The World's Healthiest Foods
Tomato, fresh

There are few vegetables that better mark the summer months than the sweet juiciness of a red vine-ripened tomato. Although tomatoes are now available year-round, the truly wonderful qualities of tomatoes are the best when they are in season from July through September.

Tomatoes have fleshy internal segments filled with slippery seeds surrounded by a watery matrix. They can be red, yellow, orange, green or brown in color. Although tomatoes are fruits in a botanical sense, they don’t have the dessert quality sweetness of other fruits. Instead they have a subtle sweetness that is complemented by a slightly bitter and acidic taste. Cooking tempers the acid and bitter qualities in tomatoes and brings out their warm, rich, sweetness.

 


Health Benefits

Antioxidant and Anti-Cancer Benefits of Lycopene

In the area of food and phytonutrient research, nothing has been hotter in the last five years than studies on the lycopene in tomatoes. This carotenoid found in tomatoes (and everything made from them) has been extensively studied for its antioxidant and cancer-preventing properties. The antioxidant function of lycopene – its ability to help protect cells and other structures in the body from oxygen damage – has been linked in human research to the protection of DNA (our genetic material) inside of white blood cells. Prevention of heart disease has been shown to be another antioxidant role played by lycopene.

In contrast to many other food phytonutrients, whose effects have only been studied in animals, lycopene from tomatoes has been repeatedly studied in humans and found to be protective against a growing list of cancers. These cancers now include colorectal, prostate, breast, endometrial, lung, and pancreatic cancers.

Colorectal Cancer

A study published in the November 2003 issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that in patients with colorectal adenomas, a type of polyp that is the precursor for most colorectal cancers, blood levels of lycopene were 35% lower compared to study subjects with no polyps. Blood levels of beta-carotene also tended to be 25.5% lower, although according to researchers, this difference was not significant. In their final (multiple logistic regression) analysis, only low levels of plasma lycopene (less than 70 microgram per liter) and smoking increased the likelihood of colorectal adenomas, but the increase in risk was quite substantial: low levels of lycopene increased risk by 230% and smoking by 302%.

Prostate Cancer

Tomatoes have been shown to be helpful in reducing the risk of prostate cancer. A 14-month study published in the November 2003 issue of the Journal of the National Cancer Institute underscores the importance of a healthy whole foods diet rich in tomatoes in the prevention of prostate cancer. In this study, rats fed a lycopene-rich diet and treated with N-methyl-N-nitrosourea (a carcinogen) and testosterone to induce prostate cancer had a similar risk of death from prostate cancer as rats fed a control diet. In contrast, rats fed whole tomato powder were 26% less likely to die of prostate cancer. By the end of the study, 80% of the control group and 72% of the rats fed lycopene had succumbed to prostate cancer, while only 62% of the rats fed whole tomato powder had died.

In addition to the controls and those rats receiving lycopene or tomato powder, each group was also divided into two sub-groups, one of which was given 20% less food than the other sub-group. Rats on the energy-restricted, tomato-based diet fared best of all, showing a 32% drop in their risk of dying from prostate cancer.

Researchers concluded this was due to the fact that tomatoes contain not merely lycopene, but a variety of protective phytochemicals and suggest that the lycopene found in human prostate tissue and the blood of animals and humans who remain free of prostate cancer may indicate exposure to higher amounts of not just lycopene but other compounds working in synergy with it. Study leader, Dr. Steven Clinton, Ohio State University, commented, “Our findings strongly suggest that risks of poor dietary habits cannot be reversed simply by taking a pill…if we want the health benefits of tomatoes, we should eat tomatoes or tomato products and not rely on lycopene supplements alone.” In an accompanying editorial, Peter H. Gann, of the Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center at Northwestern University in Chicago, and Frederick Khachik, of the University of Maryland, College Park, remarked that this study supports those who advocate whole foods in the debate about whether cancer prevention is best achieved with whole foods or concentrated single compounds. They point out that carotenoids and other phytochemicals evolved as sets of interacting compounds, and that this complexity limits the usefulness of reductionist approaches that seek to identify single protective compounds.

