 grams of water in dried figs. The water content of fresh fruits helps create a sense of fullness, while the equivalent servings of the dried fruit may not satisfy the appetite as effectively.

Besides, fresh figs have a uniquely sweet flavor and soft, jam-like texture, which make them a tasty snack on their own. Figs are a delicate fruit with a short shelf life, so handle them with care and eat them within a few days. To help extend their shelf life, it’s a good idea to transfer the fruit from the retail basket and store figs in a single layer on a plate or shallow bowl in the fridge. While fresh figs are delicious out of hand, they take quite well to being caramelized on the stovetop, baked, and even grilled. It’s kind of odd how figs are considered a specialty fruit by most adults who probably enjoyed them in the form of cookie filling in their own childhoods without giving it a second thought. Actually, I take that last sentence back… a plate of Fig Newtons accompanied by a glass of cold milk has always been special, no matter what age! That is, until that doughy, white flour classic cookie the fig is wrapped in becomes problematic for us adult carb counters, who crave the gastronomic memory of childhood but not the glycemic collateral damage that comes with it.

The solution I found most successful in duplicating that childhood memory is my other best baking friend these days, almond flour. Since the original cookie texture is a little denser than the average light and fluffy baked good, use a combination of agave syrup and a little grapeseed oil to thicken the dough up just a bit. It took a couple of attempts to roll out the dough in a rectangle shape. The trick was to form a thick log out of each quarter section of dough, place that log between two sheets of parchment paper, then roll it out in all directions to form a long 4-inch wide dough that is then trimmed into a rectangle. Those trimmings go back into the unrolled dough for the next batch. Fill one half of the rectangle with fig its entire length, fold over the filling with the other half and then cut in bars or smaller cookies depending on personal preference.

In 1891, the first Fig Newtons were baked at the F.A. Kennedy Steam Bakery in the town of Newton, Massachusetts, using a newly invented machine that could inject filling into the cookie. After becoming the Kennedy Biscuit Company and partnering with the New York Biscuit Company, the two merged to form Nabisco, and the fig rolls were then trademarked as “Fig Newtons.”

LOW CARB NEWTONS
Yield: approx. 24 cookies
Image of ingredients for Low Carb Newtons
Ingredients

Filling:

2 cups fresh Black Mission figs
½ cup lemon juice
1 tablespoon vanilla extract

Cookie:
2½ cups blanched almond flour, fine ground
1 teaspoon salt
¾ cup agave
¼ cup grapeseed oil
1 tablespoon vanilla extract

Preparation
Image of filling
Filling: After trimming off the stem end, place figs in a food processor and blend for 30 seconds until they are well chopped. Add in lemon juice and vanilla; process until a smooth paste results
Image of dry and wet ingredients in bowls
Dough: In a large bowl, combine almond flour and salt. In a small bowl, combine agave, grapeseed oil and vanilla. Mix wet ingredients into dry, then refrigerate the dough for 1 hour. Divide chilled dough into 4 parts for rolling out.
Image of dough and filling
Between 2 pieces of parchment paper, roll out 1 part of the dough and trim it into a 10 x 4-inch rectangle, ¼ inch thick. Spread ¼ of the filling evenly down one-half of the rectangle (lengthwise). Fold the other half over the fruit dough -- resulting in a 10 x 2-inch bar. "Mend" the seam, so the bar is symmetrical.
Repeat with 3 remaining parts of dough and filling
Image of fig newton cut into pieces
Cut each bar every 2 inches to form a Fig Newton. Transfer the cookies to a parchment paper-lined baking sheet and bake at 350°F for 10-15 minutes. Enjoy! (Don’t forget that glass of milk)
Image of Low Carb Newton
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