The tomato (Solanum lycopersicum) is a fruit of the Solanaceae family, native to South America. Although botanically a fruit, it is generally eaten and prepared as a vegetable.
Tomatoes are the main dietary source of the antioxidant lycopene, which has been linked to numerous health benefits, including reduced risk of heart disease and cancer. They are also an excellent source of vitamin C, potassium, folic acid, and vitamin K. Typically, red tomatoes when ripe can also come in various colors, including yellow, orange, green, and purple. In addition, there are many subspecies of tomatoes with different shapes and flavors.
This article tells you everything you need to know about tomatoes.
tomato nutrition facts
The water content of tomatoes is around 95%. The remaining 5% is made up primarily of carbohydrates and fiber. These are the nutrients contained in a small raw tomato (100 grams):
Protein: 0.9 grams
Carbohydrates: 3.9 grams
Sugar: 2.6 grams
Fiber: 1.2 grams
Lipids: 0.2 grams
Carbohydrates account for 4% of raw tomatoes, or less than 5 grams of carbohydrate for an average specimen (123 grams). Simple sugars, such as glucose and fructose, make up almost 70% of the carbohydrate content.
Tomatoes are a good source of fiber, with about 1.5 grams per medium-sized tomato. Most of the fiber (87%) in tomatoes is insoluble, in the form of hemicellulose, cellulose, and lignin.
Tomato vitamins and minerals.
Tomatoes are a good source of several vitamins and minerals:
Vitamin C. This vitamin is an essential nutrient and an antioxidant. A medium-sized tomato can provide around 28% of the Reference Daily Intake (RDA).
Potassium. An essential mineral, potassium is beneficial in controlling blood pressure and preventing heart disease.
Vitamin K1. Also known as phylloquinone, vitamin K is important for blood clotting and bone health.
Folate (vitamin B9). Folate, one of the B vitamins, is important for normal tissue growth and cell function. It is especially important for pregnant women.
Other plant compounds
The content of vitamins and plant compounds in tomatoes can vary greatly depending on the variety and the sampling period.
The main vegetable compounds of tomato are:
Lycopene. A red pigment and antioxidant, lycopene has been extensively studied for its beneficial health effects.
Beta carotene. An antioxidant that often gives foods a yellow or orange tint, beta-carotene converts to vitamin A in your body.
Naringenin. Found in the skin of tomatoes, this flavonoid has been shown to reduce inflammation and protect against various diseases in mice.
Chlorogenic acid. A powerful antioxidant compound, chlorogenic acid can lower blood pressure in people with high levels.
Chlorophylls and carotenoids like lycopene are responsible for the rich color of tomatoes.
When the ripening process begins, chlorophyll (green) is degraded and carotenoids (red) are synthesized.
Lycopene, the most abundant carotenoid in ripe tomatoes, is particularly notable when it comes to plant compounds in the fruit. It is in the skin where it is found in greater concentration.
In general, the redder the tomato, the more lycopene it contains.
Tomato products such as ketchup, tomato juice, tomato paste, and tomato sauces are the richest dietary sources of lycopene in the Western diet, providing more than 80% of dietary lycopene in the West. Gram for gram, the amount of lycopene in processed tomato products is usually much higher than in fresh tomatoes.
For example, tomato sauce contains 10 to 14 mg of lycopene per 100 grams, while a small fresh tomato (100 grams) contains only 1 to 8 mg.
However, remember that ketchup is usually consumed in very small amounts. Therefore, it may be easier to increase your lycopene intake by eating raw tomatoes, which also contain much less sugar than tomato sauce. Other foods in your diet can have a big effect on lycopene absorption. Consuming this plant compound with a fat source can increase absorption up to fourfold. However, not everyone absorbs lycopene at the same rate. Although processed tomato products are higher in lycopene, it is recommended to consume fresh, whole tomatoes whenever possible.
The health benefits of tomatoes
Eating tomatoes and tomato products has been linked to better skin health and a lower risk of heart disease and cancer.
Heart disease, including heart attacks and strokes, is the most common cause of death worldwide. A study in middle-aged men linked low levels of lycopene and beta-carotene in the blood to an increased risk of heart attack and stroke. Mounting evidence from clinical trials suggests that lycopene supplementation may help lower LDL (bad cholesterol) levels.
Cancer is the uncontrolled growth of abnormal cells that spread beyond their normal limits, often invading other parts of the body. Observational studies have found links between tomatoes and tomato products and a lower incidence of prostate, lung, and stomach cancers. Although the high lycopene content is believed to be responsible, high-quality human research is needed to confirm the cause of these benefits. A study in women shows that high concentrations of carotenoids, which are found in high amounts in tomatoes, may protect against breast cancer.
Tomatoes are considered beneficial for skin health. Tomato-based foods that are high in lycopene and other plant compounds may protect against sunburn. According to one study, people who ate 40 grams of tomato paste, which provides 16 mg of lycopene, with olive oil every day for 10 weeks experienced 40% fewer sunburns.
Commercial maturation process
When tomatoes begin to ripen, they produce a gaseous hormone called ethylene. Commercially grown tomatoes are harvested and shipped while they are still green and unripe. To turn them red before they are sold, food companies spray them with artificial ethylene gas. This process prevents natural flavor development and can result in flavorless tomatoes.
Therefore, locally grown tomatoes may taste better because they are allowed to ripen naturally. If you buy green tomatoes, you can speed up the ripening process by wrapping them in a sheet of newspaper and keeping them on your kitchen counter for a few days. Just be sure to check daily that they are fully ripe.
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