More Studies Show Tomatoes Protective against Prostate Cancer

A meta-analysis of 21 studies published in the March 2004 issue of Cancer Epidemiology Biomarkers and Prevention confirms that eating tomatoes, especially cooked tomatoes, provides protection against prostate cancer. (Meta-analyses are considered the gold standard in medical research since, by combining the results of numerous studies, they integrate the results that occurred in different settings and include a much larger group of people, so they are thought to provide a more accurate assessment.) When the data from all 21 studies was combined, men who ate the highest amounts of raw tomatoes were found to have an 11% reduction in risk for prostate cancer. Those eating the most cooked tomato products fared even better with a 19% reduction in prostate cancer risk. Even eating just one 6-ounce serving a day of raw tomato provided some benefit—a reduction in prostate cancer risk of 3%.

Pancreatic Cancer

One of the deadliest cancers, pancreatic cancer progresses so rapidly that individuals with the disease who are participating in studies often die before their interviews can be completed—so the benefits noted in the following study of a diet rich in tomatoes and tomato-based products are especially significant.

In this 3-year Canadian study, published in the March 2005 issue of the Journal of Nutrition, 462 persons with pancreatic cancer were age and gender matched with 4721 individuals free of the disease. After adjustment for age, province, body mass index, smoking, educational attainment, dietary folate and total caloric intake, the data showed men consuming the most lycopene, a carotenoid provided mainly by tomatoes, had a 31% reduction in their risk of pancreatic cancer. Among persons who had never smoked, those whose diets were richest in beta carotene or total carotenoids reduced their risk of pancreatic cancer by 43% and 42%, respectively.

How Tomatoes Protect against Cancer

Research by Dr. Joseph Levy and colleagues from Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, Beer-Sheva, Israel, may have identified the unique mechanism through which lycopene protects against cancer: activating cancer-preventive phase II enzymes.

When the researchers incubated breast and liver cancer cells with lycopene, the carotenoid triggered the production and activity of the phase II detoxification enzymes (NAD(P)H:quinone oxidoreductase (NQ01) and glutamylcysteine synthetase (GCS). Lycopene ramped up production and activity of these protective enzymes by causing the expression of a reporter gene called luciferase that then activated the “antioxidant response element” in other genes that encode the enzymes, thus causing the genes to direct increased enzyme production. In contrast, other carotenoids including beta-carotene, astaxanthin and phytoene did not have this effect. Since much epidemiological evidence indicates that lycopene acts synergistically with other phytochemicals to give tomatoes their protective effects, and recent studies have shown that eating tomato products prevents cancer more effectively than taking lycopene alone, the researchers concluded that other carotenoids stimulate phase II enzymes via different pathways from that used by lycopene.

Significant Anti-Oxidant Protection

In addition to their center-stage phytonutrient, lycopene, tomatoes are packed with traditional nutrients that have been shown in many studies to be helpful for all of the above conditions. For example, tomatoes are an excellent source of vitamin C and vitamin A, the latter notably through its concentration of carotenoids including beta-carotene. These antioxidants travel through the body neutralizing dangerous free radicals that could otherwise damage cells and cell membranes, escalating inflammation and the progression or severity of atherosclerosis, diabetic complications, asthma, and colon cancer. In fact, high intakes of these antioxidants have been shown to help reduce the risk or severity of all of these illnesses.

In addition, tomatoes are a very good source of fiber, which has been shown to lower high cholesterol levels, keep blood sugar levels from getting too high, and help prevent colon cancer. A cup of fresh tomato will provide you with 57.3% of the daily value for vitamin C, plus 22.4% of the DV for vitamin A, and 7.9% of the DV for fiber.

Reduction in Heart Disease Risk

More good news for those at risk of atherosclerosis, or just trying to avoid it, is that tomatoes are a very good source of potassium and a good source of niacin, vitamin B6, and folate. Niacin has been used for years as a safe way to lower high cholesterol levels. Diets rich in potassium have been shown to lower high blood pressure and reduce the risk of heart disease. Vitamin B6 and folate are both needed by the body to convert a potentially dangerous chemical called homocysteine into other, benign molecules. High levels of homocysteine, which can directly damage blood vessel walls, are associated with an increased risk of heart attack and stroke. All of these nutrients work together to make tomatoes a truly heart-healthy food. In a cup of tomato, you'll get 11.4% of the daily value for potassium, 5.6% of the DV for niacin, 7.0% of the DV for B6, and 6.8% of the DV for folate.

