You already know that tomatoes are actually a fruit and that they’re equal parts delicious and versatile, but chances are you’ve landed here to learn more about the nutritional benefits of the food. The short explanation: Including tomatoes in your meals and snacks can help you get important nutrients into your diet. Read on to learn more about the benefits of tomatoes and the best ways you can enjoy the fruit as a regular part of your diet.
What are tomatoes?
The tomato (Solanum lycopersicum), native to South America, is said to be a fruit of the nightshade family International Journal of Plant Genomics. There are many varieties of tomatoes (think roma, beefsteak, and cherry), and while tomatoes are botanically a fruit, they’re typically prepared like a vegetable. Tomatoes can be eaten raw, cooked fresh, or processed (e.g., canned, tomato paste, and sun-dried tomatoes), and they provide some important vitamins, minerals, and health-promoting botanicals, according to a review in the Diary biology.
Tomatoes are low in calories, carbohydrates and fat, but high in important micronutrients. They’re also packed with powerful botanicals like the carotenoid (a type of antioxidant), beta-carotene, and lycopene (another type of carotenoid found in the skin of tomatoes). Other antioxidants found in tomatoes include chlorogenic acid, lutein, and zeaxanthin.
On average, one cup of chopped, fresh tomato (about 180 grams) provides the following, according to the United States Department of Agriculture:
- 32 calories
- <1 gram of fat
- 1.5 grams of protein
- 7 grams of carbohydrates
- 2 grams of fiber
Health Benefits of Tomatoes
When enjoyed as part of a balanced diet, tomatoes will help you meet your nutritional needs and reduce the risk of certain health conditions. Below are more details on the potential health benefits of tomatoes you can gain from consuming the foods.
May improve heart health
Tomatoes have been linked to a variety of heart health benefits, including a reduced risk of blood clots, improved blood pressure, and reduced markers of inflammation and oxidative stress. Lycopene supplementation has also been shown to help lower LDL (“bad”) cholesterol, and tomatoes are a top source of this compound.
Getting enough potassium in your diet is important to support healthy blood pressure and overall heart health, and tomatoes are a good source of potassium at 427 milligrams per cup. (That’s more than a quarter of the adequate potassium intake for adult women.) “Eating more foods that provide both potassium and antioxidants is a bonus for heart health because they provide nutrients that optimize blood flow throughout the body and ensure tissue oxygenation of all organ systems,” explains Jaclyn London, MS, RD, CDN, author of Dressing on the Side (And Other Diet Myths Debunked)Podcast consultant and moderator On the website.
Additionally, tomatoes contain folate, with 27 micrograms of the nutrient per cup (about seven percent of the recommended folate intake for women who aren’t pregnant). Folic acid helps balance the amino acid homocysteine, which, if left untreated, has been linked to an increased risk of heart attack and stroke. Therefore, consuming sources of folate (like tomatoes) is another way to promote heart health.
May support skin health
The benefits of tomatoes can have an impact on your skin. “Tomatoes contain the antioxidant lycopene, which helps prevent certain types of cancer and also protects your skin from UV damage” by neutralizing free radicals, explains Amy Gorin, MS, RDN, an integrative plant-based nutritionist in Stamford, Connecticut. and owner of Plant Based with Amy. Studies have linked tomato-based beverage and food supplementation to protective effects, and carotenoids in general have been shown to provide photoprotection. (That means you still have to wear sunscreen.)
Another way tomatoes benefit skin is that the vitamin C found in tomatoes may help promote skin integrity by aiding in the formation, structural maintenance and function of collagen, London adds. In other words, vitamin C helps maintain firm, smooth-looking skin.
Can protect against cancer
While more human studies are needed to confirm and understand the “how,” tomato intake and intake of carotenoids like lycopene have been linked to a reduced risk of some cancers, including prostate, breast, and skin cancer. Also, getting these antioxidants from food rather than supplements seems to be the way forward, as supplementation has occasionally been associated with adverse health outcomes such as lung cancer and pro-oxidant effects.
