Solanum lycopersicum: the tomato. This commonly red pigmented nightshade, botanically identified as a fruit, belongs to the Solanaceae family and is one of the most widely used foods in the world*.
Records indicate tomatoes first originated in South America around 700 AD. Over 840 years later, they landed in Europe, about 1544.
While the color red is most often associated with tomatoes, the fruit vegetable also comes in oranges, yellows, browns and greens. Of course, different colors are those of different species of tomatoes, but their colors signal differences in nutrient profile and flavor. Also impacting nutrient profile and flavor is what state a tomato is in: fresh, cooked, juiced, dried, or powdered.
More on that shortly!
Considering just vitamins and minerals, the most abundant nutrients contained in tomatoes include vitamin A, vitamin C, and potassium. B-vitamins such as folate, B6 and niacin; vitamin K, vitamin E, calcium, magnesium and copper - among many others - are not highly abundant, but nevertheless, still present in smaller quantities.
Tomatoes are a terrific source of bioactive compounds such as phenolic acids (caffeic, chlorogenic, sinapic, p-coumaric and ferulic acids) and flavonoids (quercetin, rutin, kaempferol, and naringenin). Each compound imparts a benefit to our health such as blocking tumor formation, increasing the effectiveness of vitamin E (an antioxidant), reducing carotid artery thickness, reducing blood glucose, managing inflammation...
...Improvement in blood flow, improvement in memory, reduction of nephropathy, reduction of insulin resistance...
Are you adding tomatoes to tonight's dinner menu yet???
There is a highly abundant bioactive compound in tomatoes that thousands of studies have given attention to. Without it, tomatoes would not have their vibrant red color! The star of the show in the glorious tomato is lycopene!
Tomatoes are one of the greatest sources for lycopene, a fat-loving, red-colored carotenoid with outstanding potential to fight oxidation.
There has been substantial research on the health benefits of lycopene, showing that it is effective at preventing cancer cell growth, improving heart health, endocrine health, immune health and even bone health. Lycopene orchestrates this type of wellness by its effective antioxidation in which it effectively quenches singlet oxygen molecules.
Augusta et. al. describes this 'quenching' as follows:
The quenching mechanism is based on a physical process by which the excess energy of the oxygen molecule is absorbed by the carotenoid getting back the oxygen molecule to its ground energy state. Then, the excess energy of the carotenoid is dispersed through the environment without causing damage to neighboring molecules.
More lightly stated: lycopene is great at calming chaos. Think of Lycopene as a mother, and Reactive Oxygen Species as her children. Without the respectful, loving assertiveness of her presence, the children will get wild - spilling milk and cereal on the sofa, eating candy at will and getting its stick over every surface, leaving a mess of destruction behind them, ignoring the meaning of screen time, altogether becoming fearful monsters that will exhaust all resources. Keep the lycopene coming!
Our body stores lycopene - greater concentrations in the liver, testes, adrenal glands and adipose tissues; lower concentrations in the kidney, ovary, tongue and prostate. Studies indicate that of individuals showing greater concentrations of lycopene stores, there is a reduced incidence of high blood pressure, atherosclerosis, poor lipid profile (therefore, heart disease), eye damage, cataracts, and age-related macular degeneration, osteoporosis, and various cancers such as prostate, colon, ovarian, breast, cervical, stomach, lung, and esophageal.
It's important to recognize that lycopene is fat-loving, as fat will help your body to absorb more during the digestive process. Drizzle extra virgin olive oil over super ripe and fresh tomatoes to enhance the carotenoid's bioavailability during digestion. Emphasis on super ripe! Lycopene concentrations are higher in riper tomatoes compared to those less ripe.
Want to really enhance your body's ability to stand strong against cancer and heart disease the lycopene way? Use plenty of cooked tomatoes! Canned varieties included. Studies show that lycopene concentrations are higher in cooked tomatoes such as sauces and pastes.
Roast cherry tomatoes for a sweet and savory side dish to any main protein.
Make a delicious tomato sauce to serve over pasta for a classic meal; or if you're reducing carbs: spiralize zucchini.
Make your very own chana masala with canned whole tomatoes.
Toss diced tomatoes into your taco meat or prepare a pico de gallo...
The list can go on!
If you do go with canned tomatoes, simply take notice of the sodium. While sodium is a necessary mineral for our bodies, we want to be picky with what kind we're ingesting. Canned (and boxed and frozen) foods tend to have the type of sodium that's not favorable for our greatest health.
A mention on dried tomatoes: some nutrients such as potassium and fiber show higher concentrations by weight. It's not that the quantity of nutrients grew, it's that water was removed allowing room for more tomatoes. While you could consume dried tomatoes to drive up your potassium or fiber intake (remember, keep an eye out for the sodium), stick to the cooked varieties with healthy fat to boost your lycopene. Lycopene does not remain stable in dried tomatoes and therefore they do not serve as a substantial source of the antioxidant.
While it's fun to recognize nutrients in great quantities in certain foods, it is wise to consider the other nutrients and bioactive compounds that, while not in the spotlight, are playing supporting roles. It's okay to question whether lycopene acts alone in these health benefits, or if it is a collective effort from all nutrients present in tomatoes and tomato products.
No single nutrient, no single food, no single action can prevent cancer, diabetes, or heart disease.
It's recommended that you try all sorts of foods, practice all sorts of healthy behaviors, and be willing to receive all sorts of support whatever you need it for.
But while you're trying all sorts of foods, and practicing all sorts of wellness wellness, and building a healthy, supportive network with all sorts of people, may tomatoes be part of the show.
If tomatoes aren't your cup of sauce, we'd love to help you find out how they could be! Everyone has a favorite way to eat healthfully, even if it's with a couple ounces of vodka every now and then.
Conditions such as gastroesophageal reflux disease(GERD)/heart burn, kidney problems, or irritable bowel syndrome may not take so kindly to tomatoes.
Tomatoes are a common food that is unfavorable to consume with GERD. Avoiding tomatoes even during acute bouts of heart burn is advised. It is hypothesized that the organic acids, citric acid and malic acid, in tomatoes are responsible for triggering acid reflux. Every person responds differently to foods, but if you've experienced acid reflux, pay attention to your tomato consumption. It may be helpful to eliminate them from your diet and notice if that alleviates symptoms.
Individuals with kidney problems are advised to reduce their dietary intake of potassium, and therefore will benefit exercising caution with their tomato intake, especially dried tomatoes, tomato sauce or tomato paste as the amount of potassium is higher in these forms.
Irritable Bowel Syndrome
Tomatoes - more possibly tomato skins and seeds - may be a potential cause for intestinal flares, leading to bloating and diarrhea. This most certainly can be unique to the individual, therefore if IBS is a problem for you, it could help to monitor your intake and lifestyle habits as they relate to your bowel activity.
*Ghatek et. al. states "Solanaceae is considered as the third most economically important families in plant kingdom after the Poaceae and Fabaceae." Included in the Poaceae family: grasses such as oats, bamboo, barley, wild rice, wheat. Included in Fabaceae family: beans and legumes such as chickpeas, lentils, peanuts, soybean.
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