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Chockful of antioxidants and nutrients, tomatoes are one of the most popular fruits used all over the world in various ways. They are native to South and Central America and were first used by the Aztecs in their cooking. Nowadays, they are grown in many temperate climate regions but mostly in Asian countries.
Tomatoes are widely consumed in several variants, but heirloom tomatoes, plum tomatoes, cherry tomatoes, and grape tomatoes are the most popular.
Health Benefits of Consuming Tomatoes
Tomatoes grow in a wide range of colors, from yellow to orange to red. Aside from being a powerhouse of vitamin A, vitamin C, potassium, and beta carotene, they are also abundantly rich in lycopene – a powerful antioxidant that is at the forefront in the fight against many illnesses. (1)
1. Helps regulate blood pressure
Foods rich in potassium, such as tomatoes, are crucial in maintaining blood pressure as it negates the effect of sodium. When potassium is adequately consumed, sodium is balanced, resulting in proper blood pressure regulation.
Another mechanism of action of potassium is easing the pressure of blood against the walls of the blood vessels to reduce high blood pressure.
In a double-blind study, it was reported that short-term treatment with tomato extract showed potential in reducing high blood pressure. (2)
In a 2019 study, the carotenoid levels achieved by a tomato nutrient complex dose of 15 mg lycopene or higher had a beneficial effect on the systolic blood pressure of those with hypertension. (3)
2. Aids in weight loss
Rich in water, high in fiber, and low in calories, tomatoes are a great fruit to consume for weight reduction due to their low density.
According to one study, eating fruits low in density can help you achieve satiety and a feeling of fullness and thus achieve weight reduction. (4) This works by reducing the urge to overeat, a crucial factor in weight reduction strategies.
3. Improves skin health
Cellular damage is one of the primary reasons skin damage occurs. The lycopene in tomatoes acts as a protective agent and improves skin dullness.
Additionally, tomato juice can be applied topically to the skin. Its lycopene content has a potentially protective effect against UV-induced sunburn and its damage. (5)
4. Pregnancy support
Full of nutrients essential for a healthy pregnancy and fetal development, tomatoes are a good addition to a pregnant woman’s diet. Their water content also helps maintain optimal hydration levels.
Tomatoes also help increase levels of hemoglobin, (6) which needs to be maintained optimally during pregnancy.
5. Improves cardiovascular health
Abundant in lycopene, beta carotene, folate, potassium, vitamins C and E, and flavonoids, tomatoes have a protective role against the formation of atherosclerosis. (7)
Atherosclerotic plaques can cause further complications such as strokes and myocardial infarctions (heart attack).
6. Enhances digestive health
According to one study, tomato powder significantly increased the diversity and quality of gut microflora in rats, which then prevented intestinal damage and ultimately improved digestive and gut health. (8)
While extensive human trials need to be undertaken to further explore its effectiveness, relying on natural foods such as tomatoes to improve digestive health is a great alternative. The fiber in tomatoes and their seeds also facilitates bowel movement and motility in the intestines.
7. Helps with diabetes management
An experimental study evaluated the effect of tomato intake on serum glucose. While it did not directly have an effect of reducing free glucose in the blood, it did significantly reduce the increased blood pressure associated with diabetes. (9)
Tomatoes are generally a good fruit to snack on for people with diabetes due to their low-starch, low-calorie, and high-fiber content. It also prevents insulin spikes in the blood by slowing the release of sugar.
8. Can improve fertility
Studies have identified oxidative stress as a major cause of reproductive dysfunction. (10) Increasing consumption of folate, which is found in tomatoes, during the preconception phase increased the chances of pregnancy.
Furthermore, the lycopene and vitamin C found in tomatoes protect against oxidative stress within the body, resulting in improved fertility.
9. Reduces inflammation
Lycopene, vitamins C and E, and beta carotene all have been well proven for their anti-inflammatory properties.
In a study of 106 overweight or obese females, it was found that the inflammatory markers were significantly reduced in one group who had to consume 330ml/d of tomato juice. It was hypothesized that intake of tomatoes may be useful in preventing inflammatory diseases (such as cardiovascular diseases and diabetes). (11)
10. May help in cancer prevention
According to the American Institute of Cancer Research, consuming lycopene may protect against various types of cancers. (12) Lycopene inhibits cell invasion, angiogenesis, and metastasis, which are common processes by which cancer cells grow and spread. (13)
Consumption of a lycopene-rich diet that includes tomatoes can therefore aid in the management of cancer.
Nutritional Content of a Tomato
One whole tomato (around 125 g) contains 23 calories, 4.9 g carbs, 1.1 g protein, and 0.3 g fat. It has 118 g of water, making it an excellent choice for hydration.
It also has 17.1 g vitamin C, which is 19% of the daily value that a person must take, 52.50 mcg vitamin A, and 561.25 mcg beta carotene. The lycopene in tomatoes is around 3216.25 mcg.
Tomatoes are also rich in vitamin K with 9.9 mcg, contributing to 8% of a person’s daily needs. It contains 296 mg potassium, 13.75 mg magnesium, 6.25 g sodium, and 12.50 mg calcium. (14)
How to Include in Your Diet
Tomato’s versatility allows it to be used in various salads, sauces, pickles, soups, snacks, etc.
Processing tomatoes for pickling, preparing sauces, or cooking improves the availability of the lycopene within the fruit, so it is always better to cook it down such as in soups, sauces, or gravies to receive the full benefit of the fruit.
Precautions to Consider
Keep these things in mind when consuming tomatoes:
- It is crucial not to overeat tomatoes to avoid a buildup of nutrients. As tomatoes are high in potassium, consuming them in large quantities can disrupt your electrolyte balance and kidney function.
- While tomatoes are being studied for their various benefits, it is also necessary to remember that no food can be used in the place of medicine. It is vital to consult a qualified health professional before including any foods in your diet for the management of health conditions.
- Washing the fruit well before consumption and avoiding the seeds if you have or are prone to kidney stones are also recommended, as the oxalate-rich seeds can contribute to the formation of kidney stones.
Most-Asked Questions About Tomatoes
Is it better to eat tomato cooked or raw?
While it is okay to eat tomato raw in salads or as a snack, lycopene is better available for the body when it undergoes processing or heat treatment such as cooking.
Can I eat the seeds of tomatoes?
It is advisable for people who have a history of kidney stones to avoid eating tomato seeds and peels.
When should I avoid eating tomatoes?
Tomatoes can cause severe acidity or aggravate existing acidity in some people. In such cases, it is advisable to avoid eating the raw fruit, especially later in the evening and at night.
Fruits, in general, are great sources of vitamins and minerals that are best obtained when consumed fresh. Useful in the management of a myriad of conditions such as diabetes, cancer, and cardiovascular diseases, tomatoes are also beneficial for pregnant women, general hair and skin health, reduction in weight, and improved fertility.
As with everything, overconsumption of tomatoes can negate its benefits and may cause harm instead. It is also crucial to avoid having any liquids alongside consuming the fresh fruit.
A good practice is to check up with your doctor or a qualified dietitian before including any food in your diet with the intention of managing serious health conditions. Often, foods play a more protective role and can be an adjunct to the medications for treating an illness.