Do you have lukewarm feelings on tomatoes? If you are not a fan of the vegetable, though argued a fruit, then you may just change your mind after reading this.
Pronounce it as you will, the tomato has many health benefits: Cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and even constipation—tomatoes can help! Breaking down the tomato: Vitamins C, K, B9, and potassium
Tomatoes are great sources of Vitamin C, providing approximately 28% of the daily recommended amount. Vitamin K aids in clotting blood and keeping our bones healthy. Vitamin B9, also known as folate, is important for normal tissue growth and cell function. Last but not least, potassium helps regulate blood pressure and prevents cardiovascular disease, which leads us to why these facts matter (healthline). Everything points to the heart!
High intake of potassium means low sodium. Low sodium means lowered blood pressure. And that combination means a 20% reduced mortality risk from a range of causes, including cardiovascular disease (medicalnewstoday). Folate/Vitamin B9 balances homocysteine levels. Homocysteine is an amino acid that results from the breakdown of protein (medicalnewstoday). High levels of this amino acid can cause blood clots and atherosclerosis, and some believe it is linked to a higher chance of… you guessed it, heart disease.
Lycopene, beta-carotene, chlorogenic acid, and naringenin
- Though not thought of as a vital nutrient, research has shown that lycopene, which will take center stage later on, can protect against atherosclerosis (which we learned about two articles ago http://www.makersnutrition.com/news/2017-10-12-the-power-of-potassium-the-mineral-that-can-save-your-life/), heart disease, and certain cancers. It is possibly one of the most powerful carotenoids “against singlet oxygen, a highly reactive oxygen molecule and a primary cause of premature skin aging” (drweil). When cells are under attack, whatever the toxin may be, this nutrient maintains their well-being. Additionally, lycopene is a polyphenol/plant compound that has been connected to treatment for prostate cancer (medicalnewstoday).
- Beta-carotene, the pigment that gives tomatoes their red color, was found to prevent tumor growth in prostate cancer, according to a study in Molecular Cancer Research journal. Another study showed that beta-carotene may also reduce one’s chance of developing colon cancer (medicalnewstoday). A study focused on women who ingested high amounts of carotenoids (found in tomatoes) may be the reason for a decreased development of breast cancer. Finally, though it is probable that more findings will be unveiled, tomatoes/tomato products interrelate with fewer cases of prostate, stomach, and lung cancer (healthline).
- Chlorogenic acid, another strong antioxidant, can lower blood pressure.
- Flavonoid naringenin, which is found in the skin of the tomato, decreases inflammation and can prevent various diseases in mice, while studies have yet to be done to find naringenin’s preventative means in humans (healthline).
- 1. Diabetes: Studies have shown that high-fibrous diets in people with type 1 diabetes make for lower blood glucose levels. People with type 2 diabetes who maintain a high-fibrous diet have the potential to lower their sugars, insulin, and lipid levels. Whether you have diabetes or not, upping your daily fiber intake (one cup of cherry tomatoes = 2 grams of fiber) will help balance your levels (medicalnewstoday).
- 2. Skin: We see a domino effect in people with low levels of Vitamin C, of which tomatoes contain a considerable amount. Collagen depends on Vitamin C, and when there is not enough Vitamin C in the body, we can endure conditions such as scurvy. Low Vitamin C also means a higher vulnerability to skin damage and other negative effects—wrinkles, blemishes, and sagging skin, to name a few (medicalnewstoday).
- 3. Constipation: Yes, even constipation is on the list of health benefits tomatoes have to offer. Remember what we learned about tomatoes’ fiber content and blood sugar? Well, that same fiber can help to get things moving, quite literally. Often described as a laxative food, tomatoes’ high content of water and fiber has the power to help hydrate us and promote regular bowel movements, though more research must be done for any definitive evidence of tomatoes as a laxative agent (medicalnewstoday).
- 4. Lycopene, in addition to beta-carotene, is a powerful antioxidant that protects the eyes against light-induced damage, and thus cataracts and/or macular degeneration (medicalnewstoday).
And now for the main event: Lycopene
Lycopene is a hidden gem amid the antioxidants to which we should feel urged to pay heed. Most of the time, tomato-based processed foods such as pastes, purees, and sauces, are interestingly richer in lycopene than fresh tomatoes, containing up to 75 mg of lycopene per cup (health). Specifically, “ketchup, for example, contains 10-14 mg/100 g, while fresh tomatoes contain 1-8 mg/ 100 g of lycopene” (healthline). This does not mean that we should eat more processed foods, though! Fresh tomatoes are our friends! Director of the Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine at the University of Arizona, Dr. Weil, suggests, both teens and adults should consume 15,000 IU (9 mg) of supplemental mixed carotenoids per day. When taking them, look for a formula with lycopene. Children (ages 6-12) should get around 5,000 IU (3 mg) of mixed carotenoids a day via their daily multivitamin (drweil). One study (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22965217) that looked at middle-aged men showed low blood levels of lycopene and beta-carotene are connected to an increased chance of heart attacks and strokes. More and more evidence is also demonstrating that lycopene supplementation is effective at lowering LDL cholesterol (the “bad” kind) (healthline).
Tomatoes are the best-known source of this nutrient. So why aren’t tomatoes on the top of our list of things to eat?!
Though people in America typically eat up to 85% of their lycopene intake, some people are allergic to tomatoes. In this case, watermelon is another food that contains lycopene. Supplemental tablets are always on the table as well. But of course, contact a doctor before taking any supplements (drweil).
Dr. Weil also advises against all-raw-food diets because unlike some nutrients that lose their worth when heated, lycopene’s bioavailability increases when it is cooked. As discussed in the Medical News Today article, which was reviewed by Karen Richardson Gill, MD, FAAP, “the cooking of tomatoes appears to increase the availability of key nutrients, such as the carotenoids lycopene, lutein, and zeaxanthin. Stewed tomatoes provide more lutein and zeaxanthin than sun-dried tomatoes and raw cherry tomatoes” (medicalnewstoday). We can’t go too wrong with tomatoes!
How do we know if we are lycopene-deficient?
Though signs are difficult to spot, deficiencies in lycopene can eventually lead to chronic diseases, including, of course, heart disease, and different types of cancer. Yet, there are so many other factors that play into the cause of such illnesses, so a lycopene deficiency’s effects are less conspicuous.
As of now, there are no known risks of taking high amounts of lycopene, though excessive amounts have been associated with a temporary hue of orange skin discoloration called lycopenodermia. This condition is not dangerous and will go away with a reduced intake of lycopene (drweil).
Lastly, as suggested by Dr. Weil, “lycopene is fat-soluble, so a multivitamin containing lycopene is best taken with food that contains fat” (drweil).
Love them or hate them, tomatoes are one of the best gifts we can give our bodies. With their many vitamins, minerals, and undercover powers, tomatoes have put the trailblazing antioxidant lycopene on the map.