Taste and nutrition as well as the health benefits of tomatoes have been highly valued. Enjoyed all over the world, they are essential ingredients in the diets of many cultures. Yet the plant has a spotty past, including myths, misconceptions and controversy, and the challenges of modern mass production of the tomato continue to spark debate. Yet there is no debate over the intrinsic health benefits of the tomato. The tomato is treasured for its nutritional value as much as for its delicious taste.
History of the Tomato
Peru is generally credited with first cultivating of the fruit now known as the tomato. The tomatoes of that day were tiny compared to modern tomatoes, but were already a valued food, bred for flavor. From Peru, the tomato spread through Southern and Central America. Mexico’s Aztecs prized them, using them extensively in their cooking, including salsa. When the Spanish invaded Mexico during the early 1500’s, the Aztecs developed a new, gruesome recipe involving tomatoes. The fruit was served with the flesh of the Spanish invaders.
Some believe it was the Spanish Conquistador Hernando Cortés who brought the tomato to Europe after conquering the Aztec capital, Tenochtítlan, now Mexico City. Others believe Christopher Columbus brought plants back to Europe with him as early as 1493. An Italian herbal document in 1544 mentions the tomato as pomo d’oro, or golden apple. In 1597, English surgeon John Gerard published an herbal declaring that the tomato was poisonous and not to be eaten, prompting a century or two of excluding the fruit from British and colonial diets.
Several theories exist as to why so many believed the tomato was poison. One theory puts the blame on pewter plates, which had a high lead content. Acidic food like tomatoes caused some of the lead to leach into the food, leading to lead poisoning. However, lead poisoning occurs so gradually, over such a long period of time, that many consider it unlikely that the tomato would have been identified as the cause. A more likely theory is that the tomato is considered a member of the nightshade family of plants. Indeed, the tomato leaf is not safe to eat. Eating tomato leaves can cause vomiting, diarrhea and dizziness, and in severe cases, can lead to death.
Controversy also existed for a time over whether the tomato is a fruit or a vegetable. Botanically, the tomato is a berry, a subset of fruit, but its content is more like a vegetable. Perhaps the best way to describe the tomato is as “the fruit that behaves as vegetable.”
Tomatoes have always been known for its rich nutritional value, as it is an excellent source of fiber and Vitamins A and C, calcium and potassium which are crucial to an individual living healthy. Tomatoes are the richest source of lycopene which is the compound responsible for making the tomato red. This compound is beneficial to us in helping to prevent the development or occurrence of breast and cervical cancer in women and prostate cancer in men. It has also shown evidence of inhibiting the growth of lung cancer cells.
The body does not produce lycophene naturally and therefore eating tomatoes is one of the most popular means in which this compound is supplied to the body. This lycophene is also thought to be a good means of preventing heart diseases and eye problems. It is thought that if you have been eating tomatoes all your life you are less likely to have eye problems related to age when you grow older. Finally, the lycophene in tomatoes also provide you with protection against UV light. As a result if you are to eat tomatoes and tomato products on a regular basis, you skin would actually develop a 33% increase in resistance to sunburn, further reducing your chances of getting skin cancer.
Nutritional Benefits of Tomatoes
What are the nutritional benefits of tomatoes? A cup of fresh tomatoes will provide:
- 57.3% of the daily recommended value for vitamin C
- 22.4% of the DV for vitamin A
- 7.9% of the DV for fiber
- Calories 18
- Water 95%
- Protein 0.9 g
- Fiber 1.2 g
- Fat 0.2 g
- Saturated 0.03 g
- Carbs 3.9 g
- Sugar 2.6 g
- Monounsaturated 0.03 g
- Polyunsaturated 0.08 g
- Omega-3 0 g
- Omega-6 0.08 g
Products and Uses
Tomato has been used to make many food products over the years, but is also useful in many other aspects. Some of the food products include tomato sauce or ketchup which is most popular, pasta and pizza. It has also been used to tenderize meat, and as a replacement for the harsh, abrasive chemicals in the cleaning of copper pots. Tomato juice is also known to be a effective remedy for removing the awful smell of skunk spray from you or your pets, by bathing in it. Finally, you can remove the chlorine from your hair after swimming in the pool by washing your hair with tomato juice.
