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Gardening: Tomato nutrition

Tomatoes are important in the American diet. Tomatoes are healthy, tasty and versatile. They appear in sauces, salads, juices, and soups. Actually tomatoes are a nutrient-dense superfood that offers benefit to a range of bodily systems and supports healthful skin, weight loss, and heart health. Cooking makes the tomatoes’ healthy compounds easier to absorb (think spaghetti sauce, tomato soup, etc.). However, you still get a lot of good nutrition from eating raw tomatoes.

But Americans didn’t always take advantage of tomatoes’ goodness. Tomatoes were used as a decorative plant until the late 1800s. People thought tomatoes were poisonous, probably because they belong to the nightshade family. (Tomatoes do, in fact, contain alkaloids that can cause adverse reactions in some people.)

Here are a few tomato nutrition facts:

• Tomatoes have many basic necessary nutrients. One medium sized-tomato provides over a third of the recommended daily allowance of vitamin C, and nearly a third of the recommended daily allowance of vitamin A. Tomatoes are also a great source of fiber, carbohydrate, potassium and iron.

• Tomatoes have low amounts of potentially unhealthy nutrients. Tomatoes are low in fat and sodium.

• Tomatoes are diet-friendly: A tomato is more than 90 % water and is very low in sodium. It’s a diuretic that helps eliminate toxins while you’re on a diet.

• Tomatoes have high amounts of special nutrients. Tomatoes are an outstanding source of the antioxidant lycopene, which has been shown to lower the risk of cardiovascular disease. Lycopene, a flavonoid antioxidant, is a unique phytochemical compound found in the tomatoes. Red variety fruits tend to possess more of this antioxidant. Together with carotenoids, lycopene may help protect cells in the human body from harmful oxygen-free radicals. Studies show that lycopene protects the skin from ultra-violet (UV) rays and thus offers some defense against skin cancer.

• Tomatoes are nutrient-rich: A tomato’s vitamin C content increases as the fruit ripens. Vine-ripened tomatoes contain nearly twice the vitamin C and beta-carotene as their green-picked counterparts.

• Tomatoes help lower cholesterol: Since a tomato has 0 grams of cholesterol, it doesn’t add cholesterol to the diet. Plus, a cup of fresh tomato provides 9% of the DV for fiber, which has been shown to lower high cholesterol levels. Tomatoes are also a good source of niacin (vitamin B3), which has been used for years as a safe way to lower high cholesterol levels.

• Tomatoes reduce the risk of heart disease: Tomatoes are a very good source of potassium. Diets rich in potassium have been shown to lower high blood pressure and reduce the risk of heart disease.

• Tomatoes help lower blood pressure: In clinical research conducted at Ben Gurion University (Beersheva, Israel), tomatoes were linked with a significant drop in blood pressure. After 8 weeks, ongoing tracking of daily eating tomato showed a drop in both the blood pressure top number (systolic) by 10 points and the bottom number (diastolic) by 4 points.

• Tomatoes provide antioxidant protection from cell damage: Nutrition experts agree: tomatoes are an outstanding source of the antioxidant lycopene. Antioxidants travel through the body, neutralizing dangerous free radicals that could otherwise damage cells and cell membranes. Free radicals escalate the progression or severity of atherosclerosis, diabetic complications, asthma, and colon cancer. High intakes of lycopene have been shown to help reduce the risk or severity of all of these illnesses.

• Tomatoes are anti-inflammatory: The overproduction of free radicals within cells boosts inflammatory compounds. These compounds promote virtually all chronic degenerative diseases, including atherosclerosis, cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis, and Alzheimer’s disease along with various cancers. High amounts of antioxidants lycopene and beta-carotene in tomatoes neutralize free radicals and help reduce inflammation.

• Tomatoes help regulate blood sugar: Tomatoes are a good source of chromium, which has been shown to help diabetic patients keep their blood sugar levels under control.

• Tomatoes help reduce migraines: Tomatoes are a good source of riboflavin, which has been shown to be helpful for reducing the frequency of migraine attacks.

• Tomatoes boost immunity: Tomatoes have been credited by experts with helping to avoid flu and colds, especially for males. According to research, these common illnesses are widely believed to be rooted in carotenoid deficiencies, including low amounts of lycopene and beta carotene in a patient’s system. Drinking tomato juices assists in building defenses against colds and flu.

• Tomatoes strengthen bones: A serving of tomatoes provide 18% the daily value for vitamin K, which promotes bone health. Vitamin K activates osteocalcin, the major non-collagen protein in bone. Osteocalcin mineralizes calcium molecules inside of the bone. In other words, vitamin K in tomatoes helps osteocalcin do its work to harden calcium and make bones strong.

• Tomatoes benefit eyesight: Vitamin A is essential to maintaining the health of the retina. Its deficiency contributes to the development of night blindness. A one cup serving of fresh tomatoes provides 30% DV of vitamin A, a high concentration which prevents necessary shortage and promotes eye health.

Note: The content of vitamins and plant compounds can vary greatly between different tomato varieties. For all you tomato lovers, eat a variety of raw and cooked tomatoes.

Serving Size: 1 cup fresh, chopped tomato (approximately 1/3 pound or 1 average size tomato) is equal to: 8-10 cherry tomatoes, 2-3 small tomatoes, 1/8 cup tomato paste, ½ cup tomato juice.

Resource: University of Minnesota which quotes the following: Medical News Today, Healthline, USDA, Ben Gurion University, Journal of the National Cancer Institute

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