Tomato: nutrition facts and health benefits

Tomato

Although the tomato is a fruit, it is much more used as a vegetable. The tomato originates from northwestern South America, between the Andes Cordillera and the Pacific. Its name comes from the Inca word Tomatl. Cultivated in full field or under shelter, in all climates, it’s probably the food that has undergone the most mutations and manipulations, genetic or not. Cultivated off-ground, artificially nourished, calibrated to have a perfect shape, round or oval, the tomato has become a product which can travel without harm, odorless and flavorless and available all year round. Fortunately, over the past few years, producers have reproduced tomatoes from forgotten old varieties which are cultivated according to their season.

History of tomato

The term “tomato” comes from the Spanish tomato, which originates from Xitomatl, Nahuatl, the language of the Aztecs of Mexico. At the time, it was not known that the tomato came from America; The Arabs were usually given the introduction into Europe of any new vegetable or fruit.

The tomato is native to the Andes, in South America, and there are still wild forms today. The ancestor of the cultivated species could be the cherry tomato, Lycopersicon esculentum var. cerasiforme. It was reportedly introduced to Central America and Mexico in prehistoric times, more than 2 000 years ago. The wind, the streams, the birds or the Indians migrating northward would have transported it and found fertile ground for its establishment.

It does not appear to have been consumed by the natives of its original area. On the contrary, it was adopted in the diet of Mexicans who, by selection, have obtained many varieties. Indeed, during the conquest, the Spaniards discovered at the market of the city of Tenochtitlan, the Aztec capital, several types of tomatoes of colors, flavors and various forms.

Like all the plants of American origin discovered at that time, the tomato was first introduced in Spain in the sixteenth century. The Spaniards and Italians were the first to adopt it as food. We have to wait two centuries before seeing it in a cookbook. It is that the unengaging odor of its leaves and stems, as well as its resemblance to the toxic plants of the family of Solanaceae that inspired distrust. Therefore, it was cultivated first as an object of curiosity, in the botanical or private gardens.

In the eighteenth century, it was cultivated intensively in Italy and, to a lesser extent, in the other countries of Europe. The Italians performed a considerable selection work in order to obtain larger, smoother fruits and thicker skin. They developed an effective technique to dry them in the sun. It is said that their interest in this fruit would come from that, possessing many varieties of pasta, but few sauces to combine them with, they finally found there subject to infinite variations. The quintessence of Italian cuisine could finally be expressed in all its brilliance, the pasta having found their perfect guarantor.

Much later, when, in successive waves, the Italians left their country for America, they brought with them their culinary traditions. They made their recipes known to North Americans, just as wary of the tomato as their English ancestors were. Indeed, the latter recommended that it be boiled for three hours to eliminate the toxic principles. Until the turn of the twentieth century, the average American continued to believe that it was poisonous. Against the current, Thomas Jefferson, a keen gardener, cook and politician, cultivated it and made canned food. This rule was also an exception to the people of Louisiana, who, under the influence of the French, would integrate it into their kitchen around 1810-1820. The same thing happened in China, where it was only adopted in the twentieth century, although it was introduced three centuries ago.

The tomato was the last to come on the list of foods of global commercial importance. A victim of her success, in the second half of the twentieth century, she lost the organoleptic qualities that had previously characterized her in order to meet the demands of industrial production. However, for the past ten years, collectors and gourmets have been looking to find and reproduce old varieties and to offer these seeds, seedlings or fruit to an amateur audience.

Tomato health profile

The benefits of tomatoes

Prostate cancer. Prostate cancer is one of the most commonly diagnosed cancers among men in Canada. Several studies have shown that frequent or regular consumption of tomato-derived products may have a protective effect on prostate cancer. The compounds present in tomato products would increase the resistance of cells to oxidation and thus would be expected to develop this type of cancer. According to the results of a meta-analysis, the largest consumers of tomatoes and its derivatives would decrease by 10% to 20% their risk of developing prostate cancer compared to men who consume little. Other studies, however, did not show conclusive results, the prevention of prostate cancer by tomato consumption would only be observed in those most at risk of this type of cancer.