The lycopene in tomatoes may also provide cardiovascular benefits. Research conducted at Brigham and Women's Hospital, Boston, MA, suggests that in addition to its inverse association with various cancers, a high dietary consumption of lycopene may play a role in cardiovascular disease prevention. The researchers tracked 39,876 middle-aged and older women who were free of both cardiovascular disease and cancer when the study began. During more than 7 years of follow-up, those who consumed 7 to 10 servings each week of lycopene-rich foods (tomato-based products, including tomatoes, tomato juice, tomato sauce and pizza) were found to have a 29% lower risk of CVD compared to women eating less than 1.5 servings of tomato products weekly. Women who ate more than 2 servings each week of oil-based tomato products, particularly tomato sauce and pizza, had an even better result—a 34% lower risk of CVD.

Another study, this one conducted in Europe, also suggests that enjoying tomatoes raw or in the form of tomato sauce or paste several times each week is a delicious way to protect your cardiovascular system. This study, published in the August 2003 issue of the European Journal of Nutrition, reported that when a group of 12 healthy women ate enough tomato products to provide them with 8 mg of lycopene daily for a period of three weeks, their LDL cholesterol was much less susceptible to free radical oxidation—the first step in the formation of atherosclerotic plaque formation and a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease.

Research showing tomatoes’ cardiovascular benefits continues to accumulate. A study led by Dr. Howard Sesso and published in the January 2004 issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition further supports Dr. Sesso’s earlier studies, reported in the Journal of Nutrition last year, which found that women with the highest intake of lycopene-rich tomato-based foods had a significantly reduced risk of heart disease. This 4.8 year study, a prospective case-control trial involving 39,876 middle-aged and elderly women in the Women’s Health Study, found that as the women’s blood levels of lycopene went up, their risk for cardiovascular disease dropped. Study subjects were divided into four groups in order of increasing blood levels of lycopene. A 34% reduction in cardiovascular disease risk was seen in women in the top two groups, but even women in the second highest group were still 22% less likely to develop cardiovascular disease compared to women in the lowest group. After excluding women with angina, those whose plasma lycopene levels were in the three highest groups were found to have a 50% reduced risk of cardiovascular disease compared to those with the lowest blood levels of lycopene.

Tomato Juice is an Effective Blood Thinner

Tomato juice is an effective blood thinner, suggests Australian research published in the August 2004 issue of the prestigious Journal of the American Medical Association. In this study, 20 people with type 2 diabetes were given 250 ml (about 8 ounces) of tomato juice or a tomato-flavored placebo daily. Subjects had no history of clotting problems and were taking no medications that would affect blood clotting ability.

After just 3 weeks, platelet aggregation (the clumping together of blood cells) was significantly reduced among those drinking real tomato juice, while no such effect was noted in those receiving placebo.

In an interview, lead researcher Sherri Lazarus explained, "Diabetes is a multi-faceted disease with problems such as glucose intolerance, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and high triglycerides, and the less talked about hyperactive platelets.

Platelets are the parts of blood responsible for the preservation of healthy blood vessels. When the health of blood vessels is impaired, as in the case of diabetes, platelets stick to the lining of the vessel wall, which, over time, can lead to the development of cardiovascular disease. Aggregation is the clumping together and clotting of platelets. We looked at how susceptible the platelets were to clotting before and after the people with type 2 diabetes had taken tomato juice."

Although dietary strategies have been developed to address other known cardiovascular risk factors, currently there is no dietary strategy aimed at reducing high platelet activity. For persons with type 2 diabetes, tomato juice may be just what the doctor should order. While of special benefit for those with type 2 diabetes who are at increased risk of cardiovascular disease, the blood thinning effects of tomato juice are noteworthy for anyone at higher risk of blood clot formation. Persons with high cholesterol, those whose work involves traveling long distances, who have recently undergone a surgical procedure or who smoke would benefit. But be sure to choose a low-sodium tomato juice; many "regular" tomato juice products are loaded with artery-unfriendly sodium.

Protection Due to Synergy of Tomato's Nutrients, Not Just Lycopene

Recent research clearly shows that tomatoes’ protective effects against prostate cancer and cardiovascular disease are due not simply to their lycopene content, but result from the synergy of lycopene with other phytonutrients naturally present in whole tomatoes.

In addition to an animal study published in the November 2003 issue of Journal of the National Cancer Institute that found whole tomato powder was significantly more effective than lycopene alone in preventing the onset of prostate cancer (summarized under prostate cancer) other research is now demonstrating that lycopene plays only a minor role in tomatoes’ heart health benefits.

