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Cherry, beefsteak, sungold, green zebra. Who doesn't like a ripe, juicy tomato in the peak of summer? They seem to pop out all at once in our gardens, CSA baskets, and markets, which is why we eagerly wait all summer for them to appear. There are so many varieties to choose from, each with a distinct taste, scent, and texture. Even the health benefits vary from one variety to another: smaller cherry tomatoes contain higher levels of beta-carotene than the larger beefsteak and field tomatoes.
Across the board, tomatoes are a nutritional powerhouse. The vitamins, minerals, and carotenoids (a type of phytonutrients) can help protect against cancer, maintain healthy skin, maintain blood pressure, and lower blood glucose in diabetics. Let's dive in a little deeper about some of the health supportive effects of tomatoes.
Cancer - tomatoes are an excellent source of Vitamin C and other antioxidants, compounds which help fight free radical formation. There is a strong link between cancer and free radical damage. Tomatoes are also high in beta-carotene, which has been shown to prevent tumor formation in prostate cancer. Lycopene, a carotenoid, is abundant in tomatoes and has been strongly linked to the prevention of prostate cancer. It's what gives tomatoes the red color.
Heart Disease- One of the risk factors of heart attacks is high homocysteine levels. Folate, which tomatoes are high in, helps to maintain homocysteine levels. The other nutrient components in tomatoes that help prevent cardiovascular disease are fiber, Vitamin C, choline, and potassium.
Blood Pressure - According to the National Health and Nutrition Exam Survey (NHANES), fewer than 2% of all Americans meet the recommended daily potassium intake. High potassium and low sodium is an important combination for maintain a health blood pressure. Maybe someday doctors will write a script for more tomatoes for patients with high blood pressure.
Skin - As mentioned above, tomatoes contain high levels of Vitamin C. Collagen, an important component of skin, hair, and nails, is dependent on Vitamin C in the body. A deficiency in Vitamin C can show up in damaged skin.
Eye health - Lutein, an antioxidant found in tomatoes, has been shown to protect the eyes against light-induced damage, formation of cataracts, and age related macular degeneration.
Pregnancy - Folic acid is often recommended to pregnant women to prevent neural tube defects in babies. A great way to get naturally occurring folate is in tomatoes.
BEST WAYS TO CONSUME
Foods rarely act upon the body in isolation. They act synergistically. When tomatoes are paired with certain foods the health benefits are even greater. Here are a couple tips to ramp up the nutritional effect in your diet when consuming tomatoes.
Tomatoes and Olive oil: Tomatoes contain all four major carotenoids: alpha- and beta-carotene,lutein, and lycopene; the majority of them are found in the skin. When consumed with a healthy fat like olive oil the body's absorption of these carotenoids can increase from 2 to 15 times.
Tomatoes and Broccoli: The reason isn't exactly known, but the research is strong, that the combination of broccoli and tomatoes prevents prostate cancer and even shrunk prostate cancer tumors in rats.
Tomatoes and Avocado - Same as above, the lycopene in tomatoes need assistance from fats to reach systemic circulation. Avocados are an excellent vehicle for lycopene. Translation of the science into the kitchen: tomatoes in guacamole.
If you loved tomatoes before reading this post, hopefully you love them even more now that you know they are equally nutritious as they are delicious.
Check out some of my favorite recipes here.