You say to-may-to, I say to-mah-to? Regardless of how we choose to pronounce the word, can we all agree that May’s featured food is one heck of a fruit! That’s right I said fruit! According to its botanical classification the tomato is actually a fruit, but is commonly referred to as a vegetable.
The tomato, known to the French as “pomme d’amour” or apple of love, is lovingly consumed worldwide; which I suspect is due to its pleasant taste, and versatility. Native to the south/central Americas, the tomato belongs to the nightshade,or Solanum lycopersicum family. Some members of the nightshades are deadly, so it was thought that tomatoes were no different. Lucky for us, after much research & investigation the tomato was acquitted from this “deadly” label.
Choose from the numerous fresh varieties (roma, cherry, beefsteak), that may have different colors (yellow, green, orange, red), or find them canned (stewed, diced, and pasted), and in many various sauces, soups, stews. Tomatoes can be found year round, but are in peak season (and best flavor) from April to October.
1 medium whole tomato, raw – 22 calories
• 5 g carbohydrate
• 1.5 g fiber
• 1 g protein
• 0 g fat
• 116g water
Tomatoes pack quite the nutritional punch – They contain very little calories, are loaded with water and full of nutrients like: vitamin K, folate, potassium, manganese, and zinc (the last 2 are needed for antioxidant enzymes efficiently.) Its heavy hitters are the following:
Ascorbic acid, also known as vitamin C, belongs to the water soluble group of vitamins. These vitamins travel through the bloodstream and are rarely stored in our bodies, instead we use what we require and excrete the rest (a good thing to keep in mind when buying vitamins!)
Recommendations for this vitamin are 75-90mg/day. One medium sized tomato provides a decent amount of vitamin C, about 17 mg.
Vitamin C benefits:
• Helps our bodies absorb iron from plant sources (as much as four times!)
• Has a big role in our immune system, Helps keep our immune system healthy
• Antioxidant – scavenges damaging free radicals in our bodies. Since it is water soluble, it destroys free radicals in a lot of different areas of our bodies.
• Helps keep gums, bones, and muscles healthy
Recommendations for this vitamin are 700 RAE ug/day for females and 900 RAE ug/day for males, 1 medium tomato has approximately 52 RAE ug.
Vitamin A benefits:
• Support healthy eyes, and aids with seeing the dark.
• Contributes to protein synthesis and cell differentiation, for normal growth and development.
• Promotes a healthy defense system (skin, stomach, intestines, and respiratory tracts)
• Supports a healthy reproduction system
Literally translated to plant (phyto) chemical, phytochemicals are naturally grown in various plants, and have biological activity (and important health benefits) in the human body. How cool is that! Most phytochemicals found in tomatoes come in the form of carotenoids. In this group you’ll find lycopene and beta carotene; both play an important role in preventing many degenerative diseases.
• Lycopene is responsible for the bright red color seen in tomatoes and other red-hued fruits & veggies. It protects our cells from oxidation (antioxidant), and in turn from various cancers (lung, prostate, esophagus and stomach).
• Another antioxidant, beta carotene, protects us from some cancers, cardiovascular disease and other chronic diseases.
• Saponin (belongs to its own phytochemical group) has been known to prevent cancer cells from multiplying.
These microscopic disease fighters’ work synergistically to optimize our health, and together, even enhance the effects of lycopene! This is another perfect example as to why eating “real” food is so much better than the potions, powders and pills found on the shelves. Trust me.
How to: Pick & Store
Tomatoes should be firm, vividly colored, and free of any bruises, blemishes or soft spots. You may want include tomatoes to that list of foods to smell before buying, because chances are if you can’t smell that distinct tomato aroma chances are they won’t taste all that great. If you pick from the canned varieties, check the label – food manufacturers are notorious for loading these products with unnecessary sodium. Aim for a sodium content of 140 mg or less per serving (1/2 cup).
Storage all depends on the ripeness level: unripe tomatoes can sit at room temperature for up to a week; ripe tomatoes should be placed in the refrigerator.
There are just so many ways to prepare/eat tomatoes. Most are healthy, all are delicious! Here are some ideas…
What is your favorite way to prepare tomatoes?
Check out our pinterest board for four delicious recipes using tomatoes. We’ll continue adding to it throughout the month, so be sure to follow along!