In salads, as part of sauces or as a soup: tomatoes are very versatile in the kitchen. The fruit vegetable not only scores with its delicious taste, but also with various health benefits. It can help improve heart health and reduce the risk of cancer, among other things.
Tomatoes are true health all-rounders. They not only contain important vitamins and minerals, but also fiber, secondary plant substances and lycopene. In addition, the fruit vegetable is low in calories. A recent article from the Cleveland Clinic (USA) explains the health benefits of tomatoes.
“The most versatile of all fruits and vegetables”
Tomatoes contain fiber, vitamin C, potassium, folate, and more.
And the bright red color of a ripe tomato isn’t just a feast for the eyes. The color comes from lycopene (which gives tomatoes their red pigment) and beta-carotene (which gives tomatoes their orange tinge), two antioxidants responsible for some of the health benefits of tomatoes.
“I think tomatoes are the most versatile of all fruits and vegetables,” says Registered Dietitian Lara Whitson. “They’re also high in antioxidants and other nutrients, so there are some real benefits to eating tomatoes.”
A medium-sized raw tomato provides 23 calories, 5 grams of carbohydrates, 1 gram of protein, less than 1 gram of fat, 1.5 grams of fiber, 17 grams of vitamin C, 10 micrograms of vitamin K, 296 milligrams of potassium, and 19 micrograms of folate.
Note that nutritional values change depending on whether you eat tomatoes raw, juiced, in a sauce, or in other forms. The nutrition label tells you what nutrients you’re getting per serving.
Whiston explains the specific health benefits of tomatoes.
Lower risk of heart disease and high cholesterol
Heart disease is one of the leading causes of death worldwide. However, researchers have found that a diet high in tomatoes, which are rich in lycopene, helps reduce this risk.
A meta-analysis of 25 previous studies found that high levels of lycopene in the blood reduced the risk of heart disease by 14 percent.
Interestingly, the way tomatoes are prepared can affect the amount of healthy nutrients your body absorbs. The same research study compared the effects of eating on heart health: raw tomatoes, tomato sauce, and tomato sauce with olive oil.
While all three forms of consumption reduced cholesterol and inflammation, those who ate tomato sauce with olive oil saw the largest positive change in heart health numbers. “Researchers believe this is because olive oil helps the body absorb more lycopene,” explains Whitson.
Tomatoes are also good for your cholesterol levels. In a small study of 15 people, participants drank tomato juice (any amount) four days a week for two months.
At the end of two months, the participants had lower LDL (“bad”) cholesterol and higher HDL (“good”) cholesterol than at the start of the study.
Lower risk of cancer
Scientific research suggests that people who eat more tomatoes have a lower risk of lung, prostate and stomach cancer.
Scientists assume that lycopene and beta-carotene in tomatoes reduce the risk of cancer. Both of these antioxidants have shown anti-cancer properties in in vitro studies.
But clarity will only exist after extensive human studies, says Whitson.
Strengthening of the immune system
“While research is divided as to whether vitamin C can actually prevent the common cold, we do know that this vitamin is essential for the proper functioning of the immune system,” says Whitson.
A cup of tomato juice contains 45 milligrams of vitamin C — about 75 percent of an adult’s daily requirement. Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant and helps boost your body’s immune cells, which fight infection and prevent free radical damage to your healthy cells.
Protection against sunburn
Tomatoes are not only good for your insides, but also for your skin. One study showed that people who ate 40 grams of tomato paste with olive oil every day for ten weeks had 40 percent fewer sunburns. Researchers assume that this UV protection is due to the lycopene in tomatoes.
Select and prepare tomatoes
There are hundreds of tomato varieties. Not much is currently known about the different nutritional properties or health benefits of individual varieties. However, follow these general tips for choosing and consuming tomatoes:
- Opt for red: If lycopene content is important to you, opt for the reddest tomatoes.
- Add Olive Oil: To increase your body’s ability to absorb lycopene, add olive oil to your tomato sauce.
- Stay Local: For the best flavor, choose locally grown tomatoes as the commercial ripening process negatively affects flavor.
There are countless ways to eat tomatoes. No matter how you prepare or eat them, you will reap their health benefits.
Try simple recipes like stewed tomatoes with peppers or make your own ketchup. (ad)