Types of Tomatoes
Tomatoes are available in many different variety, hundreds actually. However, they can be classified into four main types, based on their size and shape; these are round tomatoes, cluster tomatoes, heirloom tomatoes and roma tomatoes. Round tomatoes are the larger type which are used mainly for slicing to cover a sandwich. Cluster tomatoes are mostly used to make salads, and are available in a wide range of colors and sizes. In most cases these are sold still on the vine. Cherry and grape tomatoes are two varieties of tomatoes which fall into the cluster group and are so named based on their sizes. Heirloom tomatoes are those which have been passed from generation to generation and from farmer to farmer all around the world. They have a unique variety of taste, shapes, sizes and colors making them popular among gourmet cooks. They have a short shelf life and as of such are mostly sold close to the field. Roma tomatoes are also called plum tomatoes. These are the least juicy of all the tomatoes and are mostly used for making sauces, because of their thick flesh and small number of seeds.
Choosing Healthy Tomatoes
When choosing your tomatoes, make sure you choose the ones with the most brilliant shades of red. The dark red colors indicate high levels of betacarotene and lycopene. Although raw tomatoes are great for you, cooking them can even release more benefits. Cooking breaks down the cell walls in the tomato and release more lycopene. The get the best effects of lycopene, eat tomatoes with healthy fatty foods like olive oil, avocados, or nuts. Fresh tomatoes are also rich in potassium and contain important nutrients for cell and body fluids and help control heart rate and blood pressure. Tomatoes are also a good source of folate, iron, calcium, manganese, and other minerals. The important nutritional value of a tomato will always make them taste and be great.
Powerful Health Benefits of Tomatoes
Tomatoes, which are actually a fruit instead of a vegetable, contain many key vitamins and minerals. They are known around the world for their versatile use in health.
Of all the micronutrients found in tomatoes, lycopene is certainly one of the most important. It is one of the most powerful natural antioxidants that has been shown to be protective against several age-related diseases: colorectal, prostrate, breast, endometrial, lung, and pancreatic cancers. It has even been shown to aid and prevent certain cardiovascular diseases.
Many other antioxidants have been found in the nutritional value of a tomato. For example, tomatoes are an excellent source of vitamin C and vitamin A. Studies have shown that increased intakes of those vitamins can help protect against DNA cell damage, which is an important risk factor for cancers, atherosclerosis, and diabetes.
The health benefits of tomatoes also come from its high quantity of dietary fiber. A high-fiber diet has been shown to reduce “bad” cholesterol levels, regulate blood sugar, and prevent colon cancer.
3. Beta Carotene
Tomatoes have a lot of beta carotene. We’ve always associated beta carotene with Vitamin A but even by itself, it leads to many health benefits. Beta carotene can help promote healthy skin by protecting it from harmful UV rays when you are exposed to intense sunlight during the day. Without it, your skin could easily wrinkle and age. It could even lead to the onset of serious skin conditions such as melanomas.
4. High Vitamin C Content
The first of the tomato benefits that I wish to highlight is it’s rich content of vitamin C. If you were to eat just one medium sized tomato that weighs 123 grams, you would be able to take 15.6 milligrams of vitamin C from it. Just to put that into perspective, that amount is just over a quarter of all of the vitamin C your body needs in a day, that is quite impressive.
Vitamin C is an important mineral that acts as a powerful antioxidant that helps to eliminate free radicals that can cause cancer. It also helps towards lowering blood pressure as well, which reduces the chance of hypertension. One other benefit of vitamin C to mention is that it helps to boost your immune system, enabling your body to fight off illness and infection.
