Tomatoes are certainly a gift from nature. Their rich color, delicious taste, and impressive nutritional profile make them an excellent food choice. Tomatoes offer many health benefits for a variety of body systems. They are also uniquely beneficial to gut health.
Tomatoes are the edible berries of the plant Solanum lycopersicum, more commonly known as simply a tomato plant. While tomatoes are often considered a vegetable, and often eaten along other vegetables, they are technically a fruit. Tomatoes originated in western South America and Central America. The Nahuatl word tomatl gave rise to the Spanish word tomate, from which the English word tomato derived.
In this article, we are going to discuss the health benefits of tomatoes, starting with how tomatoes benefit gut health.
Tomatoes Are a Good Source of Prebiotics
There are many connections between tomatoes and gut health, but perhaps the most significant benefit tomatoes have for gut health is their prebiotic content. Prebiotics are indigestible carbs (mostly from fiber) that feed probiotics, the beneficial bacteria in our gut. In other words, they are foods that we cannot digest, but our gut bacteria can. When we eat these foods, they go to our lower digestive tract, where they act like food to help the healthy bacteria grow.
Prebiotic foods are typically too tough and difficult to digest for humans. They do not break down in the stomach, but instead travel through to the large intestine where they are fermented by bacteria and yeast, producing short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs) that the gut bacteria then consume.
These SCFAs have the miraculous tendency to feed only helpful bacteria, while inhibiting potentially harmful or unwanted microorganisms. This is due to the lower pH level that occurs in the colon as a result of the fermentation process, which is harmful to pathogens like bad bacteria, viruses, and fungi, and helps the beneficial bacteria like Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium thrive.
Prebiotics have a powerful effect on the gut microbiome and how it affects the body, with or without the addition of probiotic supplements or fermented foods. The many benefits that probiotics provide the body are supported and enhanced by the consumption of prebiotics.
Because prebiotics feed the beneficial bacteria and are harmful to bad bacteria, viruses, and fungi, they also play a helpful role in treating fungal yeast infections like Candida overgrowth. When used alongside a Candida Cleanse Tonic and an anti-candida diet, prebiotic foods can help tremendously in treating this common type of yeast infection.
Tomatoes Are High in Lycopene
Tomatoes are naturally rich in lycopene, an antioxidant pigment that has the ability to protect cells from damage. Lycopene is found in the highest concentrations in the tomato skin. Generally, the redder the tomato, the more lycopene it has.
Interestingly, tomato products — such as ketchup, tomato juice, tomato paste, and tomato sauces — are the richest dietary sources of lycopene in the Western diet, providing over 80% of dietary lycopene in the United States. Gram for gram, the amount of lycopene in processed tomato products is often much higher than in fresh tomatoes. Overall, however, fresh tomatoes provide a better nutritional profile than processed tomato products.
Lycopene offers many benefits to the body. It also has a benefit on gut health. In one study, researchers used raw and cooked pear tomatoes—a variety with a particularly high lycopene content—in order to see how this pigment affected the gut microbiome. The study showed that the tomatoes were ultimately found to boost probiotic activity in the gut.
The study found that the probiotic strain L. reuteri bacteria (one of the major supporters of a healthy microbiome), seemed to prevent some of the antioxidants in tomatoes from getting absorbed into the bloodstream. At the same time however, antioxidants in tomato sauce (cooked tomatoes) boost the helpful effects of L. reuteri, resulting in the overall positive effect on gut health. So, the increase in probiotic activity appears to outweigh the decrease in antioxidant absorption in terms of supporting our health.
Both raw and cooked tomatoes are gut healthy foods, but cooked tomatoes seem to have more of a beneficial impact on the gut in particular. This may be because the process of cooking helps lycopene maintain its integrity during digestion, so more of it gets absorbed.
Tomatoes Are Very Nutritious
Tomatoes have a great nutritional profile. They are a good source of vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin B6, vitamin K, folate, lutein, lycopene, naringenin, beta carotene, zeaxanthin, magnesium, manganese, potassium, and prebiotic fiber.
- Vitamin C is an essential nutrient and antioxidant. One medium-sized tomato can provide about 28% of the Reference Daily Intake (RDI).