Other cancers. According to some 20 studies, high consumption of tomatoes or a predominant antioxidant in tomato (lycopene) would be related to a lower incidence of lung and stomach cancer. The consumption of tomatoes and lycopene may also have a protective effect on the incidence of pancreatic, colon, rectum, esophagus, oral cavity, breast and cervix cancers. However, studies are required to define the role of lycopene in the prevention of different types of cancer, as well as other compounds in the tomato, such as carotenoids.

Cardiovascular diseases. A large-scale study of women showed the more tomato-based products they consumed, the more they would reduce their risk of cardiovascular disease. Tomato derivatives, consumed daily, would decrease the oxidation of lipids in the blood (e.g. LDL-cholesterol or “bad” cholesterol), thus reducing the incidence of coronary artery disease. According to another study, tomato extracts and various tomato-based products would reduce platelet aggregation and therefore the formation of blood clots that could block the arteries. In addition, high blood levels of lycopene, an abundant compound in the tomato, would be associated with a lower incidence of cardiovascular disease. The results of these studies show that the cardiovascular protection of the tomato could be ensured not only by lycopene, but also by other antioxidant compounds and vitamins, which would act synergistically.

What does the tomato contain?

Antioxidants

The tomato contains antioxidants, mainly carotenoids, the most abundant of which is lycopene, a pigment giving its bright red color. The antioxidant activity of the tomato is also ensured by different phenolic compounds. The antioxidant compounds contained in fruits and vegetables protect the body cells from the damage caused by free radicals and prevent the development of cardiovascular diseases, certain cancers and other diseases related to aging.

Lycopene is found in particularly high concentrations in the tissues of the prostate. According to several studies, this compound would help prevent prostate cancer, especially since high levels of lycopene in the blood have been associated with lower incidences of this type of cancer. However, the intake of lycopene supplements was not associated with the same effects in the body. The researchers assume lycopene would not be the only compound responsible for these effects. It would act synergistically with other compounds present in the tomato, including other carotenoids.

Tomatoes and tomato-based products are the main sources of lycopene in the North American diet, providing 85% of this carotenoid. In addition to its important antioxidant action, the tomato would have lowering and anti-inflammatory effects, as well as the ability to prevent the proliferation of certain types of cancer cells. Although the current data are not sufficient to recommend daily intake of lycopene, studies indicate that consumption of more than 6 mg of lycopene per day (about 2 raw tomatoes or ½ glass of tomato juice) may result in beneficial effects.

Tomatoes and tomato-derived products contain different amounts of lycopene depending on the processing process they underwent (cooking, grinding, homogenization, etc.). The bioavailability of lycopene, its absorption into the body, increases when lycopene changes structure or when it is released from the cells containing it. The consumption of tomato-based products significantly increases the concentration of lycopene in the blood.

For example, it would be necessary to consume 3 to 13 times more fresh tomatoes than juice or tomato paste to increase the blood levels of lycopene in an equivalent way. Cutting fresh tomatoes into small pieces and consuming them with a source of fat would have the effect of improving the absorption of this carotenoid in the blood. It should be noted that the absorption capacity of lycopene in the body differs from one individual to another.

In the United States, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has authorized the use of an expression evoking the potential effects of tomato and tomato sauce to prevent prostate cancer. This claim, on the labels of certain food products, indicating consumption of 1/2 to 1 cup (125 to 250 ml) of tomatoes or tomato sauce per week may reduce the risk of prostate cancer. It must be accompanied by the following statement: “The FDA concludes that there is little scientific evidence to support this allegation.” Such a claim is currently not allowed in Canada.

Lycopene: the food or the supplement?

The tomato contains several essential nutrients (antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, fibers) that exert different health effects. These active compounds act synergistically. Lycopene supplements do not provide the same beneficial effects and are not yet well demonstrated among humans. The consumption of vegetables and fruit, including tomatoes, remains the best way to avail themselves of the benefits attributed to them. Several prospective and epidemiological studies have shown high consumption of fruits and vegetables reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease, certain cancers and other chronic diseases.

Tomato in different forms

Tomato-derived products are interesting sources of lycopene, in a form which is particularly well absorbed in the body. But be careful. These products contain high amounts of sodium in comparison with the fresh tomato. For example, a 15 ml (1 tbsp.) serving of tomato sauce and ketchup provides 80 mg and 170 mg of sodium, respectively. This represents 3% to 7% of the maximum sodium intake recommended each day. These foods should therefore be consumed in moderation, as part of a balanced diet, which includes 7 to 10 servings of fruits and vegetables per day for an adult.

