Tomatoes have always been beset by a culinary quandary, an issue of categorization.
As you’ve probably heard many times, despite keeping the company of vegetables in the produce section, tomatoes are technically a fruit.
More surprising than this case of mistaken identity is that tomatoes are one of – if not the – healthiest fruits around.
You probably already have tomatoes in your diet somewhere. As one of the most popular food items in Western cuisine, it’d be more surprising to find someone who doesn’t eat tomatoes at least a few times a week.
Whether it snuck its way into a sauce, soup, or salad, there’s a good chance you’ve had a tomato or two within the last few days.
So whats all the hullabaloo about tomatoes, anyway? What makes them so great? Why are they seemingly everywhere?
The Tomatoes’ Ties To Healthy Living
It’s not uncommon to find that some of our most popular foodstuffs come with benefits to your health.
Every time you come across food facts about a common part of your diet, it’s important to ask if you are really consuming enough of that food – and in the right preparation – to experience any of those benefits.
With tomatoes, this can be a tricky question.
Raw tomatoes are great in a salad, but should actually be consumed sparingly.
This is because tomatoes – a member of the nightshade family – contain compounds known as lectins.
While lectins occur naturally in many plants, they have some nasty side-effects in the human body which have led some experts to label them “anti-nutrients.”
Because of this, it’s generally recommended that you limit your consumption of foods high in lectins to minimize your exposure.
Hang on, though. Don’t go tossing out those tomatoes just yet.
While it’s good to limit your consumption of raw tomatoes, cooked tomatoes are a different story.
Cooking tomatoes not only reduces their lectin content, but it also helps free up beneficial nutrients and phytochemicals to be better absorbed in your body.
Research has also suggested that absorption of beneficial compounds in tomatoes can be increased by adding a healthy source of fat, such as olive oil.
Interestingly, tomatoes seem to be a big exception to rule that cooking foods reduces their potential benefits. It’s just the opposite!
So if you’ve cooked your tomatoes up, just how can they help your health?
1. Tomatoes Are High In An Amazing Compound Called Lycopene
Lycopene is one of those thing few of us are familiar. Despite that, it’s probably hard at work in your body right now.
A phytochemical found in red fruits and vegetables, lycopene has been associated with a ton of health benefits.
Here are just a few of them:
- Essential for healthy bones
- Powerful antioxidant
- Has the potential to reduce risk of stroke
- Shown potential in helping treat lung cancer
- Has a beneficial effect on gut bacteria and increases the effect of probiotics
2. Tomatoes Can Help You Breathe Easier (Literally)
Your lungs are essential for the health of your entire body. Keeping them in good shape has a cascading impact which can benefit your entire body.
In studies of smokers, subjects who consumed diets rich in tomatoes (and apples) showed improvements in lung function compared to those who ate less of these fruits.
Even if you’ve never smoked, researchers have identified tomatoes as a way to reduce the natural aging of the lungs and keep you breathing easy.
3. Tomatoes Are Good For Your Cardiovascular System
Trials of tomato products and extracts have demonstrated an ability to combat inflammation and oxidative stress, while reducing risk of blood clotting and lowering blood pressure.
Many compounds in tomatoes may be beneficial to cardiovascular health, but lycopene in particular has been identified as a key actor.
In a study of middle-aged men, low blood levels of lycopene and beta-carotene were associated with a higher risk of cardiovascular problems.
Other studies have demonstrated that lycopene is effect at lowering “bad” LDL cholesterol levels.
Now that you know a bit more about tomatoes, find your favorite cooked tomato dish and make sure it works its way into your meal plan.
Don’t be afraid of a few raw tomatoes in your salad, but don’t overdo it, either!