Tomatoes are one of the tastiest and most nutritious foods that you can find almost anywhere you go. They are juicy, versatile, and easy to add to your favorite meals and snacks.
Tomatoes are a great source of nutrients like vitamin C, potassium, and vitamin K (1). Not only are they bountiful of nutrients, but eating them can have health benefits too.
Keep reading to find out all you need to know about tomatoes.
Fun Fact:Tomatoes aren’t always red. They can be yellow, pink, purple, black, and even white!
Table of Contents
History and Facts
Tomatoes (selenum lycopersicum) are scientifically a fruit (2). This is because they form from a flower and contain seeds, which is what fruits stem from. Like other fruits, tomatoes form small yellow flowers on the vine and naturally contain tons of seeds. The seeds from the inside of the tomato can grow more tomatoes. Although tomatoes are technically fruits, they have an umami flavor. They are a great addition to side dishes and eaten like a vegetable.
Tomatoes originate in central and southern America and were used by the indigenous people of Mexico. The exact date of domestication is unknown but by 500 BC researchers suspect that it was being cultivated in southern Mexico. The Mexican word tomatl gave rise to the Spanish word tomate, which in turn is where the English word tomato derived. Spaniards later brought the tomato back to Europe, where it was introduced and began to be used by that region of the world in the 16th century.
Today, almost 200 million tons of tomatoes are grown worldwide annually. It is the second most important crop next to potato (3). The largest producers of tomatoes are China, Europe, and the United States (4).
Summary:Tomatoes are fruits and originate from South America.
Types of Tomatoes
There are thousands of different varieties of tomatoes in the world. Some of the most popular types of tomatoes you will find often include:
- Grape tomatoes: small, crisp, crunchy, oval grape shape tomatoes that come in a variety of colors. Their flavors can range from sweet to tangy. They are great for cooking due to their generally thicker skin.
- Beefsteak tomatoes: large, meaty, firm, and typically a very juicy type of tomato. This type of tomato is great for making salsa, fresh sauces, and dips. They have a mild and overall balance of flavor and complement dishes well.
- Roma tomatoes: plum-size, firm, dense, and meaty. These types of tomatoes are full of flavor and tangy. They usually have fewer seeds than other tomatoes and balance a variety of dishes.
Fun Fact:Some varieties of tomato plants have started to be genetically cultivated to stop producing seeds on purpose.
You may hear that tomatoes are full of nutrients. In general, most tomatoes contain similar macronutrients, vitamins, and minerals.
In one serving, around ½ cup of crushed tomatoes, there are the following macronutrients (5):
- Calories: 38.7 calories (kcal)
- Protein: 1.98 grams (g)
- Carbohydrate: 8.82 grams (g)
- Fat: 0.3 grams (g)
- Fiber: 2.3 grams (g)
Tomatoes are relatively low in calories and high in fiber, which makes them a nutrient-dense food. One serving of tomatoes has more than 2 grams of fiber and almost 5 grams of an average-size tomato (6). The majority of Americans do not eat enough fiber in their diets, making tomatoes a great choice to help with this problem. Eating a diet rich in fiber can help increase the feeling of fullness, reduce blood sugar spikes, lower cholesterol, and promote gut health (7).
Summary:Tomatoes are a nutrient-dense food due to being low in calories and high in fiber.
Vitamins and Minerals
In ½ cup of crushed raw tomatoes, there are the following vitamins and minerals (8):
- Calcium: 41 milligrams (mg)
- Magnesium: 24 milligrams (mg)
- Potassium: 355 milligrams (mg)
- Vitamin C: 11.1 milligrams (mg)
- Folate: 15.7 micrograms (mcg)
- Choline: 15.6 milligrams (mg)
- Vitamin A: 260 IU
- Beta carotene: 156 micrograms (mcg)
- Lycopene: 6180 micrograms (mcg)
- Lutein + zeaxanthin: 191 micrograms (mcg)
- Vitamin K: 6.4 micrograms (mcg)
As you can see, tomatoes are small but mighty in the amounts of nutrients they contain. They are high in vitamin C, which is an essential nutrient. One medium-size tomato may provide as much as up to 1/3 of the RDI (reference daily intake). They are full of potassium, which is an essential mineral that plays a big part in blood pressure regulation in the body (9). There is vitamin K in tomatoes also, which is important for blood clotting and bone health (10).
Other than vitamins and minerals, tomatoes are largely known for the amount of lycopene they contain. Lycopene is an antioxidant that has been studied often for its potential health benefits. Another antioxidant, beta carotene, is also in tomatoes. These nutrients and compounds are just a few of the several other beneficial compounds that you will find in tomatoes.
Summary:Tomatoes are full of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants that are overall supportive of one’s health.
Tomatoes are known for being one of the healthiest fruits on earth. They have tons of health benefits.
May Boost Heart Health
Tomatoes are rich in lycopene, which is an antioxidant and known as a carotenoid, which gives the tomato its red color (11). Lycopene has been associated with a lower risk of heart disease, including heart attack and stroke.
Other studies have found that eating tomatoes regularly can reduce the risk of heart disease by as much as 30% (12)! Tomatoes may also lower cholesterol levels and blood glucose levels in some people.
