Welcome to our Food for Thought Blog Series that will aim to address these questions and more each month! Tune in for expert nutritional tips from Masha Fox-Rabinovich, outpatient dietitian and diabetes educator at Washington Adventist Hospital, and savvy cooking techniques from Randall Smith, executive chef for Adventist HealthCare.
Many of us have heard that tomatoes are technically a fruit. Botanically, that is true, just like cucumbers, pumpkins and other plants that contain seeds inside. Nutritionally, however, tomatoes are a vegetable – they do not have the higher sugar concentration found in most fruits.
Heart Health Benefits of Tomatoes
Tomatoes are high on the list of foods that support heart health. Their strong cardio-protective properties result from their ability to:
- Help improve blood lipids, or fats in the blood. Eating plenty of tomatoes and tomato products has been shown to help lower total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, and triglycerides.
- Enhance antioxidant protection. Tomatoes are a rich source of many antioxidants, specifically vitamin C, beta-carotene, vitamin E, and a wide variety of phytonutrients. It is not surprising then that dietary intake of tomatoes, whether from fresh tomatoes or tomato-based products, has been linked with antioxidant protection of many systems in the body including the cardiovascular system.
- Reduce aggregation of platelet cells in the blood, decreasing risk of atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries). Lycopene, the antioxidant carotenoid that gives tomatoes their signature red color, has been shown to reduce oxygen damage to fat cells in the bloodstream, a process known as lipid peroxidation, which increases the risk of atherosclerosis as well. Lycopene has also been studied for its role in bone health (may help prevent osteoporosis!) and anti-cancer benefits.
Similar to other fruits and vegetables, tomatoes have a higher concentration of nutrients in their peel and seeds. Don’t remove these parts of the food before eating!
Given their high nutrient density, tomatoes are an excellent food to frequently include in the diet. However, tomatoes are more acidic than most other fruits and vegetables and may trigger acid reflux or heart burn symptoms in individuals who are diagnosed with gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). Another caution: if choosing canned or tomato-based products, read the label and watch out for high sodium content associated with many canned and other processed foods.
Try different types of tomatoes to add variety to your diet. The many varieties of tomatoes have essentially the same nutritional qualities – a large yellow tomato or a handful of orange cherry tomatoes are both great for the body and help you to eat the rainbow!