Known scientifically as Solanum lycopersicum, tomatoes are one of the most popular fruits in the world. A fruit? Yes, that’s right. Tomato is actually a fruit – not a vegetable. However, since it’s not as sweet as other fruits and is most often served as a vegetable, most people think that tomato is a vegetable and not a fruit. The reason it is a fruit because it contains the ovary and the seeds of a flowering plant.
Native to South America, tomatoes are widely grown in temperate climates across the world. Tomatoes are available in a wide variety of shapes (from tiny spheres to large ovals), sizes (from small, marble-size tomatoes to large beefstake tomatoes, and colors (from red to yellow, orange, and green).
The fruits are commonly eaten raw in salads, or used as an ingredient in various dishes, and pickled. Additionally, a large percentage of the world’s tomato crop is used for processed foods, such as ketchup, sauce, and juice.
Tomato Nutrition Facts
Tomato is very low in calories and has no saturated fat or cholesterol. It is a good source of vitamin B6, vitamin E, copper, folate, niacin, magnesium, and phosphorus, and a great source of vitamin A, C, & K, potassium, manganese, and dietary fiber.
According to the USDA Food Data Central, one raw tomato (125 grams) contains:
- 22.5 calories
- 1.1 g of protein
- 4.9 g of carbohydrate
- 1.5 g of fiber
- 3.3 g of sugars
- 6.3 mg of sodium
- 1025 IU of vitamin A
- 15.6 mg of vitamin C
- 0.7 mg of vitamin E
- 9.7 mcg of vitamin K
- 292 mg of potassium
- 13.5 mg of magnesium
Tomatoes also contain a powerful antioxidant called lycopene, which has been linked to a number of health benefits, including reducing the risk of some cancers and heart disease.
Health Benefits of Tomatoes
1. Prevent cancer
Tomatoes are packed with lycopene, a carotenoid pigment that is responsible for the red color of tomatoes. A number of studies have indicated that high levels of lycopene in tomatoes works to reduce the risk of cancers, particularly breast cancer, prostate cancer, lung cancer, stomach cancer, and skin cancer.
A 1999 study published in the journal of the National Cancer Institute found links between tomatoes and tomato products, and fewer incidences of prostate, lung, and stomach cancers .
A 2012 study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition showed that high concentrations of carotenoids, found in tomatoes, may protect against the development of breast cancer .
2. Keep your skin healthy
Tomatoes are full of lycopene, a phytochemical which acts as a natural sunscreen. This antioxidant protects the skin from UV radiation. Moreover, lycopene has been shown to defend skin aging, which keeps your skin looking youthful.
To reap the most benefits, heat them up because the heat makes them easier for you to absorb phytonutrients and chlorogenic acid that impacts your metabolism.
3. Lower LDL cholesterol
A diet rich in tomatoes or tomato products have been associated with a lower incidence of atherosclerosis, which is a buildup of plaque inside the artery walls.
In one study published in the Annals of Nutrition & Metabolism showed that regular consumption of tomato products, containing lycopene, decreases the levels of LDL (bad) cholesterol and increases the HDL (good) cholesterol in the blood.
Researchers think the lycopene in tomatoes inhibits LDL production while at the same time helping break down this artery-clogging fat. You’ll need to consume at least 25 milligrams of lycopene a day for cholesterol benefits.
4. Lower blood pressure
Tomatoes are a good source of potassium which can help prevent blood pressure issues. The mineral helps lower blood pressure by balancing the effects of salt on the body, and helps the kidneys function properly.
5. Boost immune system
Tomatoes are a rich source of vitamin A and vitamin C, which may boost the immune system by neutralizing the effects of harmful free radicals. Free radicals accelerate the ageing process and damage cells in the body, contributing to the development of different diseases. Tomatoes also contain high amounts of lycopene, a carotenoid that has antioxidant properties and can help support a healthy immune system.
