What is a tomato?
Although often considered a vegetable, the tomato is actually a fruit that belongs to the nightshade family, along with aubergines, peppers and potatoes. They come in a range of sizes and varieties from small cherry to large beefsteak. Traditionally, red in colour, you can also get tomatoes in yellow, green, purple, orange and variegated colours.
An 80g serving of tomatoes (raw) provides:
11 Kcal / 49 KJ
18mg Vitamin C
An 80g serving counts as one of your five-a-day – that’s approximately one tomato or 7 cherry tomatoes.
Discover more in our infographic: What counts as five-a-day?
Top 5 health benefits
1. May keep your heart healthy
An 80g serving of tomatoes provides about 5% of an adult’s daily potassium needs. Consuming foods rich in potassium is associated with lower rates of stroke and may be associated with lower rates of heart disease.
Tomatoes also contain a compound called lycopene, which gives them their red colour, there is growing research into lycopene and its health properties including its potential for reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease.
2. May protect the eyes
Tomatoes contain a group of phytochemicals called carotenoids, these include lycopene, lutein and beta-carotene. These compounds are important to maintain eye health and may protect against age-related macular degeneration and other eye diseases.
3. May support healthy skin
The carotenoids found in plants, including tomatoes, may help prevent UV damage in humans. A 2006 study found that after a 10-12 week study there was a decrease in sensitivity as a result of increasing dietary carotenoids. However, this is not to say you won’t burn if you eat lots of tomatoes – it’s still important to follow guidelines and be careful in the sun to avoid UV damage.
Read the NHS’s sun safety tips for more information.
Research suggests that processing and cooking tomatoes can increase their nutritional value, in particular, their antioxidant properties and our ability to access their lycopene compounds. Eating tomatoes along-with a source of fat such as an olive oil dressing helps us absorb these protective carotenoids. It’s also worth bearing in mind that much of the carotenoid content is found in the skin of the fruit so eating them whole can be the most beneficial
4. May support blood clotting and wound healing
Tomatoes are a good source of vitamin K which is necessary for blood clotting and wound healing. There is also increasing evidence that vitamin K may be of benefit in bone and cardiovascular health too.
5. May help reduce menopausal symptoms
A 2015 study by the Nutrition Journal found that tomato juice intake appeared to help alleviate some menopausal symptoms such as anxiety, resting energy expenditure and heart rate. This study was carried out on 95 women aged 40-60 years old who consumed 200ml of unsalted tomato juice, twice daily, for eight weeks. While this was a small trial, the results are encouraging and warrant further research.
Are tomatoes safe for everyone?
It's widely thought that a compound in the nightshade family of fruits and vegetables, called solanine, may aggravate arthritic conditions and joint pain. However, to date, there is no research to support this supposition with evidence being anecdotal only.
Allergy to tomatoes are rare but if you are allergic you are likely to react to other plants of the nightshade family including aubergine and potato.
If you are on certain medication, such as beta blockers for high blood pressure, you should follow the advice and guidance of your GP or healthcare practitioner.
If you have concerns about a current health condition or you are on prescribed medication check with your GP or registered dietician before making any significant dietary changes.
Healthy tomato recipes
This article was last reviewed on 22 July 2021 by Kerry Torrens.
Nicola Shubrook is a nutritional therapist and works with both private clients and the corporate sector. She is an accredited member of the British Association for Applied Nutrition and Nutritional Therapy (BANT) and the Complementary & Natural Healthcare Council (CNHC). Find out more at urbanwellness.co.uk.
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