Whether you pick pear-shaped tomatoes or round ones, grape tomatoes or cherry tomatoes, you’ve got to admit that it’s difficult to imagine your favorite burger, salad, or sauce without the flavorful tomatoes. This fruit (though we consider it a veggie) of the nightshade family is incredibly rich in nutrients but low in calories. Here’s a look at tomato nutrition.
1 cup (180 g) of chopped tomatoes has
- 32 calories
- 8% fiber
- 29% vitamin A
- 7.6% vitamin B3
As per EWG’s 2017 Dirty Dozen, tomatoes are 10th on the list of pesticide-ridden foods. So eat organic tomatoes which are free of toxic chemicals and have greater amounts of antioxidants than conventionally grown ones.
- 5% vitamin B6
- 6.7% folate (vitamin B9)
- 41% vitamin C
- 6% vitamin E
- 12–16% vitamin K (for men and women, respectively)
- 12% potassium vs negligible sodium
- 6% phosphorus
- 4% magnesium
- 1% calcium
- Antioxidants like lycopene (which makes tomatoes red), lutein and
zeaxanthin, alpha and beta carotene, naringenin, and quercetin
Now let’s take a look at the many ways in which tomatoes can benefit your health.
1. Lower Your Risk Of Stroke
Eat the peel. It contains most of the lycopene. Cooking or roasting further increases the lycopene content.
Did you know that the common tomato could lower your risk of stroke? According to research, people with greater amounts of lycopene in their blood have a 55% lower risk of getting a stroke. The risk was even lower (59%) for ischemic stroke or stroke caused due to blood clots, which is the most common cause. Experts suggest that this may be because, in addition to its ability to protect against damage caused by free radicals, lycopene can also reduce cholesterol and stop blood clots from forming. Plus tomatoes already have the heart-healthy feature of a lot more potassium than sodium.
2. Lower LDL And
Raise HDL Cholesterols
Tomatoes can help you out if you’re worried about your high LDL cholesterol levels. LDLs get oxidized and cause inflammation within arteries, leading to atherosclerosis, which in turn increases heart disease risk. Tomatoes, and tomato products even, lower cholesterol levels with their antioxidant carotenoids like lycopene, beta carotene, and gamma carotene.
Ironically, the cholesterol-lowering carotenoids in tomato are best absorbed with fat – not just any fat but healthy fats like avocado and olive oil.
One study found that a high dietary intake of tomato products (400 ml tomato juice and 30 mg tomato ketchup daily) for 3 weeks significantly reduced LDL cholesterol levels and total cholesterol in healthy people. Plus it increased the ability of the circulating LDLs to resist oxidation by 13%.
Instead of taking statins, drink 250 ml tomato juice daily to lower your cholesterol naturally.
But having raw tomatoes also has proven to help overweight women raise their good HDL cholesterol levels. They ate 2 Roma tomatoes every day for a month and raised their HDLs by 5 mg/dL on average.
If your cholesterol levels are slightly high, instead of taking statins, aim for more than 25 mg lycopene a day. Just 1/2 cup canned tomato puree has 27 mg lycopene, while 1/2 cup canned juice has 22 mg. Raw tomato, however, has much less.
3. Improve Insulin Resistance
Can diabetics eat tomatoes? Yes. Tomatoes have low glycemic index and glycemic load, which means they release less sugar and that too slowly. Plus, they help the body use insulin better.
If you have insulin resistance, your body fails to respond properly to insulin, the hormone that regulates blood sugar. Over a period of time, this can lead to diabetes. However, tomatoes can improve insulin resistance. According to one study, people who had tomato juice 4 times a week for 2 months showed an improvement in insulin resistance. It was observed that their LDL cholesterol levels also fell during this period.
4. Lower Blood Pressure
If your systolic blood pressure (the first figure in the reading) tends toward the higher side, say a baseline systolic blood pressure over 120 mmHg, add more tomatoes to your veggie salad or drink tomato juice – aim to have more
than 12 mg lycopene.
Try to have at least 12 mg lycopene a day – that’s about 250 ml canned tomato juice – to keep the systolic blood pressure at the normal level.
