Feature Articles: Food, Fitness and Cooking and Produce
Cooked or raw, tomatoes are a healthy choice
Tammy Roberts, MS, RD, LD, Nutrition and
Health Education Specialist, Barton County, University of
Because of the wide variety of uses, tomatoes are a staple in many of our diets. You can purchase grape, cherry, Roma and round slicing tomatoes in a variety of colors. Their uses are many but some of the most common include spaghetti sauce, pizza sauce, salsa and juice. For many, it’s hard to beat just eating a fresh sliced tomato straight from the garden.
Is a tomato a fruit or vegetable? Actually, it’s both. Botanically, tomatoes are a fruit because they contain the seed of the plant. That would make green beans, corn, cucumbers and squash fruits as well. In 1893, there was a Supreme Court decision that classified tomatoes as a vegetable. It seems there was a tax on vegetables imported from the West Indies and one family tried to escape paying the tax stating that tomatoes were a fruit and should not be taxed. The Supreme Court ruled that we eat tomatoes like a vegetable so they would be classified as such.
When buying tomatoes, choose the ones with good color and no wrinkles or cracks. They should yield to light pressure of the fingers. Unripe tomatoes can be ripened in a paper bag at room temperature. Tomatoes can be stored at room temperature but the life can be extended by storing in the refrigerator.
Tomatoes are a low calorie healthy choice. One medium red tomato has one gram of fiber and only 26 calories. Tomatoes are high in vitamin C and a good source of vitamin A. Tomatoes are also a good source of lycopene. Lycopene is a plant chemical that acts as an antioxidant and is thought to help protect against heart disease and some types of cancer; especially prostate cancer. Harvard University conducted a six year study on 48,000 men and found that men who consumed 10 servings a week of tomatoes or tomato products had a 45% less likely chance of developing prostate cancer.
Generally, we think of vegetables right from the vine as being the healthiest choice but in the case of tomatoes, cooking them actually increases the level of the phytochemical lycopene. While the lycopene is increased by the heat of cooking, vitamin C content is diminished. You can gain the healthful benefits of both lycopene and vitamin C by eating a variety of tomatoes; some cooked, some raw.
Last update: Tuesday, May 05, 2009