By Claire Georgiou, Reboot Naturopath, B.HSc ND
Technically, tomatoes (Lycopersicon esculentum) are a fruit, but the USDA considers this popular food to be nutritionally a vegetable. Tomatoes are used in dishes all around the world: Mexican salsas, Indian curries and Italian pasta and pizza dishes, to name just a few tasty options. The versatile veggie can be used as a paste, sauce, ketchup, in salads and in so many other ways. It’s no surprise, then, that tomatoes are one of the most popular vegetables in the U.S. (just behind the potato).
Nutritionally, tomatoes are jam-packed with nutrients, and low in calories — a single cup of tomatoes contains 27 calories while also providing 2g of fiber, potassium (353mg), vitamin K (11.8mcg), vitamin C (20mg) and 32 percent of your RDA and B vitamins along with smaller amounts of iron, calcium, magnesium and choline. Tomatoes contain carotenoids (vitamin A) providing 25 percent of your daily needs which gives the tomato its yellow, orange or red color. The most common carotenoid with the highest quantity in tomatoes is lycopene. Other carotenoids found in tomatoes are phytoene, phytofluene, zeta-carotene, gamma-carotene, alpha-carotene, beta-carotene, neurosporene and lutein.
Read on for the biggest health benefits of tomatoes, as well as some of our very favorite recipes.
Prostate Cancer: In the U.S. there are approximately 217,000 cases of prostate cancer diagnosed annually and around 32,000 deaths. According to John Erdman, Ph.D., professor emeritus of the department of food science and human nutrition at the University of Illinois, “There’s very good, strong, epidemiological support for increased consumption of tomato products and lower incidence of prostate cancer.”
It has always been said this is due to the lycopene content, although when lycopene is given as an isolated nutrient, the benefits are somewhat lost. The other carotenoids are also playing a strong role in possibly supporting the effect of the lycopene. Nutrients often do not work in isolation but rather as a family to increase the positive health effects.
Pancreatic Cancer: According to a study at the University of Montreal, the researchers found that lycopene was linked with a 31 percent reduction in the development of pancreatic cancer. The consumption of tomatoes has been also linked to the possible reduction in other types of cancers such as throat, larynx, breast, cervical and colorectal cancer.
A study published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism found that eating a diet high in tomatoes helped promote better fat regulation and sugar metabolism. This study looked at women eating tomato-rich diets and found that those who ate at least 25mg of lycopene daily for 10 weeks saw a healthy, nine percent bump in adiponectin, a hormone involved with regulating blood sugar and fat levels.
Lycopene found in tomato juice has been shown in a study in Finland and many others to reduce cholesterol LDL cholesterol along with increasing its resistance to oxidation, which has the worst effect on cardiovascular health.
Tomatoes in the Mediterranean diet have been long associated with improved mortality and cardiovascular health due to the powerful antioxidant nutrient content.
Tomatoes contain many different carotenoids that concentrate in the skin and eyes protecting these tissues and cells from sun damage and other types of tissue damage. These nutrients also give us more of a sun-kissed glow and improve our complexion.
The antioxidants in tomatoes helps to prevent macular degeneration along with supporting improved night vision.
Drinking two glasses of tomato juice could possibly help to strengthen brittle bones. A study was conducted on post-menopausal women, and it was shown that in a lycopene-free diet, a natural chemical in the blood that increases bone breakdown elevated; in contrast, drinking two glasses of tomato juice or consuming an equivalent amount of lycopene showed a reduction in bone loss.
Lycopene demonstrates more activity in its positive health effects when blended and/or cooked. This is due to the cell matrix being broken down and allowing increased cellular absorption and activity.
When tomatoes are eaten with a healthy oil or fat it has been shown that the carotenoid phytonutrient is absorbed by 2-15x. So this supports the health benefits of a homemade tomato sauce recipe that includes heat and healthy fats such as olive oil, coconut oil, avocado and other healthy fats.