Round or elongated, smooth or ribbed, bright red or even chocolate brown, we are talking about tomatoes, loved and known all over the world. The fortune of tomatoes is due to the fact that they are very versatile in the kitchen, they can be eaten raw or cooked, in the form of a sauce or sautéed in a pan. But that's not all, tomatoes are also a precious source of healthy properties, which we will discuss in this article.
Tomatoes provide fiber, protein, monounsaturated fatty acids, but also vitamins, such as C and E, minerals, such as iron and potassium, and folate. In addition to this, tomatoes are a source of antioxidants which include lycopene, beta carotene, quercetin, kaempferol and chlorogenic acid (Ali et al, Foods, 2021).
Tomatoes are good for the heart
To defend themselves from external threats, tomatoes develop particular substances, including salicylic acid. Well, thanks to these characteristics, tomatoes have been shown to protect the heart and reduce cardiovascular risk, acting as vasodilators, helping to keep blood pressure under control. Not only that, tomatoes are able to improve the function of the endothelium, which is the inner lining of blood vessels and the heart, and counteract the formation of thrombi. And the most interesting thing, proven by scientific studies, is that the tomato, while counteracting the pathological aggregation of platelets, preserves their function in the event of damage to the blood vessels, thus guaranteeing the indispensable coagulation when, for example, one is injured (Krasinska et al, Arch Med Sci, 2018).
Tomatoes and UV rays
A diet rich in tomatoes has been shown to protect the skin and reduce the damage of UV rays. The mechanism is not yet fully known but it is believed that the carotenoids contained in tomatoes may be the explanation for this beneficial effect (Cooperstone et al, Sci Rep, 2017).
The recipe for longevity is… tomato sauce
Tomatoes contain a precious antioxidant called lycopene. Lycopene is the pigment that gives the tomato its red color, as it happens for papaya, watermelon, apricots and pink grapefruit, and is characterized by an anti-free radical, cardioprotective and anticancer action, making it particularly useful for counteract cellular degeneration of the stomach, prostate, lungs and breasts (Przybylska et al, Int J Mol Sci, 2022). In fact, lycopene inhibits the proliferation of diseased cells, induces their programmed death and hinders metastasis (Przybylska et al, Int J Mol Sci, 2022). Not only that, lycopene is neuroprotective, useful in combating diseases such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's, and also protects the bones, improving their mineralization and reducing the risk of osteoporosis (Przybylska et al, Int J Mol Sci, 2022). However, as mentioned in the title of the paragraph, adding them to salads is not enough to get your fill of lycopene from tomatoes. In fact, in tomatoes, lycopene is not easily assimilated but it becomes so if the tomato is cooked, even better if in the presence of a fat such as extra virgin olive oil. But this is precisely the recipe for tomato sauce! Therefore, even a plate of spaghetti with tomato sauce can become a precious ally for health. As are tomato puree, tomato concentrate, dried tomatoes in oil and even ketchup, provided it does not contain too many sugars and dyes (Przybylska et al, Int J Mol Sci, 2022). Ah, one more thing, when you prepare the sauce, don't remove the skin from the tomatoes because lycopene is concentrated above all in the peel and in the layers immediately below the peel! (Lovdal et al, Foods, 2019)
Tomato, don't throw away the seeds!
A widespread habit is to remove the seeds of tomatoes. In reality, unless there are intestinal problems, such as diverticula, these precious seeds should not be removed but kept and enjoyed together with the whole tomato. In fact, tomato seeds provide mineral salts such as potassium, magnesium and zinc, vitamin C and a high amount of polyphenols and beta carotene (Kabore et al, Nutrients, 2022). Here the tomato seeds are able to counteract the damage of free radicals and the aging processes, they protect the heart, thanks to an antihypertensive action, the brain, inhibiting the action of some neurotoxic substances and counteracting neurodegeneration such as Parkinson's, but also vision from macular degeneration and cataracts (Kumar et al, Biomedicine and Pharmacotherapy, 2021).
Sun-dried tomatoes in oil, health in a jar
Drying tomatoes is a way to have them available all year round. The tomatoes are then generally preserved in extra virgin oil in a glass jar and can be enjoyed in sauces, on bruschetta or in salads. The drying process decreases the amount of vitamin C but increases the antioxidant action, making beta carotene and lycopene more available (Maiman et al, Foods, 2021). Indeed, studies indicate that it is precisely sun-dried tomatoes that have the most available amount of lycopene compared to canned tomatoes (Kong et al, Molecules, 2010). Then, when you use dried tomatoes, don't throw away the oil but add it without problems to your preparations. In fact, preserved oil is a precious source of antioxidants, especially lycopene, which is passed from tomatoes to oil (Sicari et al, Foods, 2021). When buying dried tomatoes, just make sure they are sun-dried, which should be indicated on the package. In fact, oven-dried tomatoes, which take on a more brownish colour, may have been exposed to excessive temperatures and lycopene degradation (Kong et al, Molecules, 2010).