Tomatoes: Nature's Nutritional Marvels
Tomatoes: Nature's Nutritional Marvels
Delve into tomatoes' hidden nutrients and discover their remarkable impact on overall health.
For all intents and purposes, tomatoes are known, used and relished as a vegetable. But botanists know them as berries. However you classify them, they are a genuine, undeniable superfood. Hiding in plain sight, these juice balloons' real nutrient powerhouse status flies under the radar. It’s almost certain that 99 per cent of people who eat them do so just because they are delicious and versatile, mostly blind to just how healthy they actually are. If we had any idea, we’d likely eat twice as many!
Available in some 10,000 varieties and almost as many shapes, colours and sizes, these mostly bright red flavour bombs are so heavily associated with the famous cuisine of Italy that one could be forgiven for thinking they originated there. The tip-top of the Neapolitan pyramid may be occupied more specifically by the legendary DOP San Marzano tomatoes grown in the volcanic soil surrounding Mount Vesuvius, shipped worldwide to the finest Italian restaurants overseas that would settle for nothing less.
However, those in the know are hip to the fact that tomatoes were not originally native to Europe’s boot, instead stemming from South and Central America before Spanish colonial galleons brought them back to the old world in the 16th century. Even then, they were feared poisonous by Europeans and used predominantly as ornaments for decades (or even centuries in some countries) before gaining trust and, subsequently, the immense culinary adoration we take for granted today.
Cooked Tomatoes: Healthier Than Raw?
Yes! We have known for decades now that even though cooking any vegetable reduces its vitamin C content, the antioxidant activity of tomatoes actually increases after heat exposure.
Fascinatingly, a giant 2018 meta-analysis found that consumption of cooked tomatoes and tomato sauces was associated with a significant reduction in prostate cancer risk- but no such association was observed with consumption of raw tomatoes.
The explanation for the discrepancy is that the cooking process breaks apart the vegetal cell walls liberating various carotenoids (including the prostate-loving lycopene) and making them more freely available for absorption in the body. This is a beautiful example of modern science confirming the wisdom of ancient culinary traditions. So cook your tomatoes!
Conventional, Organic & Canned
Conventional tomatoes are sometimes covered with wax to extend supermarket shelf-life. If they have been imported, they were likely picked green to survive transportation and artificially ripened on arrival with ethylene gas.
Canned imported tomatoes may be a bit of a double-edged sword- while the flavours of delicious Italian tomatoes may surpass anything available locally, the high acidity of tomatoes can leach lead from cheaper cans. So if heavy metals are a concern, fresh local organic tomatoes are the safest bet. Meanwhile, since canned tomatoes are pre-cooked, you will still benefit from the lycopene explosion of thermal processing, even though you didn’t cook them yourself.
Tomatoes are also commonly genetically modified, which may be another good reason to prefer organic versions, whether fresh or canned.
You say tomato, I also say tomato
If you love how they taste in sauces, pastes, salads, or stews, and you love how they make you feel, then take heart in knowing that tomatoes benefit you in hundreds of different ways. Anything but simple, the manifold chemistry of the noble tomato is vastly comprehensive, featuring a staggering array of vitamins, minerals, fats, amino acids, fibres, and micronutrients like lycopene, all working together in a health-promoting symphony.
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