Summary:Tomatoes are rich in lycopene which has been found to lower the risk of heart disease and support heart health.
May Improve skin health
In addition to supporting heart health, carotenoids in tomatoes may help boost collagen production, which keeps skin firm and elastic (13). They can also reduce inflammation and protect against sun damage.
A tomato-rich diet correlates with fewer wrinkles and less skin dryness. The lycopene in tomatoes has been found to possibly help protect against sun damage and may prevent skin cancer (14). Lycopene also reduces the appearance of wrinkles and age spots.
Other flavonoids in tomatoes help to protect the skin from oxidative damage caused by free radicals. Furthermore, they also help balance oil production so you can avoid breakouts!
Summary:The carotenoids in tomatoes have been shown to boost collagen production in the skin and help protect against health problems like sun damage and skin cancer.
Supports Eye Health
Tomatoes are rich in vitamin A, which is essential for vision health. Vitamin A helps maintain the health and function of your eyes, especially those with a deficiency (15).
Vitamin A deficiency can lead to night blindness and dry eyes that hurt when you blink. If you have a severe deficiency, it may cause corneal ulcers, which can result in permanent loss of vision.
Eating tomatoes every day may even help improve vision in adults with macular degeneration, which is a condition that causes blurry vision and eventual blindness (16). Vitamin C in tomatoes can also help reduce the risk of developing cataracts in older adults.
Beta-carotene is another antioxidant found in tomatoes that may help prevent cataracts from forming (17). It converts into vitamin A in the body, which promotes good vision health by supporting healthy night vision and helping you to see more clearly in dim light conditions.
Summary:Tomatoes are high in vitamin A, which has been shown to support eye health and decrease the risk of issues like macular degeneration and cataracts.
Ways To Consume
Tomatoes can be an easy addition to almost any meal or snack of the day. It is important to note, however, that the best way to get the health benefits of tomatoes is to eat them raw. Cooking them can destroy much of their nutritious content (18).
If you aren’t in the mood for eating them, you can try tomatoes by drinking tomato juice. Tomato juice has some health benefits but certain brands often add sodium to it, which can make it a less healthy option (19).
Here are some ways to consume that you may or may not already be aware of:
- Add to a salad with greens and other vegetables or Caprese
- Slice and eat on its own
- Pickle them
- Tomato juice
- Stew them
- Add to sandwiches
- Cut up and add to bruschetta
- Puree them or add them to soups
- Grill them
- Use as a base for pasta and/or pizza sauce
- Chop and add to home-made salsa
Summary:There are tons of different ways to incorporate tomatoes into your meals. Drinking tomato juice is also an option if you are not in the mood to eat them.
In general, tomatoes are part of an overall balanced diet. However, there are some things to keep in mind when consuming tomatoes.
Some of the potential risks of regularly consuming tomatoes include:
- Allergy: Although tomato allergy is rare, research has found that individuals allergic to grass pollen are more likely to be allergic to tomatoes. This condition is pollen-food allergy syndrome or oral allergy syndrome. In oral allergy syndrome, your immune system attacks fruit and vegetable proteins that are similar to pollen, which leads to allergic reactions like itching in the mouth, scratchy throat, or swelling of the mouth or throat. People with latex allergy can also experience cross-reactivity to tomatoes in a similar way to pollen-food allergy syndrome.
- Salmonella: Tomatoes historically have a connection to salmonella outbreaks between 1990 and 2005. They may have caused over 170 illnesses in 18 states in 2006.
- Digestive Issues: Tomatoes contain a moderate amount of fiber. If you have medical conditions like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), eating tomatoes may worsen GI symptoms like stomach cramping, bloating, and gas. Tomatoes are an acidic food and can worsen heartburn for some people as well (20).
Summary:In general, tomatoes are safe to consume for the majority of people. However, some people may have adverse effects and experience issues like allergies, digestive issues, and plant toxicity by eating other parts of the tomato plant.
Frequently asked questions
How should tomatoes be stored?
Tomatoes stay best unwashed and at room temperature. They should be kept out of direct sunlight. Not only that but they are one of the few foods that are not recommended to be refrigerated because cold can lower their natural flavor. Their shelf life of them may be prolonged if they are stored stem down.
How can I ripen tomatoes quickly?
If you have unripe tomatoes that need to ripen more quickly, there are some tricks you can try to speed up their ripening. You can try speeding up the ripening process by wrapping them in a sheet of newspaper and keeping them on a kitchen counter for a few days. Besides that, placing them in a paper bag or cardboard box can also do the trick. Be sure to check them daily for ripeness.
Did You Know?:The town of Bunol,Spain, annually celebrates La Tomatina, a festival centered on an enormous tomato fight.
Tomatoes are a nutrient-dense fruit that contains a wide range of vitamins, minerals, and healthy nutrients. There are tons of varieties of tomatoes that can be found all over the world.
Adding tomatoes to your diet more often can provide a ton of health benefits like improvement with heart health, vision, and healthy skin. It can be consumed in a variety of ways with essentially any meal or snack.
Incorporating tomatoes into your diet is sure to please your taste buds and boost your health.