The health benefits of tomatoes are numerous as they are packed with vitamin C, potassium, fiber, folate, beta-carotene, which the body converts to vitamin A, and lycopene — vitamins and minerals that you can get naturally without buying them in a vitamin shop.
Tomatoes originated in South America, and according to historians, it was the Spanish explorers who brought them to Europe. Tomato was introduced to North America in the early 1800s by immigrants from Europe, particularly, the Italians. Today, the United States is the second largest tomato producers in the world, after China, with most of the produce coming from Florida and California.
While tomatoes are widely used in cooking, rather like a vegetable, they are actually the fruits of the tomato plant. Tomatoes are extremely popular all over the world, but there was a time when tomatoes were considered to be poisonous because of their toxic leaves and were grown only as ornamental fruit.
Tomatoes are easy to grow and there are hundreds of varieties to choose from. They come in different sizes, shapes, and colors. They fall into three main categories: round ones (perfect for slicing and eating raw), plum (great for making sauces and canning), and cherry tomatoes (served whole in salads and also great in sautees and other dishes).
Vine-ripened tomatoes taste best; and although tomatoes are available year-round, vine-ripened ones are only available during the growing season.
Tomatoes and Health
Tomatoes are one of the richest sources of lycopene, a phytochemical that give tomatoes their red color. Lycopene acts as an anitoxidant neutralizing free radicals which damage cells of our body and reduces the risk of heart disease and certain types of cancer, especially prostate cancer.
A study conducted by Harvard scientists showed that men who ate more than 10 servings of tomato-based foods daily could cut the risk of developing prostate cancer by 35 percent compared to those who ate the least quantity of these foods. The benefits of lycopene were even more pronounced in advanced stages of prostate cancer. Furthermore, studies indicated that tomato consumption may reduce the risk of colorectal, stomach, and lung cancers as well.
Unlike some vegetables that lose their vitamins and minerals when cooked, the health benefits of tomatoes increase when they are cooked and processed. When making sauces, juices, and ketchups, water gets evaporated, leaving a more concentrated product, with more lycopene per unit than with a fresh-cut tomato. So in the case of tomatoes, it’s better to eat processed products than fresh tomatoes.
The lycopene-rich tomato may also benefit heart health by lowering the risk of cardiovascular disease. Studies show that lycopene prevents the oxidation of LDL “bad” cholesterol. In a women’s health study of nearly 40,000 women, those with the highest lycopene levels had a fifty percent reduced risk of cardiovascular disease compared to women who had the lowest levels.
A clinical study showed that eight weeks of daily intake of a tomato extract led to a significant drop in both systolic and diastolic blood pressure in patients with mild to moderate hypertension.
The lycopene in tomatoes also acts as a natural sunblock and helps prevent sunburns, prevent cell-damage that causes skin cancer.
Tomatoes are a good source of vitamin K which is essential for bone health and prevention of osteoporosis.
The vitamins A and C in tomatoes are antioxidant and anti-inflammatory and help protect against asthma, atherosclerosis, heart disease, stroke, and diabetes.
It might be a good idea to go for organically grown tomatoes, as they seem to contain higher levels of vitamin C and lycopene though smaller in size. Researchers explain that this is because organic growing tends to cause more stress to the plants as they have to fend off pests, and therefore produce more of stress compounds like vitamin C and lycopene to defend themselves.
- Use a serrated knife or very sharp non-serrated knife to slice or chop tomatoes.
- To peel tomatoes, blanch by dropping them into boiling water for about 30 seconds, or longer for firm tomatoes, then drop into a bowl of ice water to cool quickly, and pull the skin off.
- Cook tomatoes in non-reactive saucepans.
- When you eat cooked tomatoes, your body absorbs more of their cancer-fighting lycopene.
http://news.ufl.edu (University of Florida)
The Complete Book of Nutritional Healing, Deborah Mitchell