With great flavor, stunning variety, amazing cooking versatility, and some cutting-edge health benefits, the tomato fruit (yes, I said “fruit”) still reigns supreme as the star of the produce aisle.
Often confused for vegetables because of our tendency to put them in salads, the tomato is actually a fruit. This is most evident when you stop and recognize the high water content next time you are cutting into one. We love tomatoes for their juiciness.
Fun fact: The tomato was originally given the scientific name Lycopersicon esculentum, which translates to “wolfpeach”, reason being it was once considered poisonous. While we obviously know tomatoes are quite the opposite of poisonous, the leaves of the tomato plant are in fact poisonous. Don’t eat them!
One of the most well known tomato eating benefit is its’ Lycopene content. Lycopene is a tomato pigment responsible for the rich, deep-red color of ripe tomatoes. It has attracted attention as an unusually high-power natural antioxidant. Although the precise pharmacokinetic properties of lycopene remain poorly understood, early medical research seems to indicate that lycopene may provide at least some protection against a broad range of epithelial cancers. Eating fresh tomatoes is a way to get lycopene in the diet, but naturally processed and concentrated tomato-based products tend to have higher levels of biologically active lycopene.
While lycopene is degraded and inactivated by excessive heating and drying, flash-frozen tomato-containing foods and heat-sterilized tomato-based foods exhibit excellent lycopene stability. The basic cooking process actually improves lycopene bioavailability by breaking down the cell walls of the tomato fruit, thus releasing more lycopene. So fresh cooked tomatoes should be high on your cooking “to-do” list.
Start by checking out the produce section. Tomatoes come in a variety of shapes, colors, and sizes. They are bursting with flavor yet are surprisingly low in calories. Three medium size classic tomatoes have less than 30 total calories! Slice them up and add a little olive oil and vinegar, and you have a perfect, filling, low-calorie, healthy side-dish.