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fig newtons, glycemic index, glucose

Fig Newtons and the Glycemic Index

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 expensive than gels and are a great way to fuel during training and competition.

In addition to being packed with energy and reasonably priced, fig bars travel well when wrapped in some foil or the original packaging.

Fig Newtons and Running Nutrition

I’ve been running for more than 20 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 and have tried some unconventional energy supplements as well.

I’ve tried pure honey and have run a marathon and several halfs with Snickers Bars! Not only were the candy bars tasty, they didn’t bother my stomach and they 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.

The Fig Newtons didn’t bother my stomach, gave me the energy I needed and tasted great! They were so good that I decided to find out what they are made of and how they compare to gels and power bars.

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.1

Foods with a high GI (equal to or over 70) are those which are rapidly digested and absorbed and result in marked fluctuations in blood sugar levels.

Low GI foods (equal to or less than 55), are more slowly digested and absorbed and produce smaller fluctuations in your blood glucose and insulin levels.

In every day life, low GI foods help us maintain consistent levels of glucose in our blood. For good health we want to avoid spikes in blood sugar levels.

Athletes who are competing, or training heavily, need high GI foods that will rapidly deliver glucose to their muscles. Since sugar is quickly used by the body, the risk of a blood sugar spike is minimal.

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.

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 bars40g
 % DV
Vitamin A0%
Carbohydrate  31 g10%
Sugars  14 g *
Fibre  1 g4%
Sodium  110 mg5%
Vitamin C0%
Calcium2%
Iron6%
Trans  0 g *
Saturates + Trans   g0%
Calories  130 Cal *
Protein  1 g *
Fat  0 g0%
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 bars32g
 %DV
Total Fat 2g3%
Saturated Fat 0g0%
Trans Fat 0g0%
Monounsaturated Fat 0g0%
Cholesterol 0mg0%
Sodium 110mg5%
Potassium 95mg3%
Total Carbohydrate 22g7%
Dietary Fiber 2g8%
Sugars 12g *
Protein 1g *
Vitamin A0%
Vitamin C0%
Calcium2%
Iron4%

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.

 NewtonPC Bar% Diff
Serving32g40g+20%
Carbs22g31g+29%
Sugar12g14g+14%
% Sugar37.5%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

Originally posted November 27, 2020

1.) https://glycemicindex.com/about-gi/

2. ) https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/carbohydrates/carbohydrates-and-blood-sugar/

3.) https://www.gisymbol.com/

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14 responses to “Fig Newtons and the Glycemic Index”

  1. Run and Jump Avatar

    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. yogini.sharon Avatar

    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.

  3. runcolbyrun Avatar

    I love a fig Newton! Thanks for bringin’ ’em back!

    1. imarunner2012 Avatar

      Glad you liked my post. This is the most popular post I’ve ever written.
      Thanks for reading and your comment!

  4. […] bar has a lower GI than two slices of whole wheat bread. Here is the link to my blog post “Fig Newtons and the Glycemic Index”. I’m far from an authority on the subject, but this post gets hits almost every […]

  5. Chuck Douros - Principal Writer for Runwritedig Avatar

    Well done sir. Good info. I have a confession. Up until I was about 12 years old I thought fig newtons grew on trees. Somehow they just plucked them and cut and packaged them. Ugh! Yeah, not the sharpest tool in the shed. LOL.

    1. imarunner2012 Avatar

      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.

  6. davidpmedici Avatar

    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. Imarunner2012 Avatar

      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

  7. […] bar has a lower GI than two slices of whole wheat bread. Here is the link to my blog post “Fig Newtons and the Glycemic Index”. I’m far from an authority on the subject, but this post gets hits almost every […]

  8. Denny K Avatar

    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. OmniRunner Avatar

      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

  9. […] Read Fig Newtons and the Glycemic Index […]

  10. […] posts on nutrition “Fig Newtons and the Glycemic Index” and “Glucose and the Endurance Athlete” have also turned out to be very […]