“You say tomato, I say tomato.” Whether you consider it to be a fruit or a vegetable, there is no question that it is a super-food packed with nutrients that should be including in everyone’s diets more often.
Tomatoes are also called “functional foods,” which are foods that not only provide all of the necessary nutrients that a body needs but also prevent chronic disease and carries other health benefits, because it contains useful phytochemicals known as lycopene.
Even though the tomato is popular today, that wasn’t always the case a couple hundred years ago. In the past it was thought to be poisonous in the United States mainly because it’s part of the nightshade family, which are species considered to be highly poisonous.
Nutritional components of tomatoes
A medium tomato consists of about 23 calories, 0 grams of fat, 6 grams of carbohydrate and around 1 gram of protein. They are packed with vitamins A, C, and folic acid which are effective at preventing certain birth defects. Tomatoes are also in abundance of a variety of beneficial nutrients and antioxidants that includes alpha-lipoic acid, lutein, beta-carotene, and choline.
Alpha-lipoic acid is an antioxidant that is getting a lot of attention these days because of its ability to fight off free radicals. Think of free radicals as cells with unstable electrons that attack other molecules in the body to achieve stability. Alpha-lipoic acid helps to combat these unstable free radicals and prevents them from setting off a chain of cell mutation that can lead to chronic diseases such as high blood pressure, cancer, Alzheimer’s, and Parkinson’s.
The body also uses alpha-lipoic acid as an energy source. There is some proof that alpha-lipoic acid can assist with stabilizing blood glucose, enhance vasodilation and protect the brain and nerve tissue.
Tomatoes get their ruby red color from the antioxidant lycopene. The fruit accounts for 80% of lycopene consumption. This antioxidant is beneficial in the treatment of prostate cancer, protects the blood vessels around the heart and prevention of heart attacks. Aside from tomatoes, other sources of the antioxidant include red grapefruit, watermelon, and apricots.
Choline is another important nutrient that is found in tomatoes. It was one of the newest nutrients added to the list of required vitamins back in 1998. Many years ago, it was once believed to be a nutrient that is readily available in our bodies and little did we know that we actually need some outside help from the food that we eat to meet at least the minimum requirement. The nutrient is very helpful with sleep, nervous system activity and the movement of muscles, learning and memory, and chronic inflammation. Besides tomatoes, choline can also be found in eggs, animal meats, vegetables, and some seafood such as shrimp, scallops, and cod.
Health benefits of tomatoes
Adding fruits and vegetables to your diet comes with an infinite list of benefits. The more plant vegetables you consume, the lower your risk of heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. Eating a lot of fruits and vegetables also promote health skin and hair, increased energy, and weight loss. Fruits and vegetables can lower the risk of obesity and obesity-related deaths.
Prostate cancer: Lycopene has been associated with prostate cancer prevention in many different studies and tomatoes are filled with that nutrient. A few studies have found that men who ate a lot of tomatoes as part of a healthy diet lowered their risk of developing prostate cancer. Earlier studies done revealed that men who consumed tomato products may have a 40% reduced risk of developing the disease– and a 54% reduced risk of aggressive prostate cancer. One of the studies also revealed that tomatoes may be very beneficial for African-American men since they are at high risk of developing prostate cancer.
Colorectal cancer: Eating foods high in beat-carotene has been shown to have an opposite effect with the development of colon cancer in Japan. Fruits and vegetables that are high in fiber has been shown to lower the risk of developing colorectal cancer.
The American Cancer Society have shown that those who’s diets are rich in tomatoes may lower their risk of developing certain type of cancers including prostate, lung, and stomach. More research is necessary to confirm lycopene’s role in the prevention or treatment of cancer.
Blood pressure: Decreasing the intake of salt in one’ diet is crucial in lowering blood pressure, nevertheless increasing potassium intake is just as important if you want a healthy blood pressure. Tomatoes are one of the many fruits high in potassium. Studies have shown that potassium intake is associated with 25% decreased risk of dying from a disease.
Heart health: Tomatoes contain goodies such as fiber, vitamin C, potassium, and choline, all of which support heart health. Increasing potassium intake and lowering salt is a recommended change in the diet to prevent cardiovascular disease. In a study done, participants who consumed 4,000 mg of potassium daily had a 50% lower risk of death from a heart attack compared to those who consumed less (about 1,000mg per day). Potassium is also associated with a reduced risk of stroke, kidney stones, and protection of bone density.
Diabetes: Research have shown that eating foods high in fiber may help decrease blood glucose levels in those who have type 1 diabetes and stabilize the blood sugar, lipids and insulin levels of those with type 2 diabetes. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends at least 25 grams daily for women and up to 38 grams daily for men.
Skin: The skin needs vitamin C to repair the damage that is caused by pollution and smoke, the sun, and to smooth out wrinkles and enhance the skin’s overall surface.
Constipation: Constipation can be improved by eating foods that are high in fiber and water content and tomatoes are just that food.
Pregnancy: Tomatoes are high in folic acid, a nutrient essential for expecting mothers to protect against neural tube defects in their babies.
How to add more tomatoes to your diet
Tomatoes should be stored in room temperature. Do not put in the refrigerator as this can cause the fruit to lose its flavor.
- Add cherry tomatoes to your tomatoes or have them as a side snack.
- Cut up or slice up your tomatoes and add them to your sandwiches and salads
- Salsa can be made with diced up tomatoes, onion, green bell peppers, cilantro, and freshly squeezed lemon.
- Chop onions up and tomatoes and add them to your omelets for breakfast.
- Pasta dishes can be made with diced tomatoes and tomato paste.