It's that time of year again when beautiful tomatoes are being picked and enjoyed all over. This fruit packs a nutritional punch and tastes great too! Check out all the details about this little red gem!
One of my tomato harvest this year!
“Tomatoes are a very peculiar fruit: everybody thinks it's a vegetable, but it's really a fruit, and more precisely a berry! In botanical terms a fruit consists of the ovary of the plant, with its seeds, and that's exactly what a tomato is. Its family, the Solanaceae, is also called the nightshade family, and includes other famous plants such as tobacco, potatoes, eggplants, chilli peppers, and the poisonous belladonna.
The U.S. Supreme Court declared on May 10, 1893 that the tomato is a vegetable, based on the fact that they are generally served with dinner and not dessert.”
Nutritional Facts About Tomatoes
Tomatoes are a rich source of several nutrients. They are well known for their high vitamin C content, but also contain significant amount of vitamin A, B vitamins including niacin and riboflavin, magnesium, phosphorous and calcium.
Tomatoes are also a good source of chromium, folate and fiber.
In recent years a particular nutrient found in abundance in tomatoes, lycopene, has made many headlines for its disease fighting abilities.
The Health Giving Properties of Sweet Tomatoes
Lycopene is well known as a preventer of prostate cancer, which makes tomatoes high on the healthy food list for men.
Lycopene is not just important for men though. It is a powerful antioxidant and as such helps to protect the cells in our bodies from damage.
Studies in humans have shown that lycopene is protective against a variety of cancers including prostate of course, but also colorectal, breast, lung, endometrial, pancreatic, bladder, cervical and skin cancers.
Lycopene has also been shown to help prevent heart disease and may slow the development of cataracts and macular degeneration, an age related vision problem that can lead to blindness.
More facts about tomatoes? The vitamin B6, niacin, potassium and folate found in abundance in tomatoes are potent protectors against heart disease.
Niacin can lower high cholesterol levels and potassium has been shown to lower high blood pressure and to reduce the risk of heart disease.
Vitamin B6 and folate also work to convert the homocysteine in our bodies into harmless molecules. High levels of homocysteine are associated with an increased risk of heart attack and stroke.
The fiber in tomatoes also helps lower cholesterol levels, helps prevent colon cancer and helps to keep blood sugars at a low level.
Tomatoes are a source of riboflavin which has been shown to be helpful for migraine sufferers by reducing the frequency of their headaches.
A helpful note about tomato nutrition is that lycopene is actually more available to the body when tomatoes are cooked, so cooked or canned tomatoes are just as nutritious for you as raw.
The facts about tomatoes definitely point to this fruit/vegetable as a nutrient powerhouse and a super food to be enjoyed as often as possible.
Ways to add Tomato Nutrition to your Diet Every Day:
• Add some canned or fresh tomatoes to your favourite soup or stew.
• Try a salad of sliced sweet tomatoes, basil leaves and sliced mozzarella cheese. Just sprinkle with salt and pepper and drizzle with great olive oil for a real taste treat.
• In the summer, when sun ripened tomatoes are luscious and sweet, eat them raw, just like an apple, for a snack. Add a touch of salt if you like.
• Add chopped raw tomatoes to dips like guacamole and hummus for colour and added nutrition.
How to select tomatoes
Tomatoes with a brighter, deeper color are usually not only better-tasting, but they also contain higher quantities of the most important and peculiar of tomatoes' micronutrients: lycopene.
Try to select tomatoes without cracks, cuts and squished parts, as they can lead to bacterial colonization that degrades their nutritional value, ruins their taste and can be unhealthy. A smooth, shiny peel means the fruit is healthy, but try not to pick tomatoes with a puffy appearance, because this usually means you'll have to remove more refuse and their taste will be inferior. Also, ripe tomatoes usually emanate a sweet fragrance.
Canned tomatoes should be chosen with care, as most countries don't enforce strict rules for lead content. The problem is exacerbated by the acidic nature of tomato juice, that will increase the amount of lead being retained by the food. North American tomatoes are strictly checked and can be eaten reliably, but watch out for tomatoes from other countries, especially from Asia, Africa and Eastern Europe. Whenever possible by all tomato preserves in glass bottles or containers to avoid harmful BPA – a chemical that can mimic estrogen and cause lots of problems in the body (see Blog post on BPA below)
How to store tomatoes
Tomatoes should be stored away from direct exposure to light, and stored at room temperature (since cold decreases their rate of ripening). The enzyme that ripens tomatoes is inactivated when exposed for several minutes to temperatures lower than 12.5C (54.5F). The ripening process can be hasted by placing them in a plastic bag with bananas or apples, since these fruits produce the gas ethylene, which will make the ripening process faster.
Depending on their ripeness when you bought them, tomatoes usually keep for up to a week. If your tomatoes are getting overripe, or you have to store them for more than a week, you can place them in your fridge: this will slow their ripening and allow for an additional 2-3 days of storage.
Please notice that tomatoes are best consumed at room temperature, since they tend to lose their flavor when cold, hence why you can often see "do not refrigerate" labels on them.
Tomatoes can also be freezed, in almost every form you want: you can freeze the juice, the whole fruit or slices.
Sundried tomatoes can be stored for much longer timespans, especially when sealed in an airtight container with olive oil: just be sure to store them in a cool, dry place away from light, to prevent the olive oil from going rancid.