For some people around the world tomatoes are a staple in their diet, but it wasn’t until this past 200 years or so that people in the West have truly embraced the tomato because, with it being a member of the nightshade family, they were a bit worried it might be poisonous. It’s a good job we’ve all changed our minds though, because it turns out that as well as being delicious, tomatoes actually might be quite good for us — and that’s putting it mildly.
Here are five reasons to pick up tomatoes the next time you are at the market, with a few serving suggestions to help you rustle up some tomato dishes to boot:
1. Tomatoes are Packed With Healthy Nutrients
The nutritional profile tomatoes sport is pretty impressive. They’re rich in vitamins A and C as well as folic acid. They also contain a number of healthful compounds including alpha-lipoic acid which, some evidence suggests can help our bodies regulate our blood sugar better. In addition, the fiber content of tomatoes could be good for preventing or managing diabetes symptoms.
Serving suggestion: Stuffed tomatoes are a versatile dish that can be used as a spectacular side dish or a delectable main course. If you’re particularly concerned about getting more fiber, cherry tomatoes are particularly packed (about 2 grams per cup) so add them to your next salad.
2. What Makes Tomatoes Red also Might Cut Prostate Cancer Risk
Tomatoes also contain a number of compounds that can help improve your chances of staving off cancers, including alpha-lipoic acid, lycopene, choline, folic acid, beta-carotene and lutein.
A study published in August showed that men who consumed 10 portions of tomatoes a week (both as actual tomatoes or in tomato sauces) had an 18 percent reduced risk of developing prostate cancer, and the researchers believe that’s down to the tomato’s high lycopene content, which has shown promise in other studies.
The good news is that a tomato’s beta-carotene could also help prevent colorectal cancer in men and women, while tomato consumption as part of a healthy diet has also been linked to reduced lung and stomach cancer rates.
Serving suggestion: Try making a healthful homemade salsa dip!
3. Tomatoes Could Help Keep Your Heart Healthy
There’s a strong body of evidence to show that foods that, like the tomato, are rich in fiber, potassium, vitamin C and what’s known as choline can all help to keep the heart healthy. In particular, increased potassium intake is vital to heart health, and tomatoes are one easy way to include potassium in salads, pasta meals and other main dishes. To illustrate the point, a relatively recent study showed that people who consumed around 4069 mg of potassium a day cut their ischemic heart disease death risk by nearly half (49 percent).
The potassium in tomatoes may also offer a reduced risk of stroke and, in some studies, has shown a significant reduction in the formation of kidney stones.
As noted above, tomatoes also contain lycopene and this has been linked to overall improved cardiovascular health. While the overall impact of a Mediterranean diet still remains one of scientific interest, it is strongly believed that a diet rich in tomatoes, pulses, leafy green vegetables and healthy oils can play a significant role in reducing cardiovascular disease.
Serving suggestion: Tomato sauces and healthy homemade or good quality store-bought tomato soups, in addition to other high potassium sources, offer a way for you to easily increase your intake without it being a burden.
4. Tomatoes Can Play a Role in a Healthy First Trimester Pregnancy Diet
Due to the fact that tomatoes are nutritionally robust and that they are very versatile, health experts say that tomatoes are one way of ensuring that a pregnant woman gets the vital vitamins and nutrients she needs to keep herself and her developing baby healthy. There is also some evidence to show that a tomato rich diet can be beneficial during breastfeeding to ensure a good supply of nutrients (in particular vitamin C) for both mother and child.
Serving suggestion: One large red or orange tomato with low sodium cheese/tofu (safe to eat for the vast majority of pregnant women but more information can be found here) can be a wonderful filler for a sandwich.
5. Tomatoes Can Help Keep Your Skin Looking Healthy
While you may be used to hearing such claims from a range of health products, there is some scientific evidence that the lycopene in tomatoes (and other foods but tomatoes are one of our main sources) can help our skin fight the effects of damaging UV raise, one of the leading causes of premature visible aging. To be clear, this isn’t going to be a miracle cure, but research has shown that a high lycopene diet might reduce skin reddening caused by UV exposure and improve the overall appearance of skin in a relatively short period of time (the specific test period was 12 weeks).
Serving suggestion: The test involved ingesting tomato paste, but a good way to incorporate that into your diet might be to make your own healthy pizzas with a good quality paste and plenty of other healthy vegetables.
Photo credit: Thinkstock.