Animal research from Japan, published in the January 2004 issue of the British Journal of Nutrition, suggests that a tomato-rich diet—which they call an anti-thrombotic diet—is a convenient and effective way to prevent thrombotic diseases such as heart attack and stroke.

Research conducted by Howard Sesso and colleagues from the Harvard School of Public Health shows that women who consume the most tomato containing products, particularly concentrated foods such as tomato sauce and pizza, have a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease.

Sesso and his team analyzed the results of a prospective cohort study of 39,876 middle-aged and older women who completed food frequency questionnaires over a 7.2 year period. At the beginning of the study, all participants were free of cardiovascular disease. During the study, 719 of the women developed cardiovascular disease. After Sesso et al. controlled for factors such as age, smoking, family history and other health indicators, the data revealed that women who consumed seven to ten servings of tomato-based foods each week (tomato juice, tomato sauce, pizza) had a 32% lower risk of developing cardiovascular disease than women who ate less than 1.5 servings of these tomato products each week. Sesso et al. had decided to do this study to see if lycopene, a carotenoid abundant in tomatoes that other research has linked to a reduced risk of prostate cancer, was also associated with a reduction in cardiovascular disease risk. In this study, however, while consumption of tomato products, particularly tomato sauce and pizza, provided cardiovascular protection, dietary lycopene intake alone was not strongly associated with a reduction heart disease risk. The researchers theorize that other phytochemicals found in oil-based tomato products in addition to lycopene are responsible for the cardiovascular benefits seen.

A UK firm, Provexis, says it has developed a water-soluble extract from tomatoes that contains no lycopene but reduces the propensity to excessive blood clotting, a major factor in most cardiovascular disease events. The dosage recommended is that which would be consumed in a healthy Mediterranean style diet. We wonder why anyone would want to limit him or herself to just getting lycopene or some of tomatoes other health-promoting components when the easiest and most delicious way to reap all of tomatoes’ manifold benefits is simple: just enjoy the wonderful flavor of tomato-based foods at least four or five times each week!

Helping You Bone Up

Tomatoes are a very good source of vitamin K. The 13.5% of the daily value for vitamin K that is found in one cup of raw tomato is important for maintaining bone health. Vitamin K1 activates osteocalcin, the major non-collagen protein in bone. Osteocalcin anchors calcium molecules inside of the bone. Therefore, without enough vitamin K1, osteocalcin levels are inadequate, and bone mineralization is impaired.

Feeling Stressed? How about a Nice Cup of Gazpacho?

A Tufts University study published in the November 2004 issue of the Journal of Nutrition shows that daily consumption of gazpacho (two bowls of 250 mL/day, corresponding to 72 mg of vitamin C, for two weeks) significantly increased blood levels of vitamin C and decreased biomarkers of oxidative (free radical) stress and inflammation.

Gazpacho, a Mediterranean vegetable soup that typically combines tomato, cucumber, and sweet pepper along with olive oil, onion, garlic, wine vinegar and sea salt, is replete, not only with vitamin C, but a variety of other nutrients associated with a reduced risk of chronic disease, including other antioxidants, folic acid, and fiber.

This study focused on gazpacho's effect on vitamin C levels and biomarkers of oxidative stress and inflammation in 12 healthy subjects (6 men and 6 women). Within just 7 days, blood levels of vitamin C had increased 26% in the men and 25% in the women and remained elevated throughout the study. Also, when they were measured on day 14, a number of markers of oxidative stress and inflammation had decreased: F2-isoprostanes, PGE2, and MCP-1 dropped in men and women, and uric acid decreased significantly in men and slightly in women. While the focus of this study was gazpacho's vitamin C, researchers noted that other nutrients present in the soup may have synergistically contributed to its positive effects. For example, the plasma concentration of carotenoids also increased. The researchers' final conclusion: increasing vegetable consumption could improve human health.

More Help against Colon Cancer, Diabetes, and Migraines

So how else can tomatoes help? The folate in tomatoes can also help to reduce the risk of colon cancer. In addition, tomatoes are a good source of riboflavin, which has been shown to be helpful for reducing the frequency of migraine attacks in those who suffer from them. A good intake of chromium, a mineral of which tomatoes are a good source, has been shown to help diabetic patients keep their blood sugar levels under control. In addition to the 6.8% of the daily value for folate already mentioned above in relation to its protective actions against cardiovascular disease, a cup of tomatoes contains 5.3% of the DV for riboflavin, and 7.5% of the DV for chromium.

