Fig Newtons and the Glycemic Index

fig newtons, glycemic index, glucose

Fig Newtons for Running

Many of us grew up eating Fig Newtons. Maybe our parents thought they were better because they had figs instead of frosting in the middle!

It turns out that Fig Newtons, and similar “fig loaf” cookies are loaded with sugar.

For runners and other endurance athletes this turns out to be a good thing.

These cookies are less inexpensive than gels and are a great way to fuel during training and competition.

Fig Newtons and Running Nutrition

I’ve been running for more than 18 years and like to experiment with training plans, shoes, clothes and nutrition. I’m always looking for something that works better or solves a problem that I have.

I’ve tried most of the gels on the market. I’ve tried pure honey and even ran a marathon with Snickers Bars! Not only were the candy bars tasty, they didn’t bother my stomach and provided the energy I needed.

A few years ago we had Fig Newtons in the house when I was getting ready for a marathon. I took a package with me to the race. I ate a few before the race, instead of a power bar, and took some with me instead of gels.

I had a good experience with the Fig Newtons so I decided to find out what they are made of and how they compare to gels and power bars.

Runners can burn 125 to 150 calories per mile, and during a marathon an athlete can burn around 4,000 calories. Runners need convenient high energy foods.

What is the Glycemic Index?

The glycemic index (GI) is a ranking of carbohydrates on a scale from 0 to 100 according to the extent to which they raise blood sugar levels after eating.

Foods with a high GI (over 55) are those which are rapidly digested and absorbed and result in marked fluctuations in blood sugar levels.

Low-GI foods (under 55), by virtue of their slow digestion and absorption, produce gradual rises in blood sugar and insulin levels, and have proven benefits for health.

The University of Sydney’s Sydney University Glycemic Index Research Service has done extensive research and testing of many common foods. Their website hosts their research results, information on the glycemic index (GI) and the International GI database.

The above GI definition is paraphrased from their web site.

You can find information on many foods that you commonly eat on their web site. Understanding the GI of the foods you eat can help you make better choices.

For runners and other endurance athletes, understanding the GI of foods helps us make better choices when we prepare for an event. Using the University’s free database you can look up the Glycemic Index (GI) of just about any food. The database does not have every American brand but you can find equivalents for most items.

Fig Newtons and the Glycemic Index

Fig Newtons and all varieties and brands of “fruit bars” are cookies. They should not be considered a health food just because they contain fruit and or whole grain.

Nutritional data for President’s Choice Fig Bars

Serving – 2 bars 40g
% DV
Vitamin A 0%
Carbohydrate 31 g 10%
Sugars 14 g *
Fibre 1 g 4%
Sodium 110 mg 5%
Vitamin C 0%
Calcium 2%
Iron 6%
Trans 0 g *
Saturates + Trans g 0%
Calories 130 Cal *
Protein 1 g *
Fat 0 g 0%
Saturates 0 g *
Cholesterol 0 mg *

The University of Sydney analyzed President’s Choice Blue Menu Fig Fruit Bars (PC Bars) a few years ago.

It appears that the manufacturer, Loblaw Company, doesn’t make these cookies anymore. The nutritional information listed here was taken from their site when the product was still available.

Unfortunately, I do not have an ingredient list.

The University has not analyzed Newtons, so this is a rough comparison that assumes that the ingredients are similar.

The University of Sydney GI database shows that the President’s Choice Bars had a GI of 70 and contained 30g of carbohydrates.

President’s Choice listed 31g of carbohydrates of which 14g were sugar. Since we are primarily interested in the carbohydrates from sugar, the difference in total carbohydrates is not important. Sydney did not analyze for sugar content.

Newtons with a variety of fillings are widely available in the US. There is a flavor for everyone and hopefully this comparison will be helpful to you.

Newtons are now made by Mondelez International and the table below is from the Mondelez website.

Nutritional data for Fig Newtons from Mondelez.

