In Season Now: Tomatoes Provide Powerful Health Benefits

Dorian Martin Health Guide
  • Oh, my gosh! Friday’s delivery from the community supported agriculture program included a selection of tomatoes. On my drive home, I couldn’t resist trying a few of the cherry tomatoes. Talk about bliss!! And then then the next day, I noticed that my friend Leslie has changed her Facebook picture to a lovely shot of the tomato plants she’s growing that are heavily laden with tomatoes in a variety of shades of red and green.

    All  of this love of tomatoes is good, too, since these are complex foods that are really good for us.  Did you know that the tomato has 31,760 genes, which is 7,000 more than a human has? That factoid was shared in a recent story by New York Times reporter Nicholas Wade, who noted that it took plant geneticists from 14 nations approximately nine years to identify this sequence. These researchers are hypothesizing that this genetic variety may have helped the tomato, which has its ancestral roots in the highlands of Peru, survive the environmental disaster that killed off the dinosaurs. And interestingly, the tomato is considered a fruit by botanists and a vegetable by the U.S. Supreme Court (which Wade suggested was because the tomato is a close relative, the potato).

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    No matter whether you consider it a fruit or a vegetable, I bet you’ll agree a fresh tomato is decidedly tasty. Plus, it’s a great part of a healthy diet.  According to Self’s Nutrition Data, one cup of cherry tomatoes has 27 calories. This serving also has 25 percent of recommended daily value of vitamin A and 32 percent of the daily value of vitamin C, as well as seven percent of the recommended daily fiber intake. And if you like the larger tomatoes, know that one medium whole tomato has 22 calories as well as 20 percent of the daily recommended value of vitamin A and 26 percent of the daily recommended value of vitamin C. Nutrition Data also notes that tomatoes of all kinds are a very good source of vitamin K, potassium and magnesium and a good source of vitamin E, thiamin, niacin, vitamin B6, folate, magnesium, phosphorus and copper. This website rates tomatoes as five-stars for weight loss and five stars for optimum health.

    Tomatoes also are a great source for lycopene. The Mayo Clinic reports that researchers have found that people who consume a large amount of lycopene foods (which also include pink grapefruit, watermelon and guava) may have a reduced risk of cancer, cardiovascular disease and macular degeneration.  However, the clinic also notes that tomatoes have so many other important nutrients, which causes researchers to be unsure whether these health benefits can be chalked up only to lycopene. The George Mateljan Foundation also reported that tomato’s lycopene also has been found to be beneficial for bone health; other research suggests that diets that include tomatoes may reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease and some other neurological diseases as well as the risk of obesity.

    I’ve heard that red tomatoes are the best sources of lycopene, but the George Mateljan Foundation pointed to research that suggests this perception may not be true. A small study found that lycopene from orange- and tangerine-colored tomatoes was absorbed better by healthy men and women thanks to having tetra-cis-lycopene.  (Red tomatoes have trans-lycopene.)

  • The foundation also reported that the variety of tomato was a bigger factor than how the tomato was grown (organic vs. conventional). The four types found to be the highest average antioxidant capacity are New Girl, Jet Star, Fantastic and First Lady.

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    And in honor of fresh tomatoes and the start of summer (and grilling season), I’m planning on making this Whole Foods recipe for grilled pizza with tomatoes, pesto and goat cheese tonight.  Bon appetit!

    Primary Sources for This Sharepost:

    George Mateljan Foundation. (N.D.). Tomatoes.

    Mayo Clinic. (2012). Lycopene.

    Self Nutrition Data. (N.D.). Tomatoes.

    Wade, N. (2012). Tomato genome has now been decoded. The Boston Globe.

Published On: June 04, 2012