It’s almost that time of year in the Northeast, when tomatoes are bountiful and every type is ripe. From heirlooms to beefsteaks, tomatoes will soon be overflowing on farms and at markets. No matter how you pronounce it, do not call them off because tomato health benefits are worth the wait.
Though often thought of as a vegetable, tomatoes are the fruit from the solanum lycopersicum plant. Tomato health benefits come from phytochemicals, the nutritionally beneficial active compounds found in fruits and vegetables. Tomatoes are also naturally high in vitamin C, though they do lose some of it when cooked. Lycopene, the most prevalent compound in tomatoes, is a potent antioxidant and also gives tomatoes their bright color. Lycopene is so powerful that it is said to devour more than 10 times more oxygenated free radicals than vitamin E.
Multiple studies have shown that organic tomatoes contain higher levels of health benefitting compounds than conventional tomatoes. It’s also been found that higher levels of these compounds may be present in cooked tomatoes such as sauce, soup, or juice. Though it doesn’t mean you can put slap some ketchup on your fries and call it a day. Nor does it mean that you should stay away from fresh produce from the vine.
Also, some people who suffer from gout have found that eating tomatoes can cause their condition to flare up. If this is you, talk to your doctor or proceed with caution.
Tomato Health Benefits
Our eating habits and lifestyles over time can possibly help to prevent the onset of certain diseases. That’s why we value the importance of eating right and taking in as many vitamins and nutrients as possible through our diet. How are tomatoes helpful? Check out these tomato health benefits:
Reduce Skin Cancer Risk
Carotenoids (such as lycopene), are the pigmenting compounds that give tomatoes their color. It’s thought that they may protect the skin against UV light damage. Studies show that long-term consumption of tomato paste can dampen sunburns, and that daily tomato consumption may help to reduce the development of skin cancer tumors.
Reduce Stomach Cancer Risk
Gastric cancer is the fourth most common type of cancer worldwide. When tomatoes were studied for their potential ability to counteract tumor growth, it was shown that extracts of both the San Marzano and Corbarino varietieswhole tomato varieties were able to inhibit growth and cloning of malignant gastric cancer cells.
Build Stronger Muscles
Tomatidine is a natural compound found in tomatoes, and in green tomatoes in particular (which are safe to eat in moderation). Research found that tomatidine stimulates growth of muscle cells and generates changes that are essentially opposite to what happens when people are affected by muscle atrophy. (Something to remember for people who are ill or on extended bed rest.)
Muscle atrophy affects more than 50 million Americans annually, including 30 million people over age 60. That’s a whole lot of green tomatoes!
Boosts Heart Health
Lycopene in tomatoes may improve the function of blood vessels in people with cardiovascular disease. Eating tomatoes and tomato-based foods is also associated with a lower risk of stroke. In fact, people with the highest amounts of lycopene in their blood are 55% less likely to have a stroke than those with the lowest levels.
Reduce Osteoporosis Risk
Research has found a correlation between eating tomatoes and a lowered risk of osteoporosis.
Reduce Prostate Cancer Risk
Multiple studies have found a connection between tomatoes and a reduced prostate cancer risk. One showed that l ycopene, the bioactive red pigment found in tomatoes, reduces growth of prostate tumors in a variety of animal models. Another found that men who eat over 10 portions a week of tomatoes have an 18% lower risk of developing prostate cancer. Yet another found that tomatoes and broccoli are better at shrinking prostate tumors when they’re eaten together. To get the one-two punch of broccoli tomato health benefits, men should consume 1.4 cups of raw broccoli and 2.5 cups of fresh tomato or the equivalent (1 cup of tomato sauce or ½ cup of tomato paste) daily.
However, researchers from the National Cancer Institute and Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center said that lycopene does not effectively prevent prostate cancer. However, reducing the risk may be worth trying.
Reduce Risk of Vascular Diseases
Vascular diseases can be caused by an abnormal amount of lipids, such as cholesterol or fat, in the blood stream, and they often lead to other, more serious diseases, like arteriosclerosis and cirrhosis. However, a compound found in tomatoes called 9-oxo-octadecadienoic (we didn’t try to pronounce it either) can help prevent lipid metabolism abnormalities.
Improved Fat and Sugar Metabolism
Research found that eating a diet high in tomatoes positively affects the hormones that regulate fat and sugar metabolism. People who followed a tomato-rich diet had a significant increase in adiponectin, a hormone involved in regulating blood sugar and fat levels. This is especially important for women, because their breast cancer risk rises as their body mass index increases post menopause.
So get ready for tomato season, friends. Because they’re not just tasty, tomato health benefits are well worth the trip to the farm stand or supermarket. Go ahead, and eat more tomatoes!
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