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 should be eating more of.
The tomato has been referred to as a “functional food,” a food that goes beyond providing just basic nutrition. Due to their beneficial phytochemicals such as lycopene, tomatoes also play a role in preventing chronic disease and deliver other health benefits
Despite the popularity of the tomato, only 200 years ago it was thought to be poisonous in the U.S., likely because the plant belongs to the nightshade family, of which some species are truly poisonous.
Possible health benefits of tomatoes
Tomatoes are packed full of beneficial nutrients and antioxidants and are a rich source of vitamins A and C and folic acid.
The benefits of consuming fruits and vegetables of all kinds, including tomatoes, are impressive. As the proportion of plant foods in the diet increases, the risk of heart disease, diabetes, and cancer goes down.
High fruit and vegetable intake is also associated with healthy skin and hair, increased energy and lower weight. Increasing consumption of fruits and vegetables significantly decreases the risk of obesity and overall mortality.
2) Prostate Cancer
Lycopene has been linked with prostate cancer prevention in several studies.7 According to John Erdman, Ph.D., Professor Emeritus of the department of food science and human nutrition at the University of Illinois, “There’s very good, strong, epidemiological support for increased consumption of tomato products and lower incidence of prostate cancer.”7
3) Colorectal Cancer
Beta-carotene consumption has been shown to have an inverse association with the development of colon cancer in the Japanese population. High fiber intakes from fruits and vegetables are associated with a lowered risk of colorectal cancer.
According to the American Cancer Society, some studies have shown that people who have diets rich in tomatoes may have a lower risk of certain types of cancer, especially cancers of the prostate, lung, and stomach. Further human-based research is needed to find out what role lycopene might play in the prevention or treatment of cancer.
4) Blood pressure
Maintaining a low sodium intake helps to keep blood pressure healthy; however, increasing potassium intake may be just as important because of its vasodilation effects. According to the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, fewer than 2 percent of U.S. adults meet the daily 4700 mg recommendation.3
Also of note, a high potassium intake is associated with a 20 percent decreased risk of dying from all causes.3
5) Heart health
The fiber, potassium, vitamin C and choline content in tomatoes all support heart health. An increase in potassium intake along with a decrease in sodium intake is the most important dietary change that the average person can make to reduce their risk of cardiovascular disease, according to Mark Houston, M.D., M.S., an associate clinical professor of medicine at Vanderbilt Medical School and director of the Hypertension Institute at St. Thomas Hospital in Tennessee.3 Tomatoes also contain folic acid, which helps to keep homocysteine levels in check, thereby reducing a risk factor for heart disease.
In one study, those who consumed 4069 mg of potassium per day had a 49 percent lower risk of death from ischemic heart disease compared with those who consumed less potassium (about 1000 mg per day).3
High potassium intakes are also associated with a reduced risk of stroke, protection against loss of muscle mass, preservation of bone mineral density and reduction in the formation of kidney stones.3
Studies have shown that people with type 1 diabetes who consume high-fiber diets have lower blood glucose levels, while people with type 2 diabetes may have improved blood sugar, lipids and insulin levels. One cup of cherry tomatoes provides about 2 grams of fiber.
The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends 21-25 g of fiber per day for women and 30-38 g/day for men.
Eating foods that are high in water content and fiber like tomatoes can help with hydration and promote regular bowel movements. Fiber adds bulk to stool and is essential for minimizing constipation.
8) Eye health
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). The Age-Related Eye Disease Study (AREDS) recently found that people with high dietary intake of lutein and zeaxanthin (both carotenoids found in tomatoes) had a 35 percent reduction in the risk of neovascular AMD.8
The synthesis of collagen, an essential component of the skin, hair, nails and connective tissue, is reliant on vitamin C. A deficiency of vitamin C leads to scurvy. As vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant, a low intake is associated with increased damage from sunlight, pollution and smoke, leading to wrinkles, sagging skin, blemishes and other adverse health effects.5
Adequate folic acid intake is essential before and during pregnancy to protect against neural tube defects in infants.
The folic acid in tomatoes may help with depression by preventing an excess of homocysteine from forming in the body, which can prevent blood and other nutrients from reaching the brain. Excess homocysteine interferes with the production of the feel-good hormones serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine, which regulate mood, sleep and appetite.