They’ve been called the “Apple of Love” by the French, the “Apple of Paradise” by the Germans and simply the “Love Apple” by the Italians. Tomato, tamahto, whatever you call it, they are a favorite of many! Americans must love ‘em too since according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the tomato is the nation’s fourth most popular fresh-market “vegetable,” just behind potatoes, lettuce and onions. Statistics also show that in 2014 the U.S. per capita consumption of fresh tomatoes amounted to 17.4 pounds per person. That’s a lotta tomatta!
But tomatoes are more than just delicious. This unassuming star of sauce, salsa and salads is quite the nutritional workhorse. We’ve all heard the maxim “An apple a day keeps the doctor away,” but I think that could also be said of the humble tomato.
The health benefits from a diet rich in tomatoes include lowering the risk of heart disease, diabetes and some cancers, especially cancers of the prostate, lung and stomach. Researchers credit the abundance of antioxidants such as vitamin C and E in tomatoes, which have been shown to help combat the formation of free radicals known to cause some forms of cancer. Tomato consumption can also have positive effects on your skin, blood glucose, regularity, sleep and mood.
Your heart may benefit greatly from the nutritional power of tomatoes. The potassium in these jewels can help dilate blood vessels, which helps keep blood pressure in check. Diets plentiful in potassium have shown to reduce the risk of stroke, protect against muscle loss, preserve bone mineral density and reduce the formation of kidney stones.
Since they are a rich source of lycopene, lutein and beta-carotene, tomatoes can also be a boon to your eyes. These powerful antioxidants have been shown to protect eyes against the light-induced damage associated with the development of cataracts and age-related macular degeneration.
While tomatoes are commonly eaten fresh in salads, on sandwiches, or in sauces and soups, canned tomatoes are also a good choice since they retain most of their nutrients - but be aware of added sodium.
The recipe possibilities are as plentiful as the varieties of the tomatoes themselves.
Get saucy - Making your own tomato sauce is easy, and it’s healthier and less expensive than purchased sauce. Just sauté tomatoes, garlic and onion, add some herbs and spices, and use your favorite canning method to preserve them for use throughout the year.
Flavor boost - A great way to boost the flavor and sweetness of tomatoes is to sear them. Try sautéing or slow roasting them in the oven with a whole head of garlic. Then toss the mixture in a blender with almonds, olive oil, and a splash of balsamic vinegar and you’ve got a lip-smacking Romesco sauce.
Grill ‘em up - Cut a tomato in half, brush the cut side with olive oil and grill them, cut side down, until they become soft and slightly charred. The heat will intensify the tomato flavor and boost its antioxidant power by changing lycopene into a form that’s easier for your body to use.
Toss ‘em in - One of my favorite ways to enjoy tomatoes is to simply add them to a bowl of cooked pasta, along with a little olive oil, fresh basil, feta cheese and a dash of sea salt. Mmm…good.
For all their healthful benefits there are a few cautions to be aware of. Tomatoes could aggravate the pain and discomfort of rheumatoid arthritis, and some people may have allergic reactions to them. Green tomatoes have also been known to trigger migraines in susceptible people.
So, cheers to the tomato and the abundance of healthful and delicious benefits they can provide!