Tomatoes are a great vegetable loaded with a variety of vital nutrients. They also make a wonderful addition to a heart-healthy and cancer-preventing diet. So whether it is by tomato soup, tomato sauce, tomato chunks in salad or tomato slices on a sandwich, increasing your intake of tomatoes is an excellent step towards excellent health.

Description

The tomato is the fruit of the plant Lycopersicon lycopersicum and is a member of the Solanaceae, or Nightshade family. The name that this fruit was given in various languages reflects some of the history and mystery surrounding it. Lycopersicon means “wolf peach” in Latin and refers to the former belief that, like a wolf, this fruit was dangerous. The French call it pomme d’amour, meaning “love apple,” since they believed it to have aphrodisiacal qualities, while the Italians call it pomodoro or “golden apple,” owing to the fact that the first known species with which they were familiar may have been yellow in color.

Regardless of its name, the tomato is a wonderfully popular and versatile food that comes in over a thousand different varieties that vary in shape, size and color. There are small cherry tomatoes, bright yellow tomatoes, Italian pear-shaped tomatoes, and the green tomato, famous for its fried preparation in Southern American cuisine.

Only the fruits of this plant are eaten since the leaves contain toxic alkaloids (see Safety section below). Tomatoes have fleshy internal segments filled with slippery seeds surrounded by a watery matrix. They can be red, yellow, orange, green or brown in color.

Although tomatoes are fruits in a botanical sense, they don’t have the dessert quality sweetness of other fruits. Instead they have a subtle sweetness that is complemented by a slightly bitter and acidic taste. Cooking tempers the acid and bitter qualities in tomatoes and brings out their warm, rich, sweetness.

History

Although tomatoes are closely associated with Italian cuisine, they are actually originally native to the western side of South America, including the Galapagos Islands. The first type of tomato grown is thought to have more resembled the smaller-sized cherry tomato than the larger varieties.

The tomato was not cultivated in South America, but rather in Mexico, supposedly because the Mexican Indians were intrigued by this fruit since it resembled the tomatillo which was a staple in their cuisine. The Spanish conquistadors who came to Mexico shortly after Columbus’s discovery of the New World “discovered” tomatoes and brought the seeds back to Spain, beginning the introduction of the tomato into Europe.

Although the use of tomatoes spread throughout Europe and made its way to Italy by the 16th century, it was originally not a very popular food since many people held the belief that it was poisonous since it was a member of the deadly Nightshade family. They were wise but not fully accurate, as the leaves of the tomato plant, but not its fruits, do contain toxic alkaloids. Yet, due to this belief, tomatoes were more often grown as an ornamental garden plant than as a food for many more centuries in several European countries.

Tomatoes made their way to North America with the colonists who first settled in Virginia, yet did not readily gain popularity until the late 19th century. Since new varieties have been developed and more efficient means of transportation established, tomatoes have become one of the top selling vegetables in this country. Today, the United States, Russia, Italy, Spain, China and Turkey are among the top selling commercial producers of tomatoes.

How to Select and Store

Choose tomatoes that have a deep rich color. Not only is this one of the signs of a delicious tasting tomato, but the deep color indicates that it has a greater supply of the health-promoting phytochemical red pigment, lycopene. Tomatoes should be well shaped and smooth skinned with no wrinkles, cracks, bruises or soft spots. They should not have a puffy appearance since this indicates that they will be of inferior flavor and will cause excess waste during preparation. Ripe tomatoes will yield to slight pressure and will have a noticeably sweet fragrance.

When buying canned tomatoes, it is often better to buy those that are produced in the United States as many foreign countries do not have as strict standards for lead content in containers. This is especially important with a fruit such as tomatoes, whose high acid content can cause corrosion to, and subsequent migration into the foods of the metals with which it is in contact. Since tomatoes are sensitive to cold, and it will impede their ripening process, store them at room temperature and out of direct exposure to sunlight. They will keep for up to a week, depending upon how ripe they are when purchased. To hasten the ripening process, place them in a paper bag with a banana or apple since the ethylene gas that these fruits emit will increase the tomato’s maturation. If the tomatoes begin to become overripe, but you are not yet ready to eat them, place them in the refrigerator (if possible, in the butter compartment which is a warmer area), where they will keep for one or two more days. Removing them from the refrigerator about 30 minutes before using will help them to regain their maximum flavor and juiciness. Whole tomatoes, chopped tomatoes and tomato sauce freeze well for future use in cooked dishes. Sundried tomatoes should be stored in an airtight container, with or without olive oil, in a cool dry place.

