The claims for and against the healthfulness of the common tomato are many and varied. Let’s take a closer look at the reported pros and cons of this popular summer staple.
Throughout the 17th and 18th centuries, the tomato was feared as poisonous. And in fact there was a fearfully high fatality rate among people who consumed this bright red fruit. It turned out, though, that another type of poisoning was the actual culprit – when tomatoes were served on then-fashionable lead-based pewter plates, their acidic quality caused the dishes to exude the dangerous mineral.
Over the years, tomatoes have been regarded suspiciously due to their membership in the nightshade family as well, but they are nowhere near as nasty as their antisocial cousin Belladonna, AKA “deadly nightshade.” However, present-day followers of macrobiotics either completely avoid eating tomatoes and other nightshades or consume them only in limited quantities, claiming that this will relieve such health conditions as arthritis, psoriasis, cystitis and nicotine addiction.
The solanum-type alkaloids in tomato vines and green fruit are toxic to livestock, making a strong fence advisable to keep your Texas longhorns from getting into the kitchen garden, but the jury is still out on whether these parts of the plant are harmful to human beings.
Weigh this information against the many health benefits of tomatoes. They are packed with nutrition, offering vitamins, minerals and other valuable nutrients. Vitamins A, B6, thiamin, niacin, folate, C and K help maintain eye and hair health, lower the incidence of heart attacks, ensure healthy adrenal glands, reduce stress, boost the immune system and aid in preventing osteoporosis. Potassium lowers blood pressure, calcium strengthens bones and teeth, phosphorous is essential for energy, magnesium controls many physiological functions, chromium regulates blood sugar and copper assists in the production of hemoglobin. Tomatoes are also high in fiber, low in calories and virtually fat free. CAUTION: Due to their high level of potassium, tomatoes are not advised for dialysis patients on a potassium-restricted food plan.
All these health benefits are praiseworthy, but the real star of the tomato’s nutritional show is actually classified as a type of pigment. Lycopene improves bone mass and combats osteoporosis by inhibiting resorption. It also safeguards the skin against damage from ultraviolet rays and seems to be linked to reduced risk of stroke. A number of recent studies suggest that lycopene plays an important role in preventing certain types of cancer. A powerful antioxidant, lycopene binds itself to free radicals, inhibiting them from causing potentially carcinogenic cell damage. It appears to be especially effective against lung, stomach, and prostate cancer. Cervical, oral, pancreatic, breast, esophageal, pharyngeal and colonic cancer may also be affected.
Get the Best from your Tomatoes
To reap the maximum benefit from lycopene, tomatoes should be processed. Happily, stewing, baking and sun drying all help to bring out the fruit’s savory flavor. Organic, vine ripened produce is recommended.
If you find that tomatoes’ acidity causes you digestive distress, you may add a pinch of sodium bicarbonate, commonly known as baking soda, to your DIY pasta sauce to neutralize it. Do you have a problem with baking soda’s high salt content? Then don’t use the powder in your cooking, but rather sprinkle a little on the soil around your plants as they grow.
By Laura Firszt, Networx