You say tomato, I say amazing.
This delicious and sweet fruit (that most people treat like a veggie) is one of the most versatile staples found in cuisines all across the world.
And I have to admit: I never really appreciated tomatoes until I started traveling.
My first eye-opening tomato experience happened in the mecca of tomatoes, which most people just refer to as the beautiful country of Italy. I swear the tomatoes there are unlike anything you’ve ever had; they’re literally bursting with flavor.
So I got my hands on every tomato I could find when I returned back home. I was reborn as a tomato fanatic.
From the strange looking, but mega tasty heirloom tomatoes to the poppable cherry tomatoes that make perfect snacks, this super nutrient-dense red fruit should definitely be on your radar.
So here’s 11 reasons why you should be eating tomatoes every day.
1. Lycopene: Strongest Antioxidant Ever?
If you ask someone to describe the health benefits of tomato, a discussion about lycopene is likely to follow.
“In Western countries, 85 percent of dietary lycopene can be attributed to the consumption of tomato-based products”.
Lycopene’s a carotenoid with antioxidant properties that’s responsible for making tomatoes their signature red color. It’s believed to have the strongest antioxidant activity of all the carotenoids.
The deeper the color of your tomato, the higher the lycopene concentration.
Lycopene “may protect our immune cells from destructive free radicals, molecules that can harm cells and damage DNA”, so we keep our defenses strong.
Besides fighting free radicals, lycopene has been linked to:
- Lower cholesterol
- Improved immune function
- Fewer blood clots
- Preventing artery hardening
- Decreased risks of stroke
Now in order to enjoy the benefits of lycopene, you actually have to cook tomatoes or opt for processed versions of tomato such as tomato juice, sauce, and paste.
Normally I’m the king of choosing whole, unprocessed foods, but cooking breaks down the tomato cell walls so our bodies can use all the goodness inside them.
According to research, “cooking tomatoes for two minutes, a quarter-hour, and a half-hour boosts the lycopene levels in tomatoes by 6, 17, and 35 percent, respectively”.
One slice of raw tomato contains around 515 micrograms of lycopene. But two tablespoons of tomato paste contains 13,800 micrograms of lycopene. Big difference!
Just make sure you’re watching the crazy amounts of sugar in ketchups and pre-made pasta sauces. According to Prevention, some sauce “has 12 grams of sugar for every half cup”, which is equivalent to three sugar packets.
2. Are You Getting Enough Carotenoids?
“Carotenoids are the phytochemicals that make plants colorful…and shield plants from sun-induced free radical damage”.
When you think about it, plants spend their entire growing lives in the sun, so carotenoids and antioxidants have to be strong protectors.
There are four major carotenoids:
Each of these carotenoids helps our body stay healthy. But when they work together, or in synergy, they maximize their attributes for an unbeatable nutritional punch.
Don’t peel that tomato skin!
The results from one study showed that tomato paste enriched with tomato peels was absorbed more by our intestinal cells than tomato paste without tomato peels.
As if that’s not major enough, when you combine tomatoes with a healthy fat such as olive oil or avocados, our bodies actually absorb the carotenoids between 2 and 15 times more than eating the tomatoes without the fat.
3. Prevent Cancer
The lycopene in tomatoes has also been credited with preventing certain types of cancer.
Researchers from one study noticed that people who enjoyed diets rich in tomato-based products and maintained steady amounts of lycopene, developed pancreatic cancer 31% less than those who had both high and low carotenoid intakes.
John Erdman, Ph.D., Professor Emeritus of the department of food science and human nutrition at the University of Illinois, says:
“There’s very good, strong, epidemiological support for increased consumption of tomato products and lower incidence of prostate cancer” as well.
When you combine the lycopene from tomatoes with the beta-carotene found in broccoli, you may in fact reduce your risks of prostate cancer.
According to one study, prostate tumors grew slower in rats eating tomato and broccoli powder than those eating either powder separately. Plus, eating both tomato and broccoli had stronger effects on tumor delay than eating lycopene alone.
So both lycopene and beta-carotene, which you find simultaneously in tomatoes, have proven cancer-fighting effects.
Another study conducted by the Harvard School of Public Health’s Department of Nutrition, discovered that when younger men consumed beta-carotene-rich diets they were protected from prostate cancer.
4. Fight Inflammation
Need another reason to eat your tomato skins?
Besides thanking the lycopene in tomatoes for its anti-inflammatory benefits, there are two other inflammation-fighting all stars to take note of.
Quercetin and kaempferol, two main compounds found in flavonoids, which are like super antioxidants, are mega concentrated in tomato skins. These two flavonoids have been studied for their ability to counteract inflammation.
Additionally, a double blind study demonstrated that “drinking a glass of tomato juice a day can reduce blood levels of TNF-alpha by 34 percent”.
TNF-alpha causes inflammation in our body due to chronic, degenerative diseases such as heart disease, major depression, osteoporosis, inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), and Alzheimer’s, just to name a few.
When you reduce inflammation, you can make your hormones such as leptin work more efficiently. Leptin aids in weight loss, controls your appetite, and stimulates your metabolism.
5. Improve Your Eye Health
“Vitamin A…helps the surface of the eye, mucous membranes, and skin be effective barriers to bacteria and viruses, reducing the risk of eye infections, respiratory problems, and other infectious diseases”.
Having low levels of vitamin A means your eyes have a hard time detecting light and sending visual information to your brain. This may ultimately lead to blindness.
We’re supposed to get between 700 mcg and 900 mcg of vitamin A every day, depending on gender. Just one cup of cut tomatoes will give you 1,499 IU of vitamin A, or roughly 50% of your DV for men and 64% for women.
