I bet some of us always thought tomatoes are vegetables until we studied Biology in high school and we were convinced by our teachers that they are actually fruits. This beats logic because why would someone cook a fruit? We would naturally cook vegetables and eat fruits as they are; of course, after washing them. What makes tomatoes unique is that they can be eaten in both cooked and raw form without interfering with their benefits.
Did you know that 99% percent of households in Kenya use at least a tomato a day? Actually, with these numbers, the significance of tomatoes in Kenya and the world is clearly brought out.
The huge number of people using tomatoes daily must have discovered the importance of these ancient fruits which were first thought to be poisonous. Let us first explore the components of the tomato before looking at the health benefits.
It is clear that fresh tomatoes are low in carbs. The carb content consists mainly of simple sugars and insoluble fibres. The fruit is mainly made of water which is about 95% and the other 5% consists mainly of carbohydrates and fibre. The nutrients on a 100gm raw tomato is broken down as follows:
- Calories: 18
- Water: 95%
- Protein: 0.9 grams
- Carbs: 3.9 grams
- Sugar: 2.6 grams
- Fiber: 1.2 grams
- Fat: 0.2 grams
Tomatoes are a good source of several vitamins and minerals such as Vitamin C, Potassium, Vitamin K and folate. Vitamin C is an essential nutrient and antioxidant. One medium-sized tomato can provide about 28% of the Reference Daily Intake (RDI). Potassium, another essential mineral, is beneficial for blood pressure control and heart disease prevention. Vitamin K, also known as phylloquinone, vitamin K is important for blood clotting and bone health. Folate (vitamin B9) is important for normal tissue growth and cell function making it particularly important for pregnant women.
Tomatoes also contain compounds such as lycopene, beta carotene, naringenin and chlorogenic acid which are important for the body. Lycopene, a red pigment and antioxidant, lycopene has been extensively studied for its beneficial health effects mostly found in the skin of the tomato. Tomato products — such as ketchup, tomato juice. tomato paste, and tomato sauces — are the richest dietary sources of lycopene in the western diet, providing over 80% of dietary lycopene in the United States. Beta carotene, an antioxidant that often gives foods a yellow or orange hue, is converted into vitamin A in your body. Naringenin, found in tomato skin, this flavonoid has been shown to decrease inflammation and protect against various diseases in mice. Chlorogenic acid, a powerful antioxidant compound, may lower blood pressure in people with elevated levels.
Consumption of tomatoes and tomato-based products has been linked to improved skin health and a lower risk of heart disease and cancer.
A study in middle-aged men linked low blood levels of lycopene and beta-carotene to increased risk of heart attacks and strokes. Increasing evidence from clinical trials suggests that supplementing with lycopene may help lower LDL (bad) cholesterol. Clinical studies of tomato products indicate benefits against inflammation and markers of oxidative stress. They also show a protective effect on the inner layer of blood vessels and may decrease your risk of blood clotting. Heart disease being the leading cause of death in the world can be reduced by simply eating tomatoes.
Observational studies have noted links between tomatoes — and tomato products — and fewer incidences of prostate, lung, and stomach cancer. While the high lycopene content is believed responsible, high-quality human research needed to confirm the cause of these benefits. A study in women shows that high concentrations of carotenoids — found in high amounts in tomatoes — may protect against breast cancer. Yes, you read right, tomatoes can protect you from getting three types of cancers.
You want beautiful skin? Tomatoes got you. Tomato-based foods rich in lycopene and other plant compounds may protect against sunburn According to one study, people who ingested 1.3 ounces (40 grams) of tomato paste — providing 16 mg of lycopene — with olive oil every day for 10 weeks experienced 40% fewer sunburns.
While most benefits are gotten from eating raw tomatoes, other important benefits can be gotten from eating processed tomatoes. Just don’t put them in a fruit salad because that is wisdom.