Technically, a tomato is a fruit even though we more often group it with the vegetables. While a tomato may contain the seeds of the plant like a fruit, it’s nutritional content is more similar to that of a vegetable since tomatoes provide fewer calories and sugars when compared to other fruits.
The health benefits of tomatoes
Tomatoes are an excellent source of vitamins A and C. Tomatoes also provide potassium and the carotenoids alpha- and beta- carotene, lutein, and lycopene. Vitamin C and other antioxidants in tomatoes work to prevent the formation of free radicals which can lead to cancer and heart disease. Alpha- and beta-carotene, along with lutein, have been connected to decreased colorectal cancer risk. And the high potassium content of tomatoes promotes healthy blood pressure levels. Tomatoes are also rich in lycopene. Lycopene helps protect the eyes from development of age-related macular degeneration and cataracts.
To increase the body’s absorption of the fat-soluble nutrient lycopene, eat tomatoes with a fat source, such as avocado or olive oil. Cooking tomatoes is another way to help the body better absorb lycopene.
A tomato for everyone
There are many types of tomatoes available, including:
- Cherry – Bite-sized and thin-skinned, this tomato is available in many colors: red, yellow, orange, and black.
- Grape – Thick-skinned with a low water content. This tomato is a little smaller than a cherry tomato.
- Roma – Often used for tomato paste due to a low water content and firm texture.
- Kumato – Medium-sizes with a brownish-red color, the Kumato tomato provides a sweet yet tart flavor.
- Sungold – A favorite providing a juicy, candy-like flavor.
- Hybrid – Produced by crossing two different types of tomatoes, the hybrid tomato is bred to be disease resistant with a uniform appearance.
- Beefsteak – Large tomatoes often used for deli slices.
- Campari – A sweet tomato often paired with Italian cheese.
- Heirloom – An heirloom tomato has unique appearance and is more often found at specialty supermarkets.
- Yellow Pear – Bite-sizes heirloom tomatoes with a yellow color and pear shape.
- Brandywine – A slow grower with splits, spots, and deep grooves typical.
- San Marzano – Peel-able tomatoes which equals a good match for tomato sauce.
Growing your own tomatoes
Tomato season runs from June until September, with the best tomatoes being ripe off the vine during summer months.
You have many options for growing your own tomatoes.
Tomato seeds are most often started indoors in a sunny window and then transplanted after the plant has a few leaves.
[Learn More: How to Grow Your Own Tomatoes]
How to store and use tomatoes
Store tomatoes at room temperature in a single layer to prevent bruising. If you have ripe tomatoes you won’t use for a few days, you may put them in the warmest part of the refrigerator to extend their life. In most cases, the warmest part of the refrigerator would be the top shelves or refrigerator door.
Tomatoes are consumed and prepared in a wide variety of ways.
There are likely many ways you eat tomatoes regularly (if not, think of how you can add more to your diet!), raw on a salad or sandwich, pasta sauce, stew, fresh off the grill, casseroles, soup, salsa, pizza topping, dip, etc.
Including potassium-rich tomatoes is just one way to promote lower blood pressure levels. Do you want to learn more ways to lower blood pressure? Try my free e-course!
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Lisa Nelson RD, a registered dietitian since 1999, provides clients step-by-step guidance to lower cholesterol and lower blood pressure, so they can live life and enjoy their family for years to come. Because her own health is the foundation of her expertise, you can trust that Lisa will make it truly possible for you to see dramatic changes in your health, without unrealistic fads or impossibly difficult techniques. She can be found on Twitter @lisanelsonrd and Facebook at hearthealthmadeeasy.