Tomatoes (Solanum lycopersicum) are a food that can (literally) be eaten with every meal. If you’re not allergic, you need to get this ingredient into your eating plan right away and experience the benefits of lycopene.
Approximately 130 trillion tons of tomatoes are consumed globally every year. Native to Central and South America (they didn’t get to Italy until the 1500s), tomatoes were originally cultivated by ancient civilizations such as the Aztecs. Today, China produces more tomatoes than any other country with the United States in second place.
Tomatoes are a vine vegetable that’s part of the nightshade family. [Yes, tomatoes are scientifically identified as fruits but you’re not adding them to your salad of watermelon, pineapple, and berries nor will you be using it to top your breakfast yogurt. It’s a veggie.]The most valuable substance in tomatoes is lycopene. #EatMoreTomatoesClick To Tweet
The most valuable substance in tomatoes is lycopene. They have more of this compound than any other food. There are other great nutrients like vitamins A, Bs, C, E, and K, fiber, folate, beta-carotene, choline, zinc, potassium, and even a bit of protein but it’s the lycopene benefits that steal the show.
Lycopene is a phytonutrient – specifically a carotenoid. Phytonutrients are basically plant antioxidants that the human body doesn’t produce. Plants use antioxidants the same way humans do. To protect them from UV exposure, bugs, mold, and toxins. When you eat phytonutrients, those protections are absorbed by your body and work in the same way.
There are hundreds of tomato varieties. Different sizes, colors, shapes, textures, and flavors. The entire tomato is edible – flesh, seeds, and skin. They can be eaten raw, cooked, or even processed and canned. It was once believed that only red tomatoes offered the benefits of lycopene but researchers have confirmed that all types of tomatoes have this important nutrient.
In the U.S., people get 80% their lycopene from salsa, pizza sauce, and ketchup.
Despite this, I strongly suggest locally grown fresh tomatoes if you can get them. The texture and flavor are phenomenal in comparison to the fast-ripened varieties in big grocery stores.
Lycopene is a fat-soluble nutrient. If you consume healthy fat with tomatoes, your body absorbs more (as much as quadruple) of the lycopene benefits.
Great combinations to use are fresh diced tomatoes, drizzled olive oil, and diced avocado. Sprinkle with a bit of sea salt and basil and you have a salad that fills you up and gives you plenty of energy to face your afternoon lulls.
The Science of Tomatoes
Scientists have been studying tomatoes for decades because they’re hearty, inexpensive, and easily digestible. Lycopene has been linked to lower risk of cancer, loss of bone density, diabetes, neuropathic (nerve) pain, dementia, vision loss, and depression.The benefits of lycopene for your heart shouldn’t be ignored. #EatMoreTomatoesClick To Tweet
The benefits of lycopene for your heart shouldn’t be ignored. If you have any form of heart disease or a risk of developing it in the future (which is just about all of us), it’s time to include more tomatoes in your diet.
Tomatoes have several critical heart health nutrients! Potassium, folate, vitamin C, fiber, and lycopene are considered excellent options to prevent or manage many forms of cardiovascular disease (CVD).
The nutrition found in tomatoes is a natural and effective way to control the most common conditions related to CVD. Managing blood pressure (hypertension), lowering homocysteine levels (linked to higher risk of death during a heart event), and preventing hardening of the arteries (atherosclerosis) protect your heart from the inside out.
Tomatoes are your best source of lycopene benefits but you can also get this valuable nutrient from watermelon, grapefruit, asparagus, mango, and carrots.
Words of Caution
For those who have experienced kidney stones, tomato seeds may be an item you were cautioned to avoid in future. Remove the seeds by halving the tomato and using a spoon to scoop out the center. The flesh and skin are perfectly fine.
If you have allergies to latex or grass pollen, you may also have issues with tomatoes. If you’re new to eating tomatoes, try a small amount to be sure your body doesn’t have a problem. The good news is that tomato allergies are rare.
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