There’s a growing list of health benefits associated with the “golden apple”
During the summer, there’s nothing more tantalizing than a home grown sliced tomato, topped with fresh basil and drizzled with a fruity extra virgin olive oil.
In nutrition circles, tomatoes are often thought of only in terms of the perks provided by lycopene, the pigment responsible for their red colour. But these globes of goodness offer so much more. They also supply beta carotene, potassium, vitamin C, folate, vitamin E and a wide range of phytochemicals. And it’s these compounds that are now the centre of much research.
In a study, published in the International Journal of Food Sciences & Nutrition, in subjects with type 2 diabetes – people at the greatest risk of developing heart disease – consuming tomatoes on a daily basis went hand in hand with reduced blood pressure readings in addition to favourable effects on blood cholesterol levels. Other research shows that tomatoes offer these same benefits in subjects without diabetes.
While many of the tomato’s nutrients are well known, others with less recognized names such as ferulic acid and saponins are responsible for a host of actions. Japanese research isolated compounds that impact the liver leading to these positive effects on blood cholesterol and triglyceride readings.
Tomatoes first became nutritional superstars over a decade and a half ago when Harvard researchers found that in a group of 47,000 male health professionals, those who consumed the most tomato products over a six-year period had significantly fewer cases of prostate cancer.
They then zeroed in on lycopene, the carotenoid found in these foods. Lycopene has also been found to have powerful antioxidant action, one of the ways in which it’s connected to defending against certain cancers and heart diseases. University of Toronto researchers, though, added tomatoes with their lycopene to the list of foods offering protection against the bone-thinning disease, osteoporosis. They found that through its antioxidant action, the lycopene found in tomatoes – the equivalent to two glasses of tomato juice – prevented bone-thinning in their study subjects.
Red tomatoes, the kind you see most often at the supermarket nowadays, were just one of the varieties commonly eaten. Their name in Italian, pomodoro, means “golden apple” which suggests that tomatoes were once more likely yellow. Heirloom varieties, which are older types of plants that have not been hybridized, often include purple-coloured and even striped green tomatoes. And each of these colours offers assorted perks like antioxidant action.
But even if you stick with good ol’ red tomatoes, there’s evidence that which part you eat impacts the benefits you’ll reap. For example, the gel around the tomato seeds act as potent protectors against developing blood clots which can lead to a heart attack or stroke. But this leads to an issue of how you prepare tomatoes when cooking. Recipes that call for seeding the tomatoes for a smoother texture can shortchange you of these benefits, as can peeling them. Much of the lycopene is found right in the tomato peel. So while you may want to peel and seed your tomatoes for a special dish, consider skipping that step for everyday eating.
Up next: Raw or cooked, processed or fresh – which offers more health perks?
Do you have a favourite tomato variety or way to prepare them during the summer? Please share in the comment section below.