6 Health Benefits of Tomatoes
Jul 09, 2023
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Tomatoes come in several delicious varieties, from beefsteak to Roma. This seasonal fruit does more than add flavor to a classic BLT or color to a Margherita pizza; it offers health benefits affecting many body systems.
Sweetness and acidity may vary based on the type of tomato you choose, but all varieties of tomatoes offer essential nutrients, including potassium and vitamin C. They’re also full of antioxidants, which are vital in small quantities for maintaining heart health and preventing certain cancers.
Whether you cook a tomato or eat it raw can affect which nutrients are most available for absorption, but you can’t go wrong with a balanced diet, registered dietician Angela Houlie told Verywell.
“Variety is key, and this really goes for any fruits and vegetables,” Houlie said. “Try to eat them raw, cooked, and steamed, just because depending on the different methods, it can definitely increase or decrease the nutrients found in the particular fruit or vegetable.”
Tomatoes are low in calories and full of vital nutrients.
One raw, medium-sized tomato contains roughly 22 calories and less than one gram of fat. It is naturally low sodium and low glycemic, with just 6 milligrams (mg) of sodium and 3 grams (g) of sugar. And a single raw tomato contains about half a cup of water, making it an excellent food for hydration.
A medium tomato also includes the following nutrients:
Certain antioxidants, such as lycopene, lutein, and zeaxanthin, are more available to be absorbed by the body when a tomato is cooked. Antioxidants can help combat free radicals, unstable molecules that damage the body’s cells and can lead to cancer.
Tomatoes also contain several essential vitamins and minerals that support body systems, including the immune system and your bones and blood. Small amounts of fluoride, folate, vitamin A, vitamin K, and beta-carotene can be found in raw tomatoes, registered dietician Lorraine Kearney told Verywell.
Check the nutrition facts if you’re buying tomato products such as soup, sauce, or puree in stores. These products may contain added salt, but low-sodium products will have less than 140 milligrams of sodium per serving, Kearney said. If you’re cooking tomatoes at home, Houlie recommends pairing them with olive oil or another healthy fat for maximum nutrient absorption.
You can get a healthy serving of potassium from tomatoes, Houlie said. One medium tomato contains about the same amount of potassium as a banana.
Potassium and sodium are both vital ingredients for heart function, Kearney explained. Your heart needs these electrolytes so it can contract and expand, and potassium is essential for relaxing the blood vessels.
Most people with high blood pressure can benefit from the high potassium, fiber, and lycopene levels in tomatoes, Houlie said. These nutrients are all important, but several studies have linked lycopene to lower heart disease risk and mortality.
Tomatoes contain several electrolytes, which are essential for basic cell functioning. The potassium, sodium, magnesium, and fluoride in tomatoes may help decrease muscle soreness and exercise fatigue after a workout, Kearney said.
Magnesium is vital for muscle contraction, so eating tomatoes before or after your workout can help replenish it. The water content in a tomato adds some extra hydration, too.
The fruit is also anti-inflammatory thanks to vitamin C, Kearney added, which may also help support exercise recovery.
Potassium helps power the heart and plays a role in nerve function throughout the body, Houlie said. One recent study found that people who consumed more potassium and less sodium had better cognitive function.
Another study considered how carotenoids, the antioxidants that color vegetables, affect brain health in the long term. Researchers found that people with higher blood levels of lutein and zeaxanthin—both present in cooked tomatoes—had lower rates of dementia. Lutein and zeaxanthin are also known for protecting eye health as people age, Kearney said.
Cooking tomatoes may compromise the vitamin C content, but it increases the availability of several important antioxidants that may protect against cancer growth.
“Especially for men, lycopene is really beneficial to help reduce any prostate-related issues and can be really protective against getting cancer,” Houlie said.
Lycopene and other plant pigments (carotenoids) are thought to protect against cancer growth due to their antioxidant properties. Antioxidants can help defend against physiological stress caused by free radicals, which are commonly found in tobacco smoke, UV light, and ultra-processed foods, Houlie said.
Several studies have found that men who eat a lot of tomatoes—including raw tomatoes, tomato sauce, and pizza—have a lower risk of developing prostate cancer due to the total amount of lycopene absorbed, which is optimized in a cooked tomato.
Lycopene and other antioxidants in tomatoes can also benefit male fertility by improving sperm count and sperm motility, Kearney said.
Tomatoes can help manage blood sugar in people with diabetes, Kearney said. Their fiber content helps regulate blood sugar and bowel movements. The fruit is also low glycemic, so it can be a good snack for avoiding a blood sugar spike and crash.
“Fiber just naturally slows digestion down, so it’s going to keep you fuller longer,” Houlie added. “And it’s not going to negatively impact your blood sugar levels, which is something we want in cases of diabetes.”
This is especially important given that 95% of the U.S. population doesn’t get enough fiber, Kearney said.
Naringenin, a polyphenol found in citrus fruit and tomatoes, may also have anti-diabetic properties. Scientists have studied this primarily in animals, but more research could reveal how the compounds in tomatoes can help manage diabetes in humans as well.
Tomatoes also contain chlorogenic acid, a compound that can help encourage collagen production, Kearney said.
Vitamin C and A—both found in raw tomatoes—can help to brighten the appearance of skin, hair, and nails, she added.
To get the skin benefits associated with tomatoes, you can eat them as a snack or in a salad, Kearney said. As tempting as a DIY tomato face mask or vitamin C supplements may sound, eating whole foods is the best way to absorb key nutrients.
You need micro-amounts of tomatoes’ antioxidants and vitamins, so a little salad goes a long way. Eat a variety of tomato recipes and products to get the best balance of nutrients.
USDA: FoodData Central. Tomatoes, red, ripe, raw, year round average.
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By Andrea MichelsonAndrea Michelson is a health and science journalist who specializes in public health, nutrition, lifestyle, and mental health