But vitamin A’s not the only player in the eye health game.
Lycopene, lutein, and zeaxanthin have also been shown to prevent macular degeneration – and you can find them all in tomatoes.
“Lutein and zeaxanthin are the only carotenoids found in the retina and lens of the eye”. They filter light and remove harmful rays that may damage your eye tissue. They also ward off eye related diseases.
Since our body doesn’t create lutein and zeaxanthin, we should consume 12 mg of lutein and zeaxanthin per day from our diets. Good news: one cup of tomatoes will offer up 221 mg!
6. Get More Potassium
You may only reach for a banana when you’re low in potassium, but guess what?
“One large tomato contains 431 milligrams of potassium, which is almost 10 percent of your daily requirement”.
The researchers from one study say that when 5,000 men consumed more than 4,000 mg of potassium per day, they were only half as likely to develop kidney stones as those who got less than 2,895 mg/day.
Potassium is also important for us because it decreases our risks of strokes, keeps our blood pressure stable, prevents cardiovascular disease, and aids in the relaxation of our muscles.
Mark Houston, M.D., M.S., and director of the Hypertension Institute at St. Thomas Hospital in Tennessee says that:
“An increase in potassium intake along with a decrease in sodium intake is the most important dietary change that a person can make to reduce their risk of cardiovascular disease”.
Consider the information obtained from this study:
When participants consumed 4,069 mg of potassium per day, their chances of dying from heart disease were 49% lower than those consuming around 100 mg per day.
But it’s not just potassium in tomatoes that’s heart healthy…
7. Prevent Heart Disease
You’ll find an abundance of recipes using tomatoes when you start following a Mediterranean diet. And there may be good reason for this (other than being insanely delicious!).
Studies have found that those who follow a Mediterranean diet have lower risks of dying from heart disease because consuming olive oil and tomato-based products has heart healthy perks.
Tomatoes are a rich source of lycopene, beta-carotene, folate, potassium, vitamin C, flavonoids, and vitamin E that may “protect lipoproteins and vascular cells from oxidation”, which is what causes plaque to build up in your arteries.
Two studies, one conducted on healthy participants and one studying type 2 diabetics, showed that consuming tomatoes and tomato products decreased levels of LDL, or ‘bad’ cholesterol, and reduced blood pressure levels.
8. Enjoy Better Skin
Collagen, the connective tissue in our skin that helps with firmness, suppleness, and constant renewal, is vital for skin elasticity. This is what keeps you looking like you drink from the fountain of youth.
But collagen depends on vitamin C to help it out.
Vitamin C protects our skin from harmful UV rays, sun damage, pollutants, and cell-damaging free radicals. It even helps collagen smooth out wrinkles by improving our skin’s overall texture.
When researchers studied middle-aged women who consumed more vitamin C from food sources, they noticed fewer wrinkles and less dryness in their skin.
These annoying byproducts of getting older led some experts to suggest that “vitamin C might delay the signs of aging due to free radical damage”.
If free radicals harm the health of our skin, and vitamin C protects our skin, is it possible to load up on vitamin C and never see another free radical-causing wrinkle ever again?
I’m crossing my fingers on this one.
To up your vitamin C game, one cup of tomato juice has around 45 mg of vitamin C, or about 74% of your DV.
9. Fight Depression
Folic acid isn’t just for boosting your chances of fertility. This B vitamin also fights fatigue.
On the flip side: “folate deficiency or malabsorption…can increase the risk of developing major depressive disorder, as well as make it more difficult to treat”.
So not only are you more prone to dark pits of depression, but now it will be harder for you to get out of that despair (as if it isn’t hard enough).
I’d say increasing your folate is a definite must-do.
Scientists note that when people have higher folic acid concentrations in their food they have “very low lifetime rates of major depression”.
Folic acid wears many hats in our body, and one of them happens to be curbing homocysteine so it doesn’t get out of control.
When we have an excess of homocysteine, it can prevent nutrient-rich blood from getting to our brains and interfere with feel-good hormones serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine.
This throws our whole mood out of whack and even affects our sleep and appetite.
10. Stabilize Blood Sugar Levels
Alpha-lipoic acid is an antioxidant that helps turn glucose into energy. This antioxidant attacks free radicals and “may help regenerate” other antioxidants to do the same.
Unlike other antioxidants, we actually make alpha-lipoic acid, but we need a little boost from our diet to make it shine.
11. Boost Your Immunity
We all know that vitamin C helps our immune systems stay in tip-top health. But since our bodies don’t store vitamin C, it’s critical that we get enough of it from our diets every day.
As we discussed, tomato juice is an excellent source of vitamin C.
According to one study, when 10 participants ate a tomato-rich diet for three weeks, their “infection-fighting white blood cells sustained 38 percent less damage from free radicals…than when they ate no tomato products”.
Scientists credit these results not only to vitamin C, but to the amazing antioxidant lycopene. When lycopene helps our cells fight back against the destructive forces of free radicals, our immune systems get a nice boost.
So there you go, 11 reasons why you can never go wrong with adding tomatoes to your diet.
The question is, are you going to eat tomatoes every day? I’m hoping your answer is yes!
Or keep some grilled tomato gazpacho on hand for healthy lunches and road trips.
Don’t forget about my avocado, tomato, cucumber, and white bean salad; it will be the most nutritious and delicious dish at your next potluck, which you’ll need when your friend plops down that huge pot of gooey mac and cheese right next to you.
Are you a tomato fanatic like I am? What’s your favorite way to enjoy these healthy all stars? Share your thoughts with me in the comments!
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