Health Benefits of Tomatoes
With its attractive color and smooth round shape, tomato is one of the important ingredients of almost every culture and cuisine in the world. But it’s not just attractive to look at, but also tremendously healthy.
The scientific name of tomato is Solanum lycopersicum and its plant belongs to the nightshade family, native to South America. Tomatoes are generally red when mature; however, they also come in various colors including orange, yellow, green and even purple. There are various types of tomatoes including cherry tomatoes, grape tomatoes, pear tomatoes and so on. Plus, there are several subspecies with various flavors and shapes.
Though technically tomato is a fruit, it’s largely considered as a vegetable and adds the distinct tart flavor to whichever dish it’s added.
Regarding its health benefits, tomato is known for its important ingredient, the antioxidant lycopene. Lycopene has been found to offer several health benefits including reducing the risk of cancer and heart disease.
Tomato is also loaded with vitamin C and K, folate and potassium.
A tomato contains around 95% of water. The remaining 5% is mainly made of carbohydrates and fiber. One medium-sized (123gm) tomato consists of only 22 calories.
4% of raw tomatoes are carbohydrates which is equal to less than 5gm in an average-sized (123gm) tomato. Almost 70% of this carbohydrate content in tomato is in the form of simple sugars such as glucose and fructose.
Tomato is an important source of fiber. An average-sized tomato provides around 1.5gm fiber. Most (87%) of this fiber content is insoluble and in the form of cellulose, lignin and hemicellulose.
Vitamins and Minerals
Tomatoes contain plenty of vitamins and minerals.
A medium-sized tomato provides around 28% of the recommended daily intake of vitamin C which is an antioxidant and essential nutrients.
Folate is one of the B vitamin complex and is important for cell function and normal tissue growth. It’s especially important for pregnant women.
Vitamin K, also known as phylloquinone, plays an important role in blood coagulation and bone health.
Potassium in tomatoes is an essential mineral that helps control blood pressure and prevent cardiovascular disease.
The amount of plant compounds and vitamins can vary significantly among different varieties of tomatoes and their sampling periods. Also, when consuming tomatoes, feel free to mix them with other vegetables, regardless if you are making salad, salsa or you are juicing your tomatoes.
The main plant compounds in tomatoes are:
This is perhaps the most important component of tomato and has been extensively studied for its great health benefits. It’s a red-colored pigment and antioxidant.
It is the most plentiful carotenoid found in ripened tomatoes and it’s particularly found in highest amounts in the tomato peel. Typically, the redder the tomato, the higher amount of lycopene it contains. The richest dietary sources of lycopene are tomato products like tomato juice, tomato-based sauces and ketchups which provide over 80% of dietary lycopene.
The proportion of lycopene in tomato products in which tomatoes are processed in some or the other way is higher than that in fresh tomatoes. E.g. fresh tomato contains only 1-8mg/100gm of lycopene whereas tomato ketchup contains 10-14mg/100gm. Still, it’s recommended to consume fresh tomatoes rather than tomato products.
Also other ingredients in the food may influence the absorption of lycopene in our body. E.g. the absorption is increased 4 times when it’s consumed with fat.
This is a yellow-colored antioxidant which is transformed into vitamin A in the body.
This is a potent antioxidant which may bring blood pressure down in high blood pressure patients.
This compound occurs in tomato skin. It’s a flavonoid and has been found to reduce inflammation and preventing many diseases in studies done on mice.
The colors of tomatoes are because of chlorophylls and carotenoids. When tomatoes begin to ripe, chlorophyll (that offers green color) is degraded and carotenoids (that offer red color) are synthesized.
Tomato Health Benefits
Vitamin C, choline, potassium and fiber in tomatoes all support heart health. Further folate in tomatoes helps balance levels of homocysteine which is an amino acid that is formed from protein breakdown and is supposed to increase the risk of heart attacks and strokes. Thus balance of homocysteine levels by folate in tomatoes lowers one of the risk factors for heart disease.
It has been found in a study on middle-aged men that low levels of lycopene and beta-carotene are associated to increased risk of heart attacks and stroke.
There are increasing numbers of evidence from clinical trials that reveal that lycopene supplementation help in lowering LDL cholesterol.