- Potassium is an essential mineral that is beneficial for blood pressure control and heart disease prevention.
- Vitamin K1, also known as phylloquinone, is important for blood clotting and bone health.
- Folate (vitamin B9) is important for normal tissue growth and cell function. It’s particularly important for pregnant women.
- Lycopene is a red pigment and antioxidant that has been extensively studied for its beneficial health effects.
- Beta carotene is an antioxidant that often gives foods a yellow or orange hue, beta carotene is converted into vitamin A in your body.
- Naringenin, found in tomato skin, is a flavonoid that has been shown to decrease inflammation and protect against various diseases in mice.
- Chlorogenic acid is a powerful antioxidant compound that may lower blood pressure in people with elevated levels.
Tomatoes Benefit Skin Health
The diverse nutritional profile of tomatoes offers several benefits to skin health. Lycopene is one of the major antioxidants in tomatoes that benefit the skin. Lycopene-rich foods help to protect against the negative effects of UV rays. Numerous studies have shown that eating tomatoes was associated with healthier skin after UV exposure than when not consuming tomatoes. The antioxidants in tomatoes may also help protect your cells so that they can function better to keep you well.
Tomatoes Benefit Heart Health
Tomatoes also have a positive effect on heart health. One study in middle-aged men linked low blood levels of lycopene and beta-carotene to increased risk of heart attacks and strokes, and increasing evidence from clinical trials suggests that supplementing with lycopene may help lower LDL (bad) cholesterol.
Clinical studies of tomato products also indicate that tomatoes have benefits against inflammation and markers of oxidative stress. They also show a protective effect on the inner layer of blood vessels and may decrease your risk of blood clotting.
Heart disease—including heart attacks and strokes—is one of the world’s most common causes of death. Adding tomatoes to your diet may help you prevent heart disease and stroke.
Advice on Buying Tomatoes
Not all tomatoes are the same, and of all the produce sold today, it is best to be aware of the quality of the tomatoes that you are buying. When tomatoes start to ripen, they produce a gaseous hormone called ethylene. Commercially grown tomatoes are harvested and transported while still green and immature. To make them red before selling, food companies spray them with artificial ethylene gas. This process inhibits the development of natural flavor and may result in tasteless tomatoes. It also inhibits the nutritional value of the tomato. Because of this, aim to buy locally grown or organic tomatoes as they may taste better and offer more nutrition, as they are allowed to ripen naturally.
Best Ways to Enjoy Tomatoes
Tomatoes are such a diverse food. They can be used in a wide variety of dishes. Tomatoes can be added to salad, made into a sauce, mixed in with pasta, made into a soup and much more. There are many ways to include tomatoes in your diet. Typically, tomatoes are eaten with other foods, but some tomatoes, especially fresh cherry tomatoes, are so good they can be enjoyed on their own.
While tomatoes are an incredibly nutritious food with many health benefits, they are also a nightshade and many be an allergen for some who are sensitive to nightshades. Nightshade is a family of plants that includes tomatoes, potatoes, eggplant, and peppers. Tobacco is also in the nightshade family.
Nightshades are unique because they contain small amounts of alkaloids, which are chemicals found mainly in plants. For something to be considered an alkaloid, it must contain nitrogen and affect the human body, usually from a medicinal perspective. Two examples of plant-based medicines that contain alkaloids are morphine and quinine.
Tomato allergies are pretty rare. However, what is more common is an allergic reaction to tomatoes that occurs in individuals who are allergic to grass pollen. This condition is called pollen-food allergy syndrome or oral-allergy syndrome, and it occurs when 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.
Often the allergic reactions are mild—like itching in the mouth, swelling in the throat—but if you notice these reactions after eating tomatoes, they may not be the best food choice for you. Don’t worry, there are plenty of other nutritional foods that benefit your gut, as well as other foods high in lycopene such as watermelon, guava, grapefruit and papaya.
Tomatoes are a delicious and nutritious food that offer many health benefits. Tomatoes also have unique benefits for gut health due to their prebiotic fiber content and their lycopene content, as well as several other important vitamins and minerals. Tomatoes also benefit heart health, skin health, and overall wellness. They are a great food to add to your diet and are easy to include in a variety of meals.