Wash, Cook and enjoy a Tomato a Day
The tomatoes are just starting to ripen so what better time to analyze their health benefits. In the last blog article antioxidants were examined and how they act as a shield from free radical injury. Controlling such oxygen free radical damage is vital to preventing many chronic illnesses (Tweed, V., 2016). Tomatoes are one of many types of whole foods with many antioxidants and nutrients.
Tomatoes contain beta-carotene, vitamin E, potassium, lutein/zeaxanthin, phytoene/phytofluene, polyphenols, magnesium, zinc, manganese, and alpha-carotene. They are also low in calories and high in fiber. Raw tomatoes are high in vitamin C (Pratt, S and Matthews, K, 2004).
But the real gold in tomatoes is the lycopene. This compound is a carotenoid – one of a group of nutrients that provide pigmentation for plants and act as antioxidants. It may be as powerful an antioxidant as beta-carotene. Lycopene gives many red foods their color, so yellow or orange tomatoes don’t have this antioxidant. Cooking makes more lycopene available for absorption so aim for canned or otherwise cooked tomatoes. Adding some fat to the cooked tomatoes also increases lycopene absorption. Lycopene can be found in a capsule form but, as with many nutrients, it is best to eat it in the whole food form where other nutrients support or even enhance its benefits (Harvard Health Letter, 2013). Numerous studies have linked tomato consumption with decreased cancer risk, especially lung, prostate and stomach cancer. It may also lower the chances of getting breast, bladder and GI cancers.
Lycopene also decreases inflammation so it causes less damage. In addition, it strengthens the immune system, and decreases blood clotting.
Some scientists recommend getting 10 mg. of lycopene a day. Sources:
- 1 cup canned tomato sauce has 37 mg.
- 1 cup of tomato juice has 21 mg.
- A slice of watermelon 12 mg.
- 1 Tbsp. tomato paste 3 mg.
- 1 Tbsp. Salsa 1.7 mg.
- Half a pink or red grapefruit 1.7 mg. (Harvard Health Letter, 2013).
Recent research has lead some to suggest lycopene-rich foods for prevention of chronic diseases, including those caused by obesity. For a long time, it was believed that fat cells are inert. But obesity is linked to many chronic diseases, in part because fat cells secrete substances that increase the blood pressure and promote systemic inflammation. The latter process increases oxygen free radical production that damages cell components – the start of many chronic illnesses. Lycopene is readily taken up by fat cells and leads to a decrease in such inflammatory chemicals being released.
Because the body doesn’t easily store lycopene, it is essential to get it regularly. Since the skin contains the highest levels of lycopene don’t pass up cherry and grape tomatoes. Even so, pesticides and germs are found in the greatest amount in the skin of produce so it is essential to wash them well. So, wash, cook and enjoy these red wunderfruit.
Tomatoes and stroke prevention, Harvard Health Letter, February, 2013
Khan, J. Effect of Tomato Derived Lycopene on Obesity Induced Inflammation. International Medical Journal, Vol. 21, No. 5, pages 477-479.
Pratt, Dr. S, and Matthews, K. Fourteen Foods that will change your life SuperFoods Rx, (HarperCollins, 2004).
Tweed, V. Red Revolution, Better Nutrition, May 2016.