Clinical studies of tomato products have shown benefits against markers of oxidative stress and inflammation.
It has also been found that they protect the inner layer of blood vessels and may lower the risk of blood clotting.
Prevention of Cancer
An association between tomatoes and tomato products, and reduced incidences of cancers of lung, stomach and prostate has been seen in observational studies.
The main component offering this protective effect is believed to be the high amount of lycopene in tomatoes. Also high amount of vitamin C and antioxidants in tomato can help reduce formation of free radicals that are known to cause cancer.
The high amounts of carotenoids in tomatoes may protect against breast cancer according to a study in women.
Another study in the Japanese population shows that consumption of beta-carotene may lower the risk of colon cancer. Increased consumption of fruit and vegetable fiber is also connected to reduced risk of colorectal cancer.
Help in Diabetes
According to studies, increased consumption of fiber benefits type 1 diabetes patients by lowering blood glucose levels and in type 2 diabetes by improving blood glucose, insulin and lipid levels. 1 cup of cherry tomatoes offers around 2gm of fiber.
It has been found in a study done by the Journal of American Medical Association that consumption of tomatoes every day lowers oxidative stress in type two diabetes.
Help in Urinary Tract Infection
Tomato has been found to lower incidences of urinary tract infections and also bladder cancer because of its high water content which can promote urination. Thus tomatoes are diuretic.
Consuming tomatoes regularly can offer relief from gallstones.
Health of Digestive Tract
Since tomato is high in water and fiber, its consumption helps hydration and regular bowel movements. Tomatoes are typically supposed to be a laxative.
Tomato has also been found beneficial for the health of skin.
Tomato-based foods high in lycopene and other plant compounds may offer protection against sunburn.
A study showed that after consuming 40gm of tomato paste (offering 16mg of lycopene) with olive oil daily for 10 weeks, there was a 40% reduction in sunburns.
Further vitamin C in tomato is important in the formation of collagen which is an essential component of skin.
Vitamin C deficiency can result in scurvy and increased damage from sunlight, smoke and pollution which in turn results in wrinkles, blemishes, sagging skin and other harmful effects on skin. Tomatoes can prevent all this damage.
Tomatoes are rich in lycopene, beta-carotene and lutein which are potent antioxidants that protect eyes against light-induced damage, cataract and age-related macular degeneration (AMD).
A recent by Age-Related Eye Disease Study (AREDS) found that people consuming high amount of carotenoids, lutein and zeaxanthin, present in tomatoes, had a 35% decrease in the risk of neovascular AMD.
Why to Consume Locally Produced Tomatoes?
When tomatoes begin ripening, a gaseous hormone named ethylene is produced in them.
If tomatoes are harvested when they are still green and are transported for selling, artificial ethylene is used to ripen them. This doesn’t offer natural flavor to tomatoes and results in tasteless tomatoes.
Therefore locally produced tomatoes taste the best and are beneficial because they ripen naturally.
Tomato Nutritional Info
100g of tomatoes contain:
- 18 calories
- 95% water
- 3.9g carbohydrates
- 0.9g protein
- 0.2g fat
- 0g Omega-3
- 0.08g Omega-6
- 0.03g saturated fat
- 0.03g monounsaturated fat
- 0.08g polyunsaturated fat
- 1.2g fiber
- 2.6g sugar
Tomato Risk Factors
Tomatoes are usually well tolerated and very rarely produce allergy.
While tomato allergy is rare, they can cause allergy in persons that are allergic to pollens. This condition is known as pollen-food allergy syndrome or oral-allergy syndrome. In this condition, the immune system of the person attacks fruit and vegetable protein that resemble pollen, resulting in allergic reactions such as itchy mouth, scratchy throat or swelling of mouth or throat.
Those having latex allergy may also experience cross-reactivity to tomatoes.
Tomatoes may comprise of higher amounts of fluoride if exposed to fluoride in the soil or fluoride gas.
Long Story Short: If you like juicing, be sure to include tomatoes in some of your freshly squeezed juices. Especially during summer, add 1-2 medium size refrigerated tomatoes in your juice and enjoy refreshing and healthy juice.