Why Everyone Should Be Eating More Tomatoes

Learn the health benefits of tomatoes

Health Benefits of Tomatoes
Why Everyone Should be Eating More Tomatoes. Dr. Fuhrman

I live in New Jersey, and one of the seasonal foods I look forward to the most each summer is Jersey tomatoes. Not only are they delicious (my state is known to grow some of the tastiest tomatoes), but tomatoes are one of nature’s most perfect foods.

I grow lots of tomatoes each spring and summer, starting the plants indoors in March.  I freeze all the tomatoes we can’t eat each week, and then make lots of homemade tomato sauce with onions, and some garlic and basil in a big pot.

I do not remove the skins and seeds, but just blend them in, and then leave some of the tomatoes only coarsely chopped so the sauce has an uneven texture.  Letting it cook a long time, like 6 to 8 hours on a very low flame to cook out all the extra water, is what gives it that great taste. It keeps for weeks in the fridge because the acid from the tomato is a natural preservative, but I make so much that we usually use half and freeze half for the winter. 

If you can’t grow your own, you can also buy big bushels of organic tomatoes cheaply at local farms, when in season, and make great homemade sauce without oil and salt. Then you can make dressings and dips from this sauce by just mixing in a little vinegar and nut butter. 

Amazing Anti-aging Benefits

Tomatoes are packed with lycopene. Lycopene is a carotenoid, and carotenoids (a family of more than 600 phytochemicals) help protect against the oxidative damage caused by free radicals which contribute to chronic disease and aging.

The  carotenoid levels in your body can be an important indicator of your overall health because, in general, the levels parallel the levels of plant-derived phytochemicals circulating in your body. Phytochemicals are chemical compounds that occur naturally in plants and these non-caloric nutrients are vitally important to your health.

In fact, I believe that carotenoid levels are so important that I track my patients’ levels using a non-invasive skin testing method as they adopt a high-nutrient diet. In a study of more than 13,000 American adults, low blood levels of carotenoids were found to be a predictor of earlier death.  Lower total carotenoids, alpha-carotene and lycopene in the blood, were all linked to increased risk of death from all causes. And of all the carotenoids, very low blood lycopene was the strongest predictor of mortality.

A Superfood

So, now you see why I think the tomato is a superfood. Overall, those with very low levels of carotenoids are at risk of autoimmune disease, headaches, fatigue, and of course, cancer.   As the signature carotenoid of the tomato, lycopene protects against prostate cancer, (lycopene’s protective effects are found concentrated in the male reproductive system), skin cancer  (in the skin, lycopene helps prevent UV sun damage), and cardiovascular disease.

For example, many observational studies have made a connection between higher blood lycopene and lower risk of heart attack.

 A study in men found that low serum lycopene was associated with increased plaque in the carotid artery and triple risk of cardiovascular events compared with higher levels. In a separate study, women were split into four groups according to their blood lycopene levels. Women in the top three quartiles were 50 percent less likely to have cardiovascular disease compared to the lowest quartile.

A 2004 analysis from the Physicians Health Study data found a 39 percent decrease in stroke risk in men with the highest blood levels of lycopene. Data from an ongoing study in Finland has strengthened these findings with similar results.

Vary Your Diet

About 85 percent of the lycopene in the American diet is derived from tomatoes. Lycopene is also more absorbable when tomatoes are cooked—one cup of tomato sauce contains about ten times the lycopene as a cup of raw, chopped tomatoes—so enjoy a variety of both raw and cooked tomatoes in your daily diet. Of course, lycopene is not the only important nutrient in tomatoes. They are also rich in vitamins C and E, beta-carotene, and flavonol antioxidants, in addition to many others.

Antioxidants usually exert their protective effects in concert with each other. It is the interactions between phytochemicals that is responsible for their health effects, something that we cannot replicate in a pill. Out of all the carotenoids, lycopene has the most potent antioxidant power, but combinations of carotenoids are more effective than any single one. They work synergistically. And summer is the perfect time to get many of these vital micronutrients. Carotenoids are abundant in green and yellow-orange vegetables and fruits. So, enjoy those tomatoes as part of a in a varied nutrient-rich, plant-based diet.

Sources:

Gajendragadkar PR, Hubsch A, Maki-Petaja KM, et al. Effects of oral lycopene supplementation on vascular function in patients with cardiovascular disease and healthy volunteers: a randomised controlled trial. PLoS One 2014;9:e99070.

Krinsky NI, Johnson EJ: Carotenoid actions and their relation to health and disease. Mol Aspects Med 2005;26:459-516.

Lycopene. Monograph. Altern Med Rev 2003;8:336-342.

Ried K, Fakler P. Protective effect of lycopene on serum cholesterol and blood pressure: Meta-analyses of intervention trials. Maturitas 2011;68:299-310.

Rizwan M, Rodriguez-Blanco I, Harbottle A, et al: Tomato paste rich in lycopene protects against cutaneous photodamage in humans in vivo. Br J Dermatol 2010.

Shardell MD, Alley DE, Hicks GE, et al: Low-serum carotenoid concentrations and carotenoid interactions predict mortality in US adults: the Third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. Nutr Res 2011;31:178-189.

van Breemen RB, Pajkovic N: Multitargeted therapy of cancer by lycopene. Cancer Lett 2008;269:339-351.

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