There are many more foods that provide a good dose of vitamin C, one such food is the blueberry.
5. Rich in Vitamin A
Another health benefit of the tomato is the fact that it is also high in vitamin A. In a single medium sized tomato weighing in at 123 grams, you can get one fifth of the vitamin A that you require in a day. So if you like your tomatoes it is going to be incredibly easy to get all of the vitamin A that you need.
Just like vitamin C, vitamin A is a strong antioxidant, helping to get rid of potentially harmful free radicals. Vitamin A is also converted into retinoic acid that helps to maintain strong teeth and bones. Another huge health benefit of vitamin A is the fact that it helps your eyes to stay healthy, preventing macular degeneration.
Another food that is high in vitamin A is the carrot.
6. Great Source of Vitamin K
Tomato benefits also include a large content of another important mineral in vitamin K. One medium sized tomato weighing 123 grams will provide you with 9.7 micrograms of vitamin K, which is over a tenth of the total daily need of your body.
Vitamin K helps to transport oxygen to where it is needed in the body, and it is also an effective clotting agent that helps to protect cuts from infection. It is also another antioxidant, which is great news to go with the other two vitamins that I have already mentioned. Vitamin K is also important to the maintenance and function of the brain and the nervous system.
Another food that is a rich source of vitamin K is broccoli.
7. Tomatoes Help Prevent Cancer
Although not all types of cancer but cancer such as breast, colorectal, prostate and stomach cancer. This is because of lutein, zeaxanthin and the high level of lycopene which is a natural antioxidant that have the ability to fight cancer causing cells.
8. Tomatoes Are Good For Your Heart
Tomatoes lowers blood pressure and also reduces cholesterol level because of its Vitamin B and potassium. It also prevent life threatening heart problems such as high blood pressure, heart attack and stroke.
9. Improve Your Vision
Macular degeneration can be prevented using lutein, lycopene and zeaxanthin. The only carotenoids found in the rectina and lens of the eyes are lutein and zeaxanthin, these two carotenoids apart from filtering light also remove rays that can damage eye tissue and eye related diseases. No cause for alarm, lutein, lycopene and zeaxanthin are found in tomatoes
10. Makes Hair Healthier
The appearance and texture of your hair can be improved by drinking tomato juice. Tomato juice revitalize hair growth and strengthen tufts of hair.
11. Increases Capacity to Burn Fat
Carnitine is an amino acid that has the ability to increase the capacity for the body to burn fat by about 30%. Tomatoes with all stimulate the production of carnitine.
More nutritional values of tomatoes
As you can see the tomato provides a really healthy dose of three very important vitamins, but it’s nutritional prowess does not stop there.
Just to point out just how incredibly nutritious the tomato is, it also holds the following nutrients as well:
- Vitamin E
- Vitamin B3 / Niacin
- Vitamin B5 / Pantothenic acid
- Vitamin B6
- Vitamin B9 / Folate
Not to mention protein and dietary fiber too.
One important thing to remember is that although you can get various vitamin and mineral supplements, the best form of nutrition is getting it directly from the food source.
Furthermore, if you were wondering how many calories are in a tomato then you won’t be disappointed. In the same sized tomato that we have used in the above examples, there are just 22 calories!
The healthiest way to enjoy tomatoes is to either grow them in a home garden or purchase organically and locally grown tomatoes at a farmer’s market or health food store. When this is not possible, canned tomatoes are an acceptable alternative. One medium tomato, cup of tomato juice or soup constitutes one portion of recommended daily vegetable consumption. To receive the added benefits from combining tomatoes with other nutritionally-rich food, try adding a few broccoli florets to tomato soup. Add both tomatoes and broccoli florets to a salad. Reduce the amount of cheese on a pizza and drizzle olive oil over it for a rich flavor. Chop avocado into your favorite salsa, or chop tomato into your favorite guacamole. However you enjoy the health benefits of tomatoes you will be boosting your system and sampling one of life’s culinary delights.