Welcome to Food Facts! Where we discuss the great benefits of our food. As Food Fact foodies, we are after substance, not just fleeting, momentary pleasure. We desire the upper crust of foods that meet a much more stringent and thorough list of nutritional factors. Everything from disease prevention to performance enhancement must be a part of the overall package that a Food Fact foodie requires of their fuel. Food enjoyed simply for flavor is, to be blunt, missing the whole point of eating. It is with that in mind that I serve to you todays Food Fact feature: tomatoes!
The humble tomato is a fruit that is commonly referred to, and used as a vegetable. This fruit was introduced to the world by the Mayans, and has since grabbed the attention of the world from those seeking its incredible nutritional properties. Somewhat surprisingly, the humble tomato has more to offer than the highly regarded apple.
Botanically, the tomato belongs to the nightshade family, which also includes chili peppers, potato and eggplant. The scientific name of the tomato is Lycopersicin esculentum. The tomato is a vegetable of all seasons and is native to central America, where it was cultivated by the Aztecs centuries before the Spanish explorers introduced it to the rest of the world.
There’s much more I could tell you as the history, and the massively diverse cultivar varieties make the tomato a much written about fruit/vegetable. Time to move on and begin getting into the information you are most interested in. Firstly, the tomato is a very low calorie food. A 100 gram serving has just 18 calories, almost none of which is fat.
The tomato is one of those very well rounded foods that has a little bit of everything, and therefore a great compliment to our diet. The nutrient that you most likely have heard of in reference to tomatoes is Lycopene. Lycopene is a flavonoid anti-oxidant, and a unique phytochemical present in tomatoes. Red varieties are especially rich in this nutrient. Paired with carotenoids, these anti-oxidants have the ability to protect cells and other structures in our body against harmful oxygen free radicals. Lycopene has also been shown to be protective against ultra-violet rays, and offers protection against various skin cancers. As someone who has experienced skin cancer, as well as having it spread internally (vanquished through the use of super foods, and training), anything that can aid in the protection from this disease will always receive full marks from me.
Some of the other flavonoid anti-oxidants are zeaxanthin, which I have covered in past Super Food articles. This nutrient is especially beneficial in providing eye protection against age related macular disease, by filtering harmful ultra-violet rays. Other flavonoid anti-oxidants include A and B-carotenes, xanthins, and lutein. Together these pigment compounds have properties that help our vision, maintain healthy mucus membranes and skin, as well as bone health. Consuming fruits and vegetables that are rich in flavonoids is known to protect against lung, and oral cavity cancers.
Moving on to the vitamins, vitamin-A and C are also in abundant supply. Both of these vitamins protect our body against infectious diseases, as well as remove harmful free radicals. There are many B-complex vitamins as well, such as folates, thiamin, niacin and riboflavin. These vitamins are important for cell production and division, and also increase the rate of our metabolism.
The mineral that is in greatest supply is potassium. 100 grams provides 237 mg of potassium. Potassium is vital to our health in that it balances water and blood pressure as a result. It is an intracellular electrolyte, whereas sodium is an extra-cellular electrolyte. These two must be in balance with each other, but as sodium is abundant in our modern diet, it is potassium that has the greater value. Also present in small amounts are calcium, manganese, and iron.
The versatility of the tomato is also where it shows its true colors. It’s good in most anything, from salads, to meat dishes, to sauces of many varieties!
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