Can support eye health
The carotenoids in tomatoes (lutein and zeaxanthin) are important for eye health. The two carotenoids accumulate in the retina at the back of the eye, also known as the macula region. They act as antioxidants to protect cells in this region from free radical damage and are believed to help protect against conditions such as age-related macular degeneration, cataracts and retinal detachment. They have also been shown to play a role in protecting against the harmful effects of blue light.
Promotion of gut health
The benefits of eating tomatoes also extend to your gut health. With 95 percent water and over a gram of fiber per serving, tomatoes provide a gut-healthy combination of fluid and fiber. This helps promote normal digestion, which is critical to supporting healthy immune system function and mental health.
Possible risks of tomatoes
Aside from tomato allergies, you may need to avoid tomatoes if you are sensitive to the spicy acidity in tomatoes. “However, I’ve often found in practice that those who have less severe sensitivities to heartburn do better with fresh tomatoes than with concentrated sources (like tomato paste, tomato sauce, and canned tomatoes),” says London. “If you’re concerned, start incorporating them into meals slowly and in smaller amounts — say, 1/4 cup per serving.”
Additionally, those on low-potassium diets (e.g., those with advanced chronic kidney disease) may need to limit their tomato consumption to small amounts.
How to buy and use tomatoes
“Probably what I love most thing about tomatoes is how easy they can be used in just about anything and everything to add instant flavor, fiber and key nutrients to your meal,” says London. “As a naturally occurring source of glutamic acid, tomatoes deliver the perfect umami flavor to anything They do.”
London recommends choosing the specific type of tomato based on your cooking needs, flavor preferences, and budget. For example, there are types you can “pick for snacking (like whole cherry tomatoes) and types you use in salads and sauces (like plum or roma tomatoes),” she says.
When shopping for fresh tomatoes, “you should look for firm tomatoes that aren’t bruised, cracked, or sunken,” says Gorin.
You also want to consider seasonality. In many parts of the world, including the US, tomatoes just don’t taste the same in winter. Then you want to rely on canned and jarred tomato products. Processed tomato products contain a higher concentration of lycopene than fresh tomatoes, so you don’t miss out on the carotenoid’s benefits.
How to cook with tomatoes
In addition to the benefits of the tomato for your health, the food is very versatile. You can enjoy them raw or cooked and in an endless variety of recipes. Something to keep in mind: Cooking tomatoes can help increase the availability of certain nutrients in the fruit. “Research shows that the lycopene from cooked tomatoes is more easily absorbed by the body compared to raw tomatoes,” says Gorin. “You can enjoy cooked tomatoes in a quiche or a pizza.” Additionally, consuming lycopene with fat also improves absorption, so don’t be shy with this olive oil.
Here are some recipe ideas to get you started:
In a salad. Raw or cooked tomatoes are delicious in a salad. They pair with a variety of other flavors, adding a touch of flavor and color as well as extra nutritional value.
On a sandwich or toast. Adding sliced tomatoes upgrades a simple sandwich or toast by making it more nutritious and flavorful. Cooked tomato products are also great for adding savory notes.
As part of a snack plate. Tomatoes pair beautifully with hummus, cheese, crackers, olives, and other snacks as part of a snack board.
In a sauce. You can make your own tomato sauce using fresh or canned tomatoes. London also recommends adding fresh cherry tomatoes to a tomato sauce in a jar. “You automatically add more fiber to your meal by adding extra veggies and maximizing the flavor of a spice that so many of us already love,” she says. Both fresh and canned tomatoes are also perfect for making your own salsa.
In soup. Fresh or canned tomatoes or tomato paste add umami notes to simple soups and stews and make them taste even richer. Canned or fresh tomatoes can also be used to make gazpacho, a cold soup that’s super refreshing on a hot day.
In cooked dishes. Tomatoes can be added to baked goods, e.g. B. savory breads and muffins, or you can bake them in casseroles with other vegetables and your favorite proteins. You can also add tomatoes to omelettes and frittatas, or make shakshuka by boiling eggs in tomato sauce.
In the juice. Green juice gets the most attention, but don’t overlook the health benefits of tomato juice. You can make your own, or if you’ve already purchased, choose an option with a lower sodium content.