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Health Benefits of Tomatoes

Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on September 19, 2020

Tomatoes are a fruit from the nightshade family and are native to South America. Today, people grow tomatoes throughout the world.

Tomatoes have been a part of our diet since at least 500 BC when historians believe people in what is now southern Mexico were cultivating the plant. Over time, tomatoes became popular among Europeans, who brought it to other parts of the world. 

Botanically, tomatoes are a fruit because they contain seeds and the plant produces a ripened flower ovary. However, most recipes that include tomatoes treat them like a savory vegetable. There is even legal support to bolster the claim that tomatoes are vegetables — the US Supreme Court declared the tomato a vegetable in 1893.

You can find tomatoes in various colors, including yellow, green, orange, and purple. You'll also find many shapes and sizes of tomatoes, each with a distinct flavor profile. 

Tomatoes offer many significant health benefits. They are heart-healthy and contain several beneficial nutrients. 

Health Benefits

Tomatoes contain the antioxidant lycopene, which may provide several health benefits, including a reduced risk of heart disease and certain cancers.

Skin Health

The lycopene in tomatoes supports healthy skin by protecting it from some of the harmful effects of sun damage. Vitamin A, also found in tomatoes, promotes skin health, as well.

Cancer Prevention

Lycopene may reduce your risk of developing prostate, colorectal, and stomach cancer. Studies have shown that the antioxidant can slow the growth of cancerous cells.

Bone Health

The calcium and Vitamin K in tomatoes play a role in strengthening and repairing bones, including bone tissue.

Heart Health

Tomatoes contain Vitamin B and potassium, which may reduce cholesterol levels and lower blood pressure.

Eye Health

The Vitamin A in tomatoes supports the eye's structure and may improve night vision for people with vision impairment.

Nutrition

Tomatoes provide many health benefits. They are high in fiber and low in calories, contain no fat, and offer several nutritious vitamins and healthy antioxidants. 

They are also an excellent source of:

Nutrients per Serving

One medium (2.6") tomato contains:

Recommended Servings

The USDA classifies tomatoes in the red-orange group (alongside carrots, squash, and sweet potatoes) and recommends consuming about five to six servings each week of foods in this group.

How to Prepare Tomatoes

Tomatoes are quite versatile. You can enjoy them right off the vine or prepare them for use in an almost endless list of recipes. 

Tomatoes are the primary component of foods like salsa and sauces for pizza and pasta.

To use tomatoes for homemade pasta sauce and other recipes, you can steam them and remove the skin. Some chefs prefer to leave the skin intact, however. 

Because each tomato variety has a distinct flavor profile, it's a good idea to become familiar with various options. This will help you select a tomato type that will mesh well with your recipe. Small grape and cherry tomatoes are sweeter than large beefsteak tomatoes, for example. 

If you find yourself with a surplus of garden tomatoes, you're in luck. You can find tomato recipes for virtually any meal, from breakfast to dessert.

Here are some ways to use tomatoes in recipes:

  • Prepare a healthy vinaigrette by adding vinegar, olive oil, dijon mustard, and fresh herbs
  • Quarter tomatoes and marinate with sliced onion for an easy tomato salad
  • Scoop out the inside of a tomato and stuff it with low-fat cottage cheese or chicken salad
  • Dice and use in fresh salsa or pico de gallo
  • Coat 1/2" tomato slices with breadcrumbs and parmesan cheese and bake at 350 degrees until the tomatoes are soft 
  • Use fresh tomatoes for gazpacho on a hot day
  • Slice and use as a pizza topping
  • Keep cherry or grape tomatoes on hand for a quick snack

Show Sources

SOURCES:

Allrecipes: "Tomato Recipes."

Clinical Interventions in Aging: "Nutrients for the aging eye."

Community Eye Health: What is vitamin A and why do we need it?"

Epicurious: "Do You Really Have to Peel Tomatoes Before Cooking Them?"

ESHA Research, Inc., Salem, Oregon.

European Journal of Clinical Nutrition: "Tomatoes versus lycopene in oxidative stress and carcinogenesis: conclusions from clinical trials."

FDA: "Using the Nutrition Facts Label: For Older Adults."

The Florida Tomato Committee: "10 Reasons Why You Should Be Eating More Tomatoes."

Harvard Health Publishing: "Vegetable of the month: Tomatoes."

Nutrients: "The role of phytonutrients in skin health."

Nutrition: "Vitamin K and Bone Health."

USDA: "Tomato Facts."

World Atlas: "The World's Leading Producers of Tomatoes."

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