Tomatoes. They taste good and can be used in everything from salsa to Bloody Marys. As it turns out, tomatoes are also one of the healthiest fruits or vegetables you can eat. Tomatoes have all the major carotenoids: alpha- and beta-carotene, lutein, and lycopene. They also contain all the high-powered antioxidants: beta-carotene, vitamin E, and vitamin C. Finally, they’re a great source of potassium, which most Americans don’t get enough of. Here’s the top 5 reasons you should add more tomatoes to your diet:
1. Reduce the Risk of Have a Stroke:
As you’ll see throughout this article, lycopene seems to be the main driver of the health benefits of tomatoes. One Finnish study tracked over 1,000 men over 12 years to test the effects of lycopene on stokes. The researchers found that men with the highest levels of lycopene had a 55% reduced risk of having a stroke! Other antioxidants such as alpha carotene, beta carotene, vitamin A, and vitamin E had no such effect. This should be reason alone to eat more tomatoes!
2. Improve Cholesterol Levels:
Another study followed participants for 3 weeks. Half ate a no tomato diet and the other half ate a high-tomato diet (400 ml of tomato juice and 30 mg of ketchup). The high-tomato group reduce LDL cholesterol (bad cholesterol) by 12.9%. A different study found that a high-tomato diet increased HDL cholesterol (good cholesterol) by 15.2%
3. Reduce Heart Disease:
On top of improving cholesterol, tomatoes reduce platelet aggregation, blood pressure, and atherosclerosis (thickening of artery walls). More directly, another study found that lycopene intake reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease. Tomatoes (specifically lycopene) may even be the root of the protective effect of fruits and vegetables on heart disease.
4. Reduce the Risk of Cancer
Studies have found an association between tomato intake and a reduction in the risk of oral, pharyngeal, esophageal, and prostate cancers. While there could be other mechanisms, lycopene is seen as the primary driver.
5. Reduce Inflammation
Inflammation has been found to lead to a number of chronic diseases, including cardiovascular disease and type II diabetes. One study found that tomato juice consumption reduced inflammation markers in overweight and obese females. Another found a similar effect in healthy weight males and females.
What’s the Deal with Lycopene?
Lycopene acts as a powerful antioxidant that eliminates free radicals that can damage DNA and cell structures. As you’ve seen, it appears to have a special protective effect on a number of diseases. It’s also responsible for giving tomatoes their bright red color. While lycopene can be found in other natural foods, tomatoes are the major source it (see below).
So whether you eat whole tomatoes, tomato juice, tomato sauce, tomato soup or ketchup, try adding more tomatoes into your diet. Interestingly, cooking tomatoes has actually been found to be better for you (unlike most foods) than eating them raw. Lycopene, as it turns out, is tightly bound in cell walls. Cooking tomatoes breaks down cell walls, making lycopene more available. Cooking the tomatoes in oil is especially beneficial, because the oil dissolves the lycopene and helps shuttle it into your bloodstream. So, find a recipe and enjoy some tomatoes!