When Buying Ketchup, Choose Organic

Organic ketchup contains 3 times as much lycopene as non-organic brands.

Lycopene, a carotenoid shown to help protect against breast, pancreatic, prostate and intestinal cancer, and to reduce the heart attack risk (see Health Benefits above), is present in much higher amounts in organic compared to non-organic brands of ketchup.

Researchers Betty Ishida and Mary Chapman at the U.S. Agricultural Research Service in Albany, CA, tested lycopene levels and antioxidant activity in 13 brands of ketchup: 6 popular ones, 3 organic, 2 store brands, and 2 from fast food chains. While purple and green ketchups had a similar lycopene content to their red counterparts, organic ketchups excelled, with one brand containing 183 micrograms of lycopene per gram of ketchup, about 5 times as much per weight as a tomato. Non-organic brands averaged 100 micrograms per gram, with one fast-food sample containing just 60 micrograms per gram. If you want high lycopene levels, pick the darkest red organic ketchup. And don't forget to enjoy your ketchup in a meal that also provides a little fat. Lycopene, like other carotenoids, is fat-soluble, which means it is not well absorbed without fat.

How to Enjoy

For some of our favorite recipes, click Recipes.

Tips for Preparing Tomatoes:

Before serving, wash tomatoes under cool running water and pat dry.

If your recipe requires seeded tomatoes, cut the fruit in half horizontally and gently squeeze out the seeds and the juice.

It is especially important when cooking tomatoes to not use aluminum cookware since their high acid content will interact with the metal. This may result in the migration of the aluminum into the food, which will not only impart an unpleasant taste, but more importantly, may have deleterious effects on your health.

For the Most Lycopene, Use the Whole Tomato

It's well known that a high intake of tomato products is associated with lowered risk of colon and prostate cancers, a beneficial effect thought to be due to tomatoes' high content of the carotenoids, lycopene and beta-carotene.

Tomato products, such as tomato paste, have been recommended over whole fresh tomatoes because they concentrate tomatoes and thus deliver more of their protective carotenoids, despite the fact that tomato peels are usually eliminated during processing.

A study published in the April 2005 issue of the Journal of Nutrition, however, once again confirms that Mother Nature knows best: consuming whole, natural foods—in this case, the whole tomato—is best.

When tomato paste that included tomato peels was compared to classically made (without peels) tomato paste, carotenoids were significantly better absorbed in the whole tomato paste. Study participants absorbed 75% more lycopene and 41% more beta-carotene from whole tomato paste compared to conventionally made (without peels) tomato paste. The take home message: look for products that contain whole tomatoes, including their peels, or make your own whole tomato paste. Not only is it quick, easy and inexpensive, but the improvement in flavor will amaze you. Once you've enjoyed its heavenly aroma while cooking and tasted your own freshly made, whole tomato paste, you'll only resort to store-bought tomato paste in emergencies.

A Few Quick Serving Ideas:
To make your own tomato paste, simply healthy sauté a couple of cloves of chopped garlic and/or 1-2 large chopped onions a couple of minutes until translucent, then add 8-10 chopped whole tomatoes, a teaspoon of dried or several teaspoons of fresh chopped oregano, basil, and any other herbs you enjoy, such as parsley or rosemary, and simmer for 30-45 minutes. Remove from the heat, drizzle with olive oil, and add sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste. For a fancier version, sauté chopped olives and/or mushrooms along with the garlic and onions.

Tomatoes are a great addition to bean and vegetable soups.

Enjoy a classic Italian salad – sliced onions, tomatoes and mozzarella cheese drizzled with olive oil.

Combine chopped onions, tomatoes, and chili peppers for an easy to make salsa dip.

Purée tomatoes, cucumbers, bell peppers and scallions together in a food processor and season with herbs and spices of your choice to make the refreshing cold soup, gazpacho.

Add tomato slices to sandwiches and salads. To keep things colorful, use yellow, green and purple tomatoes in addition to red ones.

Safety

Allergic Reactions to Tomatoes

Although allergic reactions can occur to virtually any food, research studies on food allergy consistently report more problems with some foods than with others. Common symptoms associated with an allergic reaction to food include: chronic gastrointestinal disturbances; frequent infections, e.g. ear infections, bladder infections, bed-wetting; asthma, sinusitis; eczema, skin rash, acne, hives; bursitis, joint pain; fatigue, headache, migraine; hyperactivity, depression, insomnia.

