What are tomatoes good for?

Tomato Talk
Botanical name: Lycopersicon esculentum P. Miller

Tomatoes Nutrition Facts

Tomatoes originally grew wild in South America, eventually making their way to Central America where the Aztecs and Maya ate them. Their spread to other parts of the world is thanks to the Spanish, who brought the plant to Europe, paving the way for it to become a valued commodity.1

There are hundreds of varieties of tomatoes, from tiny, snack-sized types like grape and cherry, to the large heirloom tomato variants, such as the Cherokee purple and Homestead, with the former growing 4- to 6-ounce fruits.2,3 The colors largely vary across cultivars, with shades ranging from yellow to red.4 They can be eaten raw, added to soups or stewed.5

A mistake most people make when handling tomatoes is refrigerating them to “prolong” their shelf life. Studies show that refrigerating tomatoes actually halts the ripening process and diminishes flavor and texture.6

Health benefits of tomatoes

One of the amazing things about tomatoes is the wide variety and quantity of nutrients they provide. They don’t just taste good – they're good for you too, supplying excellent amounts of fiber, vitamins A, C and K, potassium and phosphorus, as well as trace amounts of iron, zinc, vitamin E, niacin and folate.7

The surplus of nutrients found in tomatoes may provide you with the following health benefits:

  • Supporting cardiovascular health – According to a 2003 review from Critical Review of Food Science and Nutrition, tomatoes contain nutrients that can protect vascular cells from oxidation, shielding you from atherosclerosis.8
  • Helping preserve eye health – A 2013 review from the Journal of Pharmacognosy and Phytochemistry showed that optimizing lutein and zeaxanthin levels helps protect patients from age-related macular degeneration and cataract formation.9
  • Easing menopausal symptoms – A 2015 study from the Journal of Nutrition showed that the consumption of tomato juice significantly reduced menopausal symptoms, including anxiety, increased heart rate and resting energy expenditure.10

Tomatoes nutrition facts

Serving Size: 3.5 ounces (100 grams), red, ripe, raw 11
  Amt. Per
Serving
% Daily
Value*
Calories 18  
Calories from Fat    
Total Fat 0.20 g  
Saturated Fat 0.028 g  
Trans Fat 0 g  
Cholesterol 0 mg  
Sodium 5 mg 0%
Total Carbohydrates 3.89 g  
Dietary Fiber 1.2 g  
Sugar 2.63 g  
Protein 0.88 g  
Vitamin A 833 IU Vitamin C 13.7 mg
Calcium 10 mg Iron 0.27 mg

Studies done on tomatoes

In a 2004 study from Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers and Prevention, tests indicated that tomatoes may be a preventive factor against prostate cancer, especially when ingested in larger amounts.12

We hear a lot about flavonoids and antioxidants being able to neutralize harmful free radicals in the body. Lycopene is an antioxidant that plays a large role in the benefits that tomatoes offer.13 A 2006 study from Photochemical and Photobiological Sciences showed that regular consumption of lycopene-rich food led to the decreased risk of ultraviolet damage.14 A 2018 study from Frontiers in Pharmacology has also linked lycopene to improved cardiovascular health due to its antiatherosclerotic, antioxidant and antihypertensive properties.15

Lack of lycopene intake may put your health at risk. Researchers conducted studies to determine the effects of withholding lycopene from the diet of 23 postmenopausal women for a month. Results showed not only depleted lycopene levels, but significantly lowered lutein, zeaxanthin, carotene, enzymatic superoxide dismutase, catalase and glutathione peroxidase levels as well. These findings showed lycopene's importance in maintaining bone density and reduce osteoporosis.16

However, there have been numerous issues concerning canned tomatoes due to the use of bisphenol A (BPA) in packaging. BPA is a chemical used in flame retardants, polycarbonates and epoxy resins used to line cans to stop direct contact between the metal and the food material.

Studies have shown that BPA can be transferred to food, leading to prolonged exposures in humans through consumption. BPA has also been linked to cancer, infertility and obesity in different age groups.17 In a 2014 study from Expert Review of Obstetrics and Gynecology, it was discussed that BPA interfered with the production of reproductive hormones, semen quality and implantation odds in women who underwent in-vitro fertilization.18

Tomato healthy recipes:
Fresh and chunky gazpacho

Tomatoes Healthy Recipes

Ingredients:

3 cups chopped tomatoes

1 cup chopped cucumber, peeled and seeded

2/3 cup finely chopped yellow onion

1/2 cup each chopped red and yellow bell pepper and celery

2 tsp. olive oil

2 tsp. horseradish

2 tsp. balsamic vinegar

2 tsp. brown rice vinegar

1/4 tsp. sea salt

2 cups tomato juice

1/4 tsp. fresh black pepper

1 clove garlic, minced

Garnish:

1/4 cup plain yogurt, or plain non-fat yogurt

1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro

1/2 avocado, chopped

Procedure:

  1. In a large bowl, combine all ingredients, except garnish items.
  2. Cover and chill at least two hours or overnight.
  3. Serve in chilled bowls and top each serving with a dollop of yogurt, 1 tablespoon of cilantro and a few avocado pieces.

Adapted from “Healthy Recipes for Your Nutritional Type” by Dr. Joseph Mercola

Tomatoes fun facts

In the Middle Ages, wealthy people often ate from pewter plates, but foods with a high acid content, like tomatoes, caused some of the lead to leach onto the food, causing lead poisoning and death. For the next 400 years or so, tomatoes were considered toxic.19

Summary

A multiplicity of varieties and preparations make tomatoes one of the most anticipated hallmarks of summer. The lycopene content alone is enough to make tomatoes one of the healthiest natural foods. Cardiovascular support and bone health are two functions the phytonutrients tomatoes provide, but their ability to cut cancer risks is also well-documented.

How fortunate we are to have such a delicious, versatile vegetable (fruit, technically) to enliven the dishes we prepare — not just for enjoyment, but for life!