Before we get into the many health benefits of tomatoes, let’s learn more about this nutritious food. After potatoes, tomatoes are the most widespread plants of the botanical family Solanaceae. It is cultivated throughout the world. It was introduced to Europe by Spaniards who brought it from Peru and Mexico in the sixteenth century. However, it was more than 200 years before the tomato was accepted in France, Germany, and Northern Europe. The tomato’s similarity to the red fruit belladonna, a toxic plant of the same botanical family, led to the belief that it was poisonous. This vegetable was not wholly accepted in German and north American cuisine until the twentieth century.
The tomato was much better received in Southern Europe. From its arrival in the sixteenth century, it held an exalted place in Spanish and Italian cuisine to such as degree that today it is an essential part of the Mediterranean diet. Nutrition experts have revived the tomato. They view it as much more than an ingredient in sauces or salads. The health benefits of tomatoes work well on a variety of disorders. They have preventative properties on certain cancers, especially the prostate, making them a universally recognized medicinal food.
Tomato Nutritional Facts
Fresh tomatoes comprise a lot of water (almost 94 percent of their weight). They have insignificant amounts of carbohydrates (3.54 percent), proteins (0.85 percent), and fats (0.33 percent). Its carbohydrates are generated mainly from glucose and fructose. Together, these nutrients provide 21 kcal/100 grams, one of the lowest amounts of any plant-based food, lower even than asparagus (23 kcal/100 grams). However, the tomato’s nutritional and therapeutic value is in its rich vitamin and mineral content and non-nutritive properties.
In terms of vitamins, the most copious is vitamin C (19.1 mg/100 grams), less than the orange (53.2 mg/100 grams) but enough to make the tomato effective against scurvy. A 100-g tomato supplies a third of the adult’s daily need for this vitamin. Vitamins B1, B2, B6, folates, and niacin are all in substantial amounts. Provitamin A is present (62 ug RE/100 grams), although much less than in carrots (2,813 ug RE/100 grams) or mango (389 ug RE/100 grams).
Most notable among its minerals are potassium (222mg/100 grams), followed by iron (0.45 mg/100 grams), magnesium, and phosphorus. Tomatoes are a reliable source of iron since they contain about nine times as much as milk (0.45 gm/100 grams) per weight, although three times less than eggs (1.44 mg/100 grams). However surprising though it may seem, an average-size tomato weighing 180 grams contains the same amount of iron as an average egg (about 60 grams).
Non-nutritive components are substances in foods, which, although not considered nutrients traditionally, play essential roles within the body. The most noteworthy of these in the tomato are:
VEGETABLE FIBER: Tomatoes contain a small amount (1.1 percent) of soluble fiber in their pulp, particularly in the mucilage surrounding the seeds. This fiber contributes to the tomato’s cholesterol-reducing and laxative effects.
ORGANIC ACIDS: Malic and oxalic contribute to the tomato’s distinctive flavor. As the tomato ripens, the strength of these acids weakens, and its sugar content increases. Despite the acidic taste resulting from these acid substances, the tomato has the same impact as the lemon: It has an alkalizing influence on the blood, urine, and organic tissues. It comprises many more alkalizing materials (mineral salts) than acids.
LYCOPENE: This is a form of vegetable pigment belonging to the group of carotenoids that lends tomatoes their usual red color. In contrast to beta-carotene, lycopene does not convert into vitamin A. Because of this, lycopene was thought to have no physiological importance within the body. At Heinrich-Heine University in Dusseldorf, Germany, a center of tomato lycopene research, the following conclusions have been reached:
- Lycopene usually is present in human blood (0.5 umol per liter of plasma). Together with beta-carotene, it is the most plentiful carotenoid in the human body.
- Lycopene is also located in the testicles, the prostate, and the suprarenal glands.
- Lycopene is a highly potent antioxidant, preventing the deterioration that free radicals produced in the DNA of the cells.
- Lycopene intervenes in the mechanism that controls cellular growth. Without its existence, cells replicate in a more disorderly manner.
