Botanical name: Lycopersicon esculentum P. Miller
There are hundreds of them – varieties of tomato, that is – tiny types like grape, plum, and cherry for snacking pleasure, firm, petite Romas, good for cooked foods, and hefty beefsteak, ideal for BLTs and burgers. The colors can vary as well, from the palest pink to yellow, and even purple. Preparations of tomato are endless: sun-dried, fried green, stew, sauce, paste, ketchup, juice, Bruschetta, veggie soup, pizza, salsa, salad…
Some advice: refrigerating tomatoes halts the ripening process and diminishes the flavor and texture – so don't. For rapid ripening, place them in a paper bag with a banana or apple and let the ethylene gas do its work. Never use metal pans, spoons or storage containers, because impurities and poisons, including aluminum, can be absorbed first by your tomato products, and then your body when ingested. Grow heirloom in your own garden or look for organics to avoid GM tomatoes.
To peel in seconds,boil a pan of water deep enough to immerse your largest tomato. Put one in, then another and fish the first one out with a non-metal slotted spoon. Keep doing that so each tomato has been immersed for about 15 seconds. That's all it takes, really. When they've cooled, remove the core with a sharp paring knife, score an "X" on the bottom and strip off the skin. Voilà!
Health Benefits of Tomatoes
One of the amazing things about tomatoes is the wide variety and quantity of nutrients they provide. So they aren't just good - they're good for you, too, supplying excellent amounts of fiber, vitamins A, C (to resist infections), and K, potassium (controlling heart rate and blood pressure), and manganese. Good amounts of vitamin E (alpha tocopherol), thiamin, niacin, Vitamin B6, folate, magnesium, phosphorus, and copper are other resources.
In daily value, tomatoes provide 38% of what is needed in vitamin C, 30% in vitamin A, and 18% in vitamin K. Best of all: no fat and cholesterol.
Bisphenol A (BPA) is a topic which, if you've not studied, is significant in regard to canned foods; not in the least, tomatoes. It's an ingredient in the vinyl lining, which in theory separates the food from the metal of the can, but is harmful because it can leach into the body, adversely affecting the brain, behavior, and prostate gland in fetuses, infants, and children, and the way estrogen is metabolized. It can show up in breast milk – altogether, not good for women or anyone else.
Interestingly, the FDA, while acknowledging that there may be risks associated with BPA levels and that their earlier "not to worry" reports may have been premature, published plans to reassess the situation in March of 2012. However, they still have no set standard1. Europe, on the other hand, limits the parts per million to 600.
Note: To control your intake, look for "BPA-free" labels on all canned foods.
What's New and Beneficial About Tomatoes
• Did you know that tomatoes do not have to be a deep red color to be an outstanding source of lycopene? Lycopene is a carotenoid pigment that has long been associated with the deep red color of many tomatoes. A small preliminary study on healthy men and women has shown that the lycopene from orange- and tangerine-colored tomatoes may actually be better absorbed than the lycopene from red tomatoes. That's because the lycopene in deep red tomatoes is mostly trans-lycopene, and the lycopene in orange/tangerine tomatoes is mostly tetra-cis-lycopene. In a recent study, this tetra-cis form of lycopene turned out to be more efficiently absorbed by the study participants. While more research is needed in this area, we're encouraged to find that tomatoes may not have to be deep red in order for us to get great lycopene-related benefits.
• Tomatoes are widely known for their outstanding antioxidant content, including, of course, their oftentimes-rich concentration of lycopene. Researchers have recently found an important connection between lycopene, its antioxidant properties, and bone health. A study was designed in which tomato and other dietary sources of lycopene were removed from the diets of postmenopausal women for a period of 4 weeks, to see what effect lycopene restriction would have on bone health. At the end of 4 weeks, women in the study started to show increased signs of oxidative stress in their bones and unwanted changes in their bone tissue. The study investigators concluded that removal of lycopene-containing foods (including tomatoes) from the diet was likely to put women at increased risk of osteoporosis. They also argued for the importance of tomatoes and other lycopene-containing foods in thediet. We don't always think about antioxidant protection as being important for bone health, but it is, and tomato lycopene (and other tomato antioxidants) may have a special role to play in this area.
• There are literally hundreds of different tomato varieties. We usually choose our favorite varieties by some combination of flavor, texture, and appearance. But a recent study has shown that we may also want to include antioxidant capacity as a factor when we are choosing among tomato varieties. Surprisingly, researchers who compared conventionally grown versus organically grown tomatoes found that growing method (conventional versusorganic) made less of an overall difference than variety of tomato. While all tomatoes showed good antioxidant capacity, and while the differences were not huge, the following four varieties of tomatoes turned out to have a higher average antioxidant capacity regardless of whether they were grown conventionally or organically: New Girl, Jet Star, Fantastic, and First Lady. It's only one study, of course, and we're definitely not ready to recommend these four varieties at the exclusion of all others. But these findings are fascinating to us, and they suggest that specific types of nutrient benefits may be provided by specific varieties oftomatoes. Also, if you're seeking good antioxidant protection and you're in the grocery standing in front of a New Girl, Jet Star, Fantastic, or First Lady tomato, you would probably be well-served to place it in your shopping cart.
• Intake of tomatoes has long been linked to heart health. Fresh tomatoes and tomato extracts have been shown to help lower total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, and triglycerides. In addition, tomato extracts have been shown to help prevent unwanted clumping together (aggregation) of platelet cells in the blood - a factor that is especially important in lowering risk of heart problems like atherosclerosis. (In a recent South American study of 26 vegetables,tomatoes and green beans came out best in their anti-aggregation properties.) But only recently are researchers beginning to identify some of the more unusual phytonutrients intomatoes that help provide us with these heart-protective benefits. One of these phytonutrients is a glycoside called esculeoside A; another is flavonoid called chalconaringenin; and yet another is a fatty-acid type molecule called 9-oxo-octadecadienoic acid. As our knowledge of unique tomato phytonutrients expands, we are likely to learn more about the unique role played by tomatoes in support of heart health. Tomatoes are also likely to rise further and further toward the top of the list as heart healthy foods.