Serving – 2 bars 32g
%DV
Total Fat 2g 3%
Saturated Fat 0g 0%
Trans Fat 0g 0%
Monounsaturated Fat 0g 0%
Cholesterol 0mg 0%
Sodium 110mg 5%
Potassium 95mg 3%
Total Carbohydrate 22g 7%
Dietary Fiber 2g 8%
Sugars 12g *
Protein 1g *
Vitamin A 0%
Vitamin C 0%
Calcium 2%
Iron 4%

The University of Sydney analysis showed a GI of 70 for the PC Bars with 30g of carbohydrates and 14g of sugar.

The Newtons have 22g of carbohydrates and 12g of sugar from a 20% smaller serving (32G vs 40g)

The Newtons have fewer total carbohydrates (22g vs 30), but the ingredient we are interested is sugar.

Newtons have 12 grams of sugar out of a total serving size of 32 grams.

PC Bars had 14 grams of sugar out of a total serving size of 40 grams.

While Newtons have fewer calories and grams of sugar, their serving size is also 20% smaller than the PC Bars.

Comparing sugar content to total serving size it would appear that the Newtons with figs should have a higher GI than the PC Bars.

Newtons are 37.5% sugar and PC Bars were 34% sugar. If PC Bars had a GI of 70 and were 34% sugar, than Newtons should have a higher GI as they contain approximately 10% more sugar.

Newton PC Bar % Diff
Serving 32g 40g +20%
Carbs 22g 31g +29%
Sugar 12g 14g +14%
% Sugar 37.5% 34% -10%

Using simple math, if the GI of PC Bars was 70 and Newtons contain 10% more sugar by volume, than the GI of Newtons with figs should be around 77.

Here is information published by the Harvard Medical School on The Glycemic Load of 100+ common foods. The glycemic load of a food is effected by a number of factors such as other nutrients in the food. An interesting chart to take a look at.

In Glucose and the Endurance Athlete I give a laymen’s explanation of how your body uses glucose and one of my running experiments.

Live well my Friends.

Andy

Author: OmniRunner

9X Boston Marathon finisher, 17X marathons total. Sharing my love for running and the fun adventures and lessons that come with it. Helping non-profits increase fundraising and new runners celebrate their First 5K.

14 thoughts on “Fig Newtons and the Glycemic Index”

  1. This is food for thought, if you’ll pardon the pun. I need to pay more attention to what type of carbs I eat – rice has low GI but potatos and bread have high GI, while bananas seem to be somewhere in the middle. Should runners start with the diet, or follow the Michael Phelps high-carb example and simply eat whatever fuels their running?

    Thanks for the link!

  2. My running coach said fig newtons were the perfect fueling snack. I use them all the time. I found the fig bars at nutsonline.com to be the best I’ve had. They are whole wheat, dense and sweetened with honey. I LOVE them! Glad you are spreading the word about this healthy delicious and old-fashioned snack.

    1. I’m glad you liked the article, appreciate your comment.
      I usually buy a no name brand called “Daddy’s” or something like that. They are based in Pennsylvania. I think they are denser than Fig Newtons.
      They make great pre marathon food, but can be a little dry to eat on the run.

  3. Hello – I am not a runner but I do ride a cross trainer and I will be starting up late summer early Fall riding in September and need some emergency non-bonking food to keep in the saddle bag. Due to health reasons I have to be careful of simple sugars, processed flour, etc. The only time when I think that my energy level drops to crazy levels is when I start riding again. It takes about a week or two of daily riding before I feel like my muscles, heart and lungs are again happy with me. Once that happens I gradually get this endorphin kick that keeps me biking. I have a good 40 lbs to loose and biking is low knee impact and gets the heart rate up and wind blowing by, which is number one key for me. Keeping Fig Newtons in the saddle bag will be a no brainer. Thanks for posting

    1. Appreciate the comment. Fig Newtons aren’t exactly health food, but they are a more natural source of carbohydrates than the gels most of us use.
      Good luck with the training.
      Andy

  4. Thanks for posting such a detailed explanation of why Newtons are such good fuel. Sometimes I need to eat something real instead of gels or blocks.

    1. Hi Denny,

      I’m glad you liked it. It’s one of my more popular posts.
      I often get hungry during marathons and having something more substantial than a gel to eat is a big help.
      Andy

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