Health Benefits of Tomatoes
Thanks to their composition, tomatoes are particularly indicated in the following cases:
PROSTATE CONDITIONS: A variety of studies at Harvard University show that men who regularly eat fresh tomato, and tomato sauce or juice, are at a decreased risk of getting prostate cancer. This fact is easy to explain, keeping in mind that the tomato is the richest food source of lycopene. This carotenoid protects the cells of the prostate from oxidation and abnormal growth. Regular tomato consumption is essential in preventing prostate cancer, one of the most common cancers among males.
Considering what is established about the impact of lycopene on prostatic tissue, it may be determined that regular tomato consumption promotes proper prostate function overall. In addition to preventing cancerous degeneration of its cells, tomato can also reduce excessive growth (benign adenoma or hypertrophy) of the prostate, which is so common in men beyond the age of fifty.
DEPURANT: Tomatoes are remarkable blood alkalizers that neutralize and help eliminate metabolic waste products, most of which are acidic. They are also diuretics, thus assisting the work of the kidneys. Their regular consumption is highly advised to “cleanse” the blood in case of gout (excess uric acid), kidney failure with a rise in blood urea, or chronic occurrence of toxins in the body because of a diet rich in animal products and meats.
COMPROMISED IMMUNE SYSTEM: Because of their richness in vitamins, minerals, and antioxidant carotenoids, tomatoes naturally stimulate the immune system. They increase the infection-fighting capabilities of the body, which are the ones that finally eliminate infectious agents (contrary to common belief, antibiotics are not responsible for this).
ARTERIOSCLEROSIS: Because of their antioxidant effect, tomatoes inhibit the oxidation of the cholesterol transported by low-density lipoproteins, which causes the narrowing and hardening of the arteries associated with arteriosclerosis. Tomatoes are beneficial as a prophylactic for all who experience circulatory system disorders, including angina and heart attack.
CANCEROUS DISORDERS: It has been noted that tomato consumption protects against prostate cancer. Studies in Italy show that regular tomato consumption protects from mouth, esophagus, stomach, colon, and rectum cancers. Mediterranean food is highly protective against all types of digestive tract cancers.
Tomatoes and Oxalic Acid
For many years, tomatoes were eliminated from the diets of those with kidney stones because of their oxalic acid content. This substance, together with calcium, forms insoluble salts (calcium oxalate), precipitating in the form of calculi or stones.
However, there is no reason for removing tomatoes from the diets of kidney patients. Their oxalic acid content is shallow (5.3 mg/100 grams), similar to many other foods, and lower than lettuce (17 mg/100 grams), tea (83 mg/100 grams), or spinach (779 mg/100 grams). Tomatoes increase urine output and purify the blood, which aids kidney function.
Tomato Scientific Facts
- Scientific name: Solanum Lycopersicum L.
- Scientific synonym: Lycopersicon esculentum Mill.
- French: Tomate.
- Spanish: Tomate.
- German: Tomate.
- Description: Aggregate fruit of the tomato, a herbaceous plant of the botanical family Solanaceae. They may be red, green, or yellow.
- Environment: Tomatoes grow wild in Peru and Ecuador. They are grown worldwide. However, the best specimens are grown in temperate, sunny climates.
Regardless of the color of the tomato, it should be ripe since unripe specimens may contain small amounts of solanine. This alkaloid can produce headaches and digestive disturbances.
How to use and Prepare Tomatoes
- RAW: This is the healthiest way to eat tomatoes.
- FRIED: Fried tomatoes are tasty but somewhat difficult to digest for those with weak stomachs.
- JUICE and TOMATO SAUCE: These are rich in vitamin C and mineral salts. However, industrially prepared products typically contain many salts and other additives that may provoke allergic reactions.
George D. Pamplona-Roger, M.D. “Encyclopedia of Foods and Their Healing Power.” George D. Pamplona-Roger, M.D. Encyclopedia of Foods and Their Healing Power. Trans. Annette Melgosa. Vol. 2. Chai Wan: Editorial Safeliz, 2005. 275, 276, 277. Print.