Home-grown or store bought, tomatoes are now in season and the selection abounds! Small or large (Cherry vs. Beefsteak variety), there’s a size and shape for everyone. Hundreds of different tomato varieties exist, and even colors can range from dark red to bright orange, or even purple when fully ripe.
You might think tomatoes originate from Italy, however they are native to the western side of South America where Spanish explorers brought tomato seeds from Mexico back to Spain during the 1500’s and introduced this food to European countries.
In addition to the carotenoids, tomatoes are an excellent source vitamin C, biotin, molybdenum, and vitamin K. They are also a very good source of choline, copper, potassium, manganese, dietary fiber, vitamin B6, folate, niacin, vitamin E, and phosphorus.
Tomatoes are a rich source of lycopene, lutein, and beta-carotene, powerful antioxidants that have been shown to protect the eyes against light-induced damage associated with the development of cataracts and age-related macular degeneration (AMD).
Tip: Cooking tomatoes increases the availability of the caroteinoids, lycopene, lutein, and zeaxanthin.
High intake of tomatoes has long been linked to lowered risk for cancer, especially prostate cancer, and colorectal cancer, probably due to beta-carotenes’ protective role. The fiber, potassium, vitamin C, and choline content in tomatoes all support heart health. Choline is an important nutrient found in tomatoes that helps with sleep, muscle movement, learning, and memory.
How to Enjoy
A classic in any salad, tomatoes add color, taste, and texture.
Chop together with onions and chili peppers for an easy-to-make salsa dip.
Add tomato slices for a colorful sandwich.
Add canned diced or stewed tomatoes, or slightly over ripe tomatoes to soups.
As pasta sauce with your favorite pasta.
As pizza sauce with veggie toppings.
Still not convinced? Ketchup can be a surprisingly good source of tomato nutrients, including lycopene. Look for low sugar and low sodium varieties. Whether you refer to a tomato as a fruit or a vegetable, there is no doubt that a tomato is a nutrient-dense, super-food that most people can easily enjoy.
Submitted by Leslie K. Kay-Getzinger, MS, RD
Regional Dietitian for Nutrition Management Services