For many of us, summer is synonymous with the sweet freshness of perfectly ripe tomatoes. I for one cannot imagine eating anything else on a hot summer day and even thinking about their earthy aroma makes me crave a few slices. Fortunately, nowadays tomatoes are available almost all-year round, though it is best to eat them when they are in season in order to get the most of the health benefits they have to offer and enjoy their original flavor. Believe it or not, tomatoes are a great source of several essential nutrients and antioxidants with multiple benefits.
Rich in vitamins A and C, tomatoes are particularly good for our eyesight and immune system as well as promote skin health. Both vitamins have antioxidant value as well and help protect cells against free radical damage and oxidative stress. The generous lycopene content of tomatoes further adds to their antioxidant value. But just a little more than a decade ago, they were seen as average vegetables, sweet and fresh indeed, but not worthy of much attention from a nutritional point of view. However, things have changed significantly since then and researchers now show a growing interest in the health benefits of the plain tomato.
Recent research suggests that tomatoes are potent natural detoxifiers and believed to contribute to preventing some forms of cancer such as lung cancer or stomach cancer (Giovannucci E. Tomatoes, tomato-based products, lycopene, and cancer: review of the epidemiological literature. J Natl Cancer Inst. 1999). These wonder-attributes rely on a powerful natural substance found in tomatoes, called lycopene. This substance is said to prevent prostate, stomach and urethral cancer due to the fact that our body naturally stores lycopene in those specific areas. And the antioxidant activities of lycopene would prevent oxidative stress and cell damage, contributing to a lower risk of such forms of cancer.
Studies on the health effects of the antioxidant lycopene in tomatoes and tomato byproducts such as tomato juice, sauce, ketchup and others indicate a reduced risk of stomach cancer as well (Erica N. Story, Rachel E. Kopec, Steven J. Schwartz and G. Keith Harris. An Update on the Health Effects of Tomato Lycopene. Annual Review of Food Science and Technology. 2010). Tomatoes also contain an incredibly potent antioxidant called glutathione, known for its strong detoxification properties. Glutathione is highly efficient in fighting off the infamous free radicals and ensuring a certain level of protection against cancer.
Research reveals glutathione in tomatoes and other plants helps repair damaged DNA and regulate cell life cycles, preventing cells from prolonging their life indefinitely, which is essentially the definition of cancer. In other words, this antioxidant ensures cells do not live beyond their natural life cycle and thus do not end up becoming cancerous. Moreover, glutathione helps with protein synthesis. And since proteins are vital element of the immune system response, it too is great for boosting immunity. The antioxidant also helps transport amino acids from protein through the body to where they are needed, particularly the nervous system, providing benefits for mental health.
In addition to this, tomatoes are known to help lower the LDL (bad) cholesterol and even total cholesterol levels thanks to a good content of dietary fiber: 1.2 g of fiber/100 g of fruit. Typically, 1 tomato weighs about 100 g. Most of the fiber is in the skin, so eating the tomato whole, whether fresh or cooked, is the best way to ensure you meet you fiber requirements and enjoy good cholesterol levels.
Eating tomatoes helps keep your blood pressure within normal limits by providing small amounts of dietary potassium to help regulate sodium levels in the body as well as intracellular fluid, with benefits for blood pressure (read more about what to eat for high blood pressure). Most heart problems are caused by a high sodium intake and a low potassium intake. Those of you with hypertension or other heart conditions deriving from it, know that when your body gets enough potassium, you will enjoy good cardiovascular health.
The minerals ensures electrical impulses from the brain to the heart muscle are regular, resulting in your heart muscles beating regularly, which means no more heart rhythm problems. Potassium also balances sodium which leads to fluid levels in the body becoming balanced and high blood pressure going down. Blood circulation also improves significantly with a good diet providing all essential nutrients. So cut down on the salty foods and eat some potassium-rich tomatoes, bananas or potatoes. Think about this: tomatoes are red, the color of blood, so they are good for the heart.
If you look at the nutrition table of tomatoes above you will see the culinary vegetable also contains small amounts of manganese: 0.15 mg/100 g, which represents 6.6% of the RDI of manganese as of 2016 new RDI guidelines. Manganese is a great antioxidant dietary mineral mineral used by our body to detoxify superoxide free radicals, playing a great part in the prevention of oxidation stress and chronic disease in all its forms.
Furthermore, tomatoes have small amounts of B vitamins, notably vitamins B1, B2, B3, B6 and B9. 100 g of raw, ripe tomatoes provide roughly 9% of the recommended daily intake of vitamin B2, and around 4% of the RDI of other B vitamins. What this means is eating tomatoes provides benefits for energy metabolism, digestive and nervous system health.
The botanical fruit and culinary vegetable also contains impressive amounts of vitamin C, by far the most potent natural antioxidant and anti-inflammatory. 100 g contains around 13 mg of vitamin C out of the 90 mg minimum recommended daily intake. And since you never eat just one tomato, you can easily get more of the nutrient. Benefits include better immunity, reduced inflammation, healthier skin and joints (read more about vitamins and minerals for good immunity).
In addition to this, the fruit is rich in vitamin A and contains small amounts of vitamin K, both essential for good eyesight, healthy skin, blood coagulation and bone health. Last but not least, it is also a source of the antioxidant pigment and vitamin A precursor beta-carotene: 100 g of tomatoes may contain 0.2-2.8 mg of beta-carotene. The human body turns it into vitamin A and uses as a powerful antioxidant.
Lycopene, also responsible for the red color of tomatoes and found in generous amounts in them boasts strong antioxidant properties. However, in order for the body to be able to absorb lycopene, beta-carotene, other carotenes and even vitamin A, you have to eat tomatoes with a little bit of fat, whether it’s olive oil, butter, avocado or some beef or pork. What is most interesting is that, unlike other nutrients, lycopene needs to be cooked to provide the most benefits (read more about the properties and benefits of lycopene).
Overall, here are the best 9 benefits of eating tomatoes:
1) Better immunity as a result of a good content of vitamins A and C.
2) Good for eyesight and skin, possibly even acne, thanks to vitamin A.
3) Reduces inflammation and promotes joint health thanks to vitamin C.
4) Has lycopene with antioxidant and anticancer activity.
5) Boosts energy as a result of small amounts of B vitamins, carbohydrates and sugars.
100 g of tomatoes has 3.89 g of carbohydrates and 2.63 g of natural sugars.
6) Benefits for digestion and constipation relief as a result of a good fiber content.
7) Cholesterol and blood pressure-lowering properties.
8) Tonic, energizing and detoxifying effects.
9) Hydrating effects because tomatoes are 94.52% water.
See other hydrating foods in the article here.
And now for the question on everyone’s minds: is tomato a fruit or a vegetable? From a botanical point of view, the tomato is a fruit, a berry to be more exact, but it is used as a vegetable in cooking. If you want to choose the sweetest, most fragrant tomatoes try looking for those varieties that are a bit green on top. The light green colour near the stem is indicative of original, sweeter varieties, even more delicious than cherry tomatoes and is a sign that the fruit have not been cross-bred to ripen in an even red colour which causes a significant loss in sugar content. Remember to always eat tomatoes in season and look for fresh, shiny, firm fruit with the characteristic green near the stem, no spots and a strong tomato smell. These will have a sweet taste and a delicious earthy, genuine tomato flavor.