Tomatoes – ready and ripe to improve your health

(Author – Cheryl Mussatto MS, RD, LD)

You have to admit, tomatoes are a gift that just keeps on giving. Whether chopped, sliced, diced, juiced, grilled, baked, fried, roasted or beaten to a pulp, tomatoes are anything but rotten. In fact, tomatoes are right up there in the fab four of America’s most popular fresh-market vegetables just behind potatoes, lettuce, and onions.

Despite the popularity of the tomato, only 200 years ago it was thought to be poisonous in the U.S., likely because the plant belongs to the nightshade family, of which some species are truly poisonous.

Between 22-24 pounds of tomatoes are consumed each year by Americans but mostly in their processed form of sauce, paste, ketchup, and salsa. This makes the tomato a very versatile and in demand product. If you happen to have a garden, there’s an excellent chance a tomato plant is part of it as 93% of American gardens grow tomatoes. And right about now is when tomato season is in full summer mode.

Tomatoes can be grown in all 50 states and worldwide. The largest producer of tomatoes is China, followed by the U.S., Turkey, India, and Egypt. In the U.S., California produces 96% of all tomatoes processed with Florida being the number one producer of fresh market tomatoes.

No matter if you refer to a tomato as a fruit or vegetable, there is no doubt tomatoes are a nutrient-packed food most of us enjoy.
Here are some possible ways eating tomatoes can improve your health:

Cancer – Tomatoes are an excellent source of vitamin C and other antioxidants. These powerful compounds can fight against free radical formation known to be a possible cause of cancer
Prostate Cancer – It is well-known tomatoes are abundant in the special phytochemical called lycopene. Lycopene has been linked with prostate cancer prevention in several studies showing strong support for increased consumption of tomato products to lower the incidence of prostate cancer. The cooked tomato products of tomato sauce and paste are particularly rich in lycopene.
Blood pressure – Tomatoes are naturally low in sodium but rich in potassium. A fresh, ripe tomato contains approximately 290 milligrams of potassium, which is important because of its vasodilation effects helping to lower blood pressure.
Heart health – The fiber, potassium, vitamin C and choline content of tomatoes all support heart health. Together, these important nutrients can make a difference to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. Another vital nutrient tomatoes contain is folic acid which helps to keep homocysteine levels in check, thereby reducing a risk factor for heart disease. The high potassium content is also associated with a reduced risk of stroke.
Diabetes – Fiber is a compound found in tomatoes that may benefit people with diabetes. Those with type 2 diabetes who regularly consume foods sources of fiber show improved blood sugar, lipids, and insulin levels.
Constipation – Eating foods high in water and fiber like tomatoes help with hydration and promote regular bowel movements. Fiber adds bulk to our stools and is essential for minimizing constipation.
Eye health – Tomatoes are a rich source of lycopene, lutein and beta-carotene, all powerful antioxidants that have been shown to protect eyes against light-induced damage associated with the development of cataracts and age-related macular degeneration (AMD). A high intake of lutein and zeaxanthin, both carotenoids found in tomatoes, have been shown to have a 35% reduction in the risk of AMD.
Skin – Vitamin C is a well-known vitamin found in tomatoes. One important function of vitamin C is for the synthesis of collagen, an essential component of skin, hair, nails, and connective tissue. This powerful nutrient is also associated with reducing the effects from damage from sunlight, pollution, and smoke that can lead to wrinkles, sagging skin, blemishes, and other skin issues.

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