A look at several studies on lycopene and blood pressure reveals that tomatoes can significantly reduce systolic blood pressure by an average of 5.6 mmHg, sometimes within a few weeks, but they don’t have a significant effect on the diastolic pressure. This they do by improving endothelial function, which means that the endothelium (the inner lining of the blood
vessels) can now narrow or dilate the blood vessels efficiently to modulate blood pressure.
Even if you are overweight or obese, a regular diet of tomatoes (or watermelons) will keep your blood pressure from rising. Tomatoes also contain a significant amount of potassium and vitamin C, both of which are important for blood pressure regulation.
5. Improve Your Eyesight
Toss up a salad of leafy greens, cherry tomatoes, and avocados for your eye.
A rainbow on your plate doesn’t just seem pretty, it helps you see pretty well too. Tomatoes are a good source of vitamin A. This fat-soluble vitamin is known to improve vision, particularly in poor light. So tomatoes may head off night blindness and even help to lower your chances of macular degeneration, a condition that causes loss of vision.
6. Help With Asthma
Asthma is a chronic condition where your airways, which carry
air to and from your lungs, become sore and inflamed. Including tomatoes in your diet may be helpful if you suffer from this condition.
While lycopene is what checks asthma, it’s best to get it (along with other antioxidants) from tomatoes rather than supplements.
According to a study, when people with asthma included tomato extract and tomato juice in their diet, they had a better asthma control score (which indicates whether your asthma is under control). It was observed that the tomato-enriched diet reduced the presence of white blood cells (neutrophils) that lead to inflammation in the airways. The researchers suggested that the antioxidant lycopene was responsible for this effect. But don’t write off the vitamin C.
7. Protect Against Depression
Having tomatoes as part of your regular diet can reduce the risk of depression. A Japanese study that looked at depression among elderly people found that a tomato-rich diet was beneficial in preventing the symptoms of depression. As the most potent antioxidant in the carotenoid group, lycopene may play a role here – depression is often a result of excessive damage caused by free radicals and lycopene can keep the damage in check. Add to that major free radical fighters like vitamin C and E. Tomatoes also increase the natural antioxidant levels in the body.
Feeling blue? Add a generous dollop of tomato sauce and a dash of olive oil in your whole-wheat pasta.
Can tomatoes lift your mood when you are feeling depressed? Probably, yes, because they contain tryptophan, the building block of serotonin, the happiness hormone. For best results, combine a carbohydrate, a healthy omega-3 fat, and tomatoes. So, to translate this into a kitchen guide, add a generous dollop of tomato sauce and a dash of olive oil in your whole-wheat pasta. The carbs also release sugar, which increases serotonin. This is, of course, a temporary fix. For a long-term solution to depression, include these stress-lowering foods in your diet.
8. Protect Against Cancer
Various studies have found that the consumption of tomatoes and tomato-based products can lower your risk for cancer. While the benefit seems strongest for cancers of the lung, stomach, and prostate, tomatoes also lower the risk for cancers of the breast, pancreas, esophagus, colon and rectum, oral cavity, and cervix. A U.K. study finds that men who have 10 portions of tomatoes each week can lower their prostate cancer risk by 18%.
While tomatoes can indeed lower your cancer risk, don’t depend on them alone. Rather, have the usual 5 servings of veggies and fruits to reduce cancer risk by 24%.
It is thought that numerous beneficial components, such as beta-carotene and lycopene, present in tomatoes contribute together to its anticancer properties.
9. Increase Your Bone Health
Tomatoes contain calcium and vitamin K, which are important for strengthening your bones. Lycopene may also help prevent osteoporosis, a condition that makes your bones weaker and more fragile, and lower your risk for fractures.
10. Give Your Fetus Nutrition
If you are worried that you might be asked to give up tomatoes during pregnancy because they are acidic, rest easy. If you aren’t going through a phase of acid reflux, the benefits of tomatoes outweigh the risks. But, of course, moderation is must.
To get folate and the other vitamins, eat your tomatoes raw and along with other sources of folate – try a salad with steamed asparagus, fresh tomatoes, roasted garlic, and olive oil.
Tomatoes contain some folate (4.5% daily value for pregnant women) besides vitamins A and C. Folate is an extremely important vitamin for the development of the fetus’ neural tube, and the lack of it can cause birth defects like spina bifida. But since tomatoes alone cannot meet your increased daily requirement of folate (600 mcg), have a salad with steamed asparagus, fresh tomatoes, roasted garlic, and olive oil. Or layer your folic acid-enriched bread with slices of fresh tomatoes.