6. Fight inflammation
Consuming tomato is also beneficial in fighting inflammation. According to a 2010 study, lycopene was found to exhibit anti-inflammatory activity through induction of programmed cell death in activated immune cells .
Another study published in the United States Department of Agriculture states that tomatoes and tomato products contain apolycopenoids and certain other bioactive components that may be more effective than lycopene in fighting inflammation .
7. Maintain eye health
Tomatoes contain a group of phytochemicals called carotenoids, including beta-carotene, lutein, and lycopene. These compounds are essential to maintain eye health and may help protect the eyes against age-related macular degeneration and other eye diseases.
8. Control blood sugar
Tomatoes contain chromium which helps keep your blood sugar in check and thus reduce the risk of diabetes.
Clinical study suggests that chromium supplements may help people with type 2 diabetes control their blood sugar levels . So, for those who have diabetes, tomato is a good fruit to include in your diet.
9. Reduce the risk of blood clots
Blood clots are vital for healing wounds after an accident or surgery, but if they become too sticky, they bind together which can stop the free flow of blood.
The tomato substance reduces the stickiness of platelets so they flow smoothly through blood vessels, reducing the risk of developing heart attack or stroke. The anti-platelet properties are found in the yellow fluid surrounding the seeds.
In clinical trials published in the journal Platelet, it was found that the stickiness of platelets was reduced by 70 percent when volunteers had a drink containing the tomato extract .
10. Support bone and teeth
Since tomato is a great source of vitamin K, it can help keep the bone and teeth healthy. A single serving of just 100 grams of this fruit can provide about 10% of the recommended daily intake of vitamin K.
11. Promote hair growth
Tomatoes contain several nutrients like vitamins A, C, E and lycopene, which are excellent for growing healthy hair. These vitamins help to prevent hair loss and give hair a natural shine. Vitamin C also helps to treat scalp problems like dandruff, eczema, and psoriasis.
Due to the presence of antioxidants like vitamin C and lycopene in tomato, eating it regularly or applying it topically on the hair has been found to be beneficial for reducing the risk of premature greying of the hair.
12. Improve digestive health
Due to its rich fiber content, consuming tomatoes regularly can keep your digestive system healthy as it prevents both constipation and diarrhea.
A healthy amount of fiber helps stimulate bowel movements, thereby improving your overall digestive health.
13. Reverse the effects of smoking
Tomatoes contain chlorogenic and coumaric acid that help fight against nitrosamines, which are the main carcinogens found in cigarettes. Furthermore, the high level of vitamin A in tomatoes has been shown to lower the impacts of cancer-causing agents and can protect you from lung disease.
Selection and Storage
How to select a tomato
When buying tomatoes at the market, look for plump, glossy, and heavy tomatoes without bruises or blemishes. The reason you want the tomato to feel heavy is that a heavy tomato is going to be a lot juicier. Also, make sure that the leaves of greenhouse tomatoes are fresh and green.
Ripe tomatoes are usually red and fragrant; even mature green ones should have a mild fragrance. If they have no aroma at all, the tomatoes were probably picked when immature, and will never ripen. Fully ripe tomatoes are soft and yield to the touch, so buy them only if you plan to use them right away.
How to store a tomato
Unripe tomatoes should be stored out of direct sunlight at room temperature until ripe for 3 or 4 days. Once ripe, tomatoes should be used within a few days.
Never refrigerate tomatoes as they will lose their flavor and become overly soft. If tomatoes are refrigerated, put them in a perforated plastic bag in the crisper section of the refrigerator.
How to Eat Tomatoes: Cooked or Raw?
Raw tomatoes are undoubtedly full of nutrients, such as vitamins A, C, and K, potassium, fiber, and lycopene. On the other hand, cooked tomatoes have been found to be the healthier option after all. While heat exposure does cause vitamin C loss, it increases the levels of lycopene in tomatoes.
Since lycopene is fat soluble, cooking the tomatoes with a small amount of olive oil or other healthy fats enhances the body’s absorption of lycopene.