Who knew that the secret to everything from disease prevention to glowing, healthy skin could be found in the world’s most popular fruit?
Tomatoes are a nutritional powerhouse, due in part to their high amount of lycopene, a powerful antioxidant that gives tomatoes their red color, and may lower the risk of heart disease, improve vision, lower ‘bad’ cholesterol, and even decrease the risk of 9 common types of cancer.
Americans eat over 20 pounds of tomatoes each year. Botanically a fruit, the tomato belongs to the nightshade family, along with eggplants, peppers, and potatoes. They’re nutrient-dense and low in calories—a cup of tomatoes has only 32 calories! In addition to lycopene, the ruby-colored fruits are also loaded with vitamins A and C. But not all tomatoes are created equal. Organic tomatoes have higher concentrations of vitamin C and lycopene. Although conventional tomatoes are larger, the organically grown ones pack more of a nutritional punch.
Here are some of the truly impressive health benefits tomatoes offer.
Want gorgeous skin? You’re in luck—lycopene boosts pro-collagen, the molecule that keeps your skin firm and youthful looking.
The same molecule may also help prevent sunburn. A small study showed that women who ate 55 grams of tomato paste each day had a 33 percent increase in skin protection against ultraviolet (UV) exposure. Although more research on a larger group of people is needed, and diet is not a substitute for sunscreen, it’s very possible that tomatoes offer some protection against sunburn.
The succulent fruit appears to be a boon to brain health. Researchers looked at over 1,000 Finish men to see if higher levels of lycopene in their blood serum reduced the risk of stroke—and sure enough, it did. Participants with more of the antioxidant in their blood lowered their risk of stroke by 55 to 59 percent. The study findings were published in the journal Neurology.
Following a tomato-rich Mediterranean diet—supplemented with extra virgin olive oil or mixed nuts—lowers the risk of major cardiovascular events (including heart attack, stroke or death from cardiovascular causes) by 30 percent, according to a new study published by the New England Journal of Medicine.
This study included over 7,000 participants, and randomly assigned them to one of three diets: a low-fat diet, a Mediterranean diet with extra virgin olive oil, and a Mediterranean diet with mixed nuts. The low-fat diet fared the worst at preventing these diseases.
The Mediterranean diet, which is often high in tomatoes, emphasizes plant-based foods (such as fruits, vegetables), whole grains, nuts, fish, legumes, olive oil, and even wine.
A review article in American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine showed a link between eating tomatoes and a lowered risk of osteoporosis, the brittle bone disease that affects abut 10 million Americans, and can lead to bone fractures, disability, and deformity. The paper also reported that tomato consumption also helps ward off photoaging from UV light, cognitive dysfunction, and cardiovascular disease, the leading killer of Americans.
People with higher levels of lycopene in their blood have been shown in some studies to have a lower risk of certain types of cancer—particularly cancers affecting the prostate, lung, and stomach. Lycopene may also decrease risk for cancers of the mouth, breast, pancreas, cervix, colon, and rectum. In some studies, this protective effect was found only with tomatoes and tomato-based foods, and not with lycopene supplements. Further research is needed to collect more information, but there are clinical trials already underway to further understand whether tomatoes can help prevent or treat cancer.
Looks like lycopene is not the only disease-fighting ingredient in the tasty red fruit. It’s counterintuitive, but early research indicates that foods which contain small amounts of dietary nicotine, including tomatoes and peppers, may help prevent Parkinson’s (a movement disease that affects the nervous system), according to a study in the Annals of Neurology.
Researchers from the University of Washington in Seattle looked at almost 500 patients diagnosed with Parkinson’s and a control group of 600 unaffected people. This protective effect appeared to be stronger in those who had little or no prior use of nicotine in the form of tobacco. More research will help determine whether it’s actually the dietary nicotine creating this protective effect, or if there are other factors at play.
Tomatoes are literally part of a dream diet: The healthiest sleepers consume more lycopene, compared to people who skimp on slumber or snooze too much, according to a new research study from the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine, which was published in the journal Appetite.
And that’s not all. The same study showed that those with the healthiest sleep patterns (an average of 7 to 8 hours a night) also had higher levels of vitamin C in their diets. A cup of cherry tomatoes contains almost 20 mg of vitamin C, or around 31 percent of the recommended daily amount based on a 2,000 calorie-diet.
So, the next time you can’t sleep, reach for a juicy ripe tomato—and rest easy!
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