Since your body is under increased oxidative stress during pregnancy, you need natural antioxidants from food, like lycopene. Do note that lycopene supplements have been linked to low birth weight. So your best bet is to get it from tomatoes, watermelon, and grapefruit.
11. Aid In Weight Loss
There’s a reason tomatoes make it to the weight loss diet – they have 95% water, just 32 Calories in 1 cup, 2.2 g fiber, zero fat and cholesterol, and 4.73 g sugar that turns to glucose slowly. Plus, tomatoes actually help reduce body weight, total fat, belly fat, and BMI.
This happened when in one study, healthy women of normal weight drank 280 ml tomato juice (32.5 mg lycopene) every day for 8 weeks. They did not have to change their diet or exercise routine. How did this happen? The lycopene in tomatoes increased adiponectin by about 27% – this hormone increases metabolism, counters inflammation, and makes the body sensitive to insulin – and reduced an inflammation-inducing protein called MCP-1 by about 23%. The esculeoside A in tomatoes can increase energy metabolism, helping you burn calories at rest.
While there’s some proof that tomatoes help weight loss, don’t go for a tomatoes-only crash diet. Include it in your 5 veggies a day.
On top of that, tomatoes influence the factors contributing to obesity – they lower the bad cholesterol, insulin resistance, and inflammation in the body and increase metabolism, even if you have a high-fat diet.
12. Protect You From Sunburn And Tone The Skin
The tomato and olive oil combination is a winner even when it comes to preventing sunburns – you just have to eat it.
Not all sunscreens need to be applied on your body; some are best eaten. Tomatoes, thanks again to lycopene, can offer protection against the skin damage caused by exposure to the harmful rays of the sun. One study found that people who consumed tomato paste with olive oil over a period of 10 weeks experienced 40% less skin reddening when exposed to UV radiation compared to the control group which only had olive oil. Plus, tomatoes reduce damage to the DNA on the skin. This can reduce wrinkles and other signs of skin aging. However, since tomatoes have a sun protective factor of only 1.3, you still need to apply sunblocks or creams liberally on your skin before stepping out.
Tomatoes also work as a great toner for your skin. Apply tomato slices or mashed tomato on your face and leave it on for about 15 minutes to take advantage of its astringent properties.
13. Counter The Ill Effects Of Cigarettes
Can cigarettes ever be healthy? No, but less toxic. A Cornell University study found that cigarette filters with lycopene and grapeseed extract (treated with activated carbon) can filter 90% of the gas-phase free radicals in cigarette smoke. Sadly, these natural antioxidants lost their power when stored. So for now, you would have to rely on the lycopene from the tomatoes to block tobacco-generated free radicals.
The best way to counter the ill effects of cigarettes is to quit smoking, actively and passively. Otherwise, slash the daily count and have a glass of tomato juice.
In one mouse study, tomato juice completely prevented emphysema – a lung disorder where air sacs become inflamed – caused by tobacco smoke. The researchers credited not just lycopene but also other healthful compounds in tomatoes. So, it might seem that heavy smokers should consume tomatoes by the bushel to counter the ill effects of cigarettes. On the contrary; heavy smokers who eat a lot of beta carotene have a higher risk of lung cancer. This is because the chemicals in tobacco react with beta carotene to produce other cancer-causing chemicals.
If you are a heavy smoker, keep your beta carotene levels low, or better still, quit smoking all together. Here are 7 ways to help you quit.
Perk Up You Meals With Tomatoes
Tomatoes are very versatile. You can chop them up into salsas, add them to salads, scoop out the seeds and stuff them, and incorporate them in a variety of curries, stews, and soups. But here’s something to keep in mind – cooking tomatoes boosts their level of lycopene though you lose some vitamin C in the process. To boot, having tomatoes with a little fat will improve your body’s ability to absorb lycopene.
When Should You Not Have Tomatoes
- GERD: Tomatoes may not be a good idea for you if you have gastroesophageal reflux disease, which causes heartburn, since they’re acidic.
- Gout: They have also been found to trigger attacks in people with gout.
- Heart disease: If you are on beta-blockers, watch out for high-potassium foods like the otherwise healthful tomatoes. You don’t have to stop eating them, but reduce the amount.