I love tomatoes so it will probably come as no surprise that Curtis and I have been busy canning the gorgeous array of brilliant-coloured tomatoes that are coming up in our garden. We're at 33 Litres so far...and counting.
If you haven’t tried many of the heirloom varieties, I encourage you to do so. Not only are they beautiful, they’re delicious and packed with more nutrition. And, now that genetically-modified tomatoes are fairly common, the heirloom varieties are even more appealing.
If you’re not already a tomato-lover, here are 11 reasons to start loving them now:
1. Tomatoes are rich in a collection of phytonutrients called carotenoids. You’ve probably already heard of beta-carotene and lycopene. But there are others. And exciting research in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute shows that higher amounts of carotenoids including: alpha-carotene, beta-carotene, lutein, zeaxanthin, lycopene, and total carotenoids may have a reduced risk of breast cancer.
2. According to new research in the journal Cell Biochemistry and Biophysics, scientists created diabetic conditions in animals and fed some lycopene while others were fed their typical diet free of lycopene. The biochemistry of animals fed lycopene returned to normal while the others stayed at diabetic levels. This study shows promise that lycopene (found in tomatoes) can help restore biochemical balance in diabetics.
3. New research in the journal Harvard Health Letter found that diets rich in tomatoes can help prevent stroke. The scientists chalk up the results to tomatoes’ rich lycopene content.
4. Research shows the lycopene found in tomatoes, when eaten regularly, can reduce the risk of heart disease by 29 percent. Fresh tomatoes and tomato extracts have been shown in research to lower total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, and triglycerides. Thy have also been shown to prevent clumping in the blood (known as platelet aggregation) which is a risk factor for atherosclerosis.
5. They contain an important phytonutrient called lycopene that has been proven in studies to fight aging and have anti-cancer properties. It appears to be particularly effective against prostate and colon cancers.
6. Lycopene found in tomatoes even protects our genetic material against damage and the resulting disease.
7. Tomatoes stimulate the production of the amino acid carnitine which has been shown in research to speed the body’s fat-burning capacity by over 30 percent.
8. Excellent sources of vitamin C, tomatoes can help keep your immune system strong.
9. Lack of lycopene in a menopausal woman’s diet has been linked to osteoporosis.
10. Because tomatoes are a rich source of the phytonutrients beta carotene, lutein, and zeaxanthin, they can help improve vision and protect your eyes from degeneration.
11. They are delicious and so versatile! They can be enjoyed in pasta, salads, soups, stews, wraps, curries, and many of your favorite dishes.
Some people claim that tomatoes should be eaten cooked for maximum nutritional value; however, that’s not the full story. While lycopene is best absorbed from cooked tomatoes, vitamin C and the enzymes found in tomatoes are best if eaten uncooked. So, I suggest mixing things up a bit. Relish cooked tomatoes in soups, stews, and curries. Enjoy raw ones in salads, sandwiches, and salsas.
Research also shows that the form of lycopene found in yellow and orange tomatoes is better absorbed than from red tomatoes. That doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy the red ones, but throw in some multi-colored heirloom tomatoes into the mix too.
Michelle Schoffro Cook, PhD, DNM, is an international best-selling and 20-time published book author, one of the world's most popular food and health bloggers, a celebrity nutritionist, and president of PureFood BC.