Individuals who suspect food allergy to be an underlying factor in their health problems may want to avoid commonly allergenic foods. Tomatoes are one of the foods most commonly associated with allergic reactions. Other foods commonly associated with allergic reactions include: cow's milk, wheat, soy, shrimp, oranges, eggs, chicken, strawberries, spinach, peanuts, pork, corn and beef. These foods do not need to be eaten in their pure, isolated form in order to trigger an adverse reaction. For example, yogurt made from cow’s milk is also a common allergenic food, even though the cow’s milk has been processed and fermented in order to make the yogurt. Ice cream made from cow’s milk would be an equally good example.

Tomatoes and Oxalates

Tomatoes are among a small number of foods that contain any measurable amount of oxalates, naturally-occurring substances found in plants, animals, and human beings. When oxalates become too concentrated in body fluids, they can crystallize and cause health problems. For this reason, individuals with already existing and untreated kidney or gallbladder problems may want to avoid eating tomatoes. Oxalates may also interfere with absorption of calcium from the body. For this reason, individuals trying to increase their calcium stores may want to avoid tomatoes, or if taking calcium supplements, may want to eat tomatoes 2-3 hours before or after taking their supplements.

Tomatoes Belong to the Nightshade Family

Tomatoes are one of the vegetables in the nightshade (Solanaceae) family, which includes eggplant, bell peppers, and white potatoes. Anecdotal case histories link improvement in arthritis symptoms with removal of these foods; however, there are no scientific studies to date that confirm this information.

Nutritional Profile

Introduction to Food Rating System Chart

The following chart shows the nutrients for which this food is either an excellent, very good or good source. Next to the nutrient name you will find the following information: the amount of the nutrient that is included in the noted serving of this food; the %Daily Value (DV) that that amount represents (similar to other information presented in the website, this DV is calculated for 25-50 year old healthy woman); the nutrient density rating; and, the food's World's Healthiest Foods Rating. Underneath the chart is a table that summarizes how the ratings were devised. For more detailed information on our Food and Recipe Rating System, please click here.

 

Tomato, Red, Raw, Ripe
1.00 cup
37.80 calories
Nutrient Amount DV
(%)
Nutrient
Density
World's Healthiest
Foods Rating
vitamin C 34.38 mg 57.3 27.3 excellent
vitamin A 1121.40 IU 22.4 10.7 excellent
vitamin K 10.80 mcg 13.5 6.4 very good
molybdenum 9.00 mcg 12.0 5.7 very good
potassium 399.60 mg 11.4 5.4 very good
manganese 0.19 mg 9.5 4.5 very good
dietary fiber 1.98 g 7.9 3.8 very good
chromium 9.00 mcg 7.5 3.6 very good
vitamin B1 (thiamin) 0.11 mg 7.3 3.5 very good
vitamin B6 (pyridoxine) 0.14 mg 7.0 3.3 good
folate 27.00 mcg 6.8 3.2 good
copper 0.13 mg 6.5 3.1 good
vitamin B3 (niacin) 1.13 mg 5.6 2.7 good
vitamin B2 (riboflavin) 0.09 mg 5.3 2.5 good
magnesium 19.80 mg 5.0 2.4 good
iron 0.81 mg 4.5 2.1 good
vitamin B5 (pantothenic acid) 0.44 mg 4.4 2.1 good
phosphorus 43.20 mg 4.3 2.1 good
vitamin E 0.68 mg 3.4 1.6 good
tryptophan 0.01 g 3.1 1.5 good
protein 1.53 g 3.1 1.5 good
World's Healthiest
Foods Rating
Rule
excellent DV>=75% OR Density>=7.6 AND DV>=10%
very good DV>=50% OR Density>=3.4 AND DV>=5%
good DV>=25% OR Density>=1.5 AND DV>=2.5%

References

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  • Ishida BK, Chapman MH. A comparison of carotenoid content and total antioxidant activity in catsup from several commercial sources in the United States. J Agric Food Chem. 2004 Dec 29;52(26):8017-20.
  • Lazarus SA, Bowen K, Garg ML. Tomato juice and platelet aggregation in type 2 diabetes. JAMA. 2004 Aug 18;292(7):805-6.
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