Like HowStuffWorks on Facebook!

How many calories are in a tomato?

A ripe, juicy tomato is one of the healthiest foods you can serve up. See more heirloom tomato pictures.

Sliced, diced or julienned, tomatoes are one of the most delicious and nutritious of Mother Nature's many offerings. In fact, if it were socially acceptable, many tomato enthusiasts might forget the whole tedious preparation process and enjoy them apple-style, one bite at a time. No matter how you serve them, tomatoes always add a nutritious component to any meal.

Of course, just because they're nutritional superstars doesn't mean that tomatoes don't contain a few calories. Fortunately, the key word in that sentence is "few." Tomatoes pack hardly any calories compared with many other snack-time favorites. One medium-sized tomato contains about 24 calories. One thin slice (like you'd put on a sandwich) yields a paltry 3 calories, with an entire cup of cherry tomatoes only costing your diet 27 calories, according to Nutrition Data.

Here's even more good news: In addition to being light in calories, tomatoes are also completely void of nutritional space-wasters like cholesterol and saturated and trans fats, and they're very low in sodium and sugar. There just isn't enough room for those nasty elements with all of the calcium, iron and vitamins C and A already packed into each bite.

In short, tomatoes are pretty near perfect just the way they are. So why do so many people feel the need to dress them up with less-than-healthful seasonings? Cooking tomatoes with salt pushes the sodium content through the roof (593 milligrams). Dipping cherry tomatoes in one tablespoon of ranch salad dressing packs an extra 73 calories on average, according to Nutrition Data. Tomato juice is one relatively healthy option for those looking to increase their daily veggie intake. In terms of calories, one serving of tomato juice will only cost you about 41 calories; however, it is high in sodium and sugars, so it's probably a good idea to consume it in moderation.

If a tomato au natural isn't your cup of tea, there are other healthy ways to include tomatoes in your everyday diet. Many people mix cottage cheese with chunks of tomatoes and a dash of salt and pepper to meet daily dairy requirements. Or, maybe a Caprese salad featuring chopped tomatoes, fresh basil and parsley, mozzarella cheese and a pinch of salt and ground pepper is more your style.

Any way you slice it (literally), tomato-based snacks are much healthier for you than snacks full of empty calories and fat. Last time we checked, potato chips don't contain carotenoids that prevent heart disease and cancer, and cookies lack potassium to ward off strokes. But tomatoes certainly do!