Precautions

Tomato hypersensitivity

People allergic to latex can demonstrate hypersensitivity to tomato, as well as other foods (such as kiwi, banana, peach, pepper). The reactions are diverse, from urticaria to anaphylactic reactions. Given the potential severity of the reactions, very special attention must be paid at the time of consumption of these foods in people already sensitized to latex allergens. It is recommended to consult an allergist to determine the cause of the reactions to certain foods and to better understand the precautions to be taken.

The disorders of the esophagus

It’s recommended for people who suffer from gastric or esophageal problems (gastro-esophageal reflux, peptic esophagitis or symptomatic hernia hernia) to pay special attention to the consumption of tomatoes or tomato juice. It’s possible that consumption of these foods causes varices pain.

Oral allergy syndrome

The tomato is one of the foods that can be implicated in the oral allergy syndrome. This syndrome is an allergic reaction to certain proteins of a range of fruits, vegetables and nuts. It affects some people with allergies to environmental pollen and is almost always preceded by hay fever. Thus, when some people allergic to ragweed consume raw tomato (cooking usually degrades allergen proteins), an immunological reaction may occur. These people have itching and burning sensations that are confined to the mouth, lips and throat. Symptoms may appear, then disappear, usually a few minutes after consuming or touching the food being implicated. In the absence of other symptoms, this reaction is not serious and the consumption of tomato does not have to be avoided systematically. It is recommended, however, to consult an allergist to determine the cause of the reactions to plant foods. The latter will be able to assess whether special precautions should be taken.

Choice and conservation

Choose

The best tomatoes are in season, preferably in the public market, or even at a producer. Look for old varieties, often less beautiful, but generally more tasty.

Do not confuse immature green tomato and mature green tomato. In the first case, it is a tomato that will turn red, orange or yellow when it reaches maturity; in the second, a fruit that remains green at maturity. Both are consumed, but the first is cooked or marinated, while the second, sweeter, can be eaten fresh.

Keep

Keep tomatoes preferably out of the refrigerator. Their flavor and texture deteriorate when exposed to temperatures below 15 ºc. Put tomatoes that are not perfectly ripe to ripen in a paper bag or in a compotier.

Freezer. Freeze the whole tomatoes on a plate. Once frozen, put them in freezer bags. Or, make them whiten, peel them and let them drain for an hour or two before freezing them.

Organic gardening

Sow in a tray within four to six weeks before the last anticipated frost. During germination, make sure the temperature is between 21 and 26 ºC.

Before putting them in the ground, harden the plants by going out each day and gradually increasing the duration of their stay outside (a process that should last two weeks).

Transplant in a sunny and protected area of the wind. Space the plants from 45 to 60 cm in the row and at 1 m between the rows.

Soil pH: between 6.5 and 6.7.

Protect the plants if the night temperatures fall below 15 ºC.

Irrigation: 2.5 to 5 cm per week.

Prune by eliminating the greedy, these buds that grow on the undetermined plants.

To avoid the risk of disease, rotate for three or four years by not forgetting that the potato, eggplant, pepper and pepper are part of the same family and are susceptible to the same diseases.

If frost threatens, harvest all the green tomatoes and put them to ripen inside, or remove the whole plant and hang it in a protected area. The cracking of the fruit is due to genetic factors, irregular watering or too severe a size. Choose resistant varieties, irrigate regularly, mulch and, on undetermined plants, retain two main stems rather than one.

The apical rot is warned by ensuring that the PH is fairly high and the irrigation is regular.

Ecology and environment

The popularity of the tomato requires increasingly important growing surfaces. It is even grown in desert areas, where the loss of water by evaporation is very important. In some areas, a portion of the water normally destined for the local populations, already unspoiled in this regard, must be diverted to irrigate the tomato fields.

In order to cultivate them in the desert areas on the edge of the ocean, scientists from the United States have developed varieties of tomato that can be irrigated with salt water. But this solution worries: the irrigation of the land by sea water may increase the salt deposits in the soil of these regions, while it is precisely because of the salt that it has been made sterile.

On the other hand, some agri-food multinationals are working on the creation of a drought-resistant transgenic tomato. These experiments also raise controversy.

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