Lovely Lycopene: 5 Hidden Health Benefits of Tomatoes

Fruit? Vegetable? Either way, it's definitely good for you. See some pictures of international tomato recipes.
©iStockphoto.com/AgisilaouSpyrouPhotography

The tomato is a versatile fruit parading around in a vegetable suit. And although there might be some confusion about what it is, people don't seem to have any problem finding and using this popular food ingredient. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), the average person eats about 18 pounds of tomatoes annually, and those pasta, pizza and ketchup calories aren't wasted, either. Tomatoes are tasty and good for you, too [source: Your Total Health].

From contributing to a heart-healthy diet to helping to protect the body from a variety of cancers, tomatoes are a flexible vegetable (or fruit if you want to get technical) that's as easy on your pocketbook as it is on your waistline.

5

Tomatoes Help Maintain Healthy Bones

Tomatoes contribute to bone health and help keep your blood vessels flexible with nearly 18 percent of your daily requirement of vitamin K in each cupful. Vitamin K deficiency, although not very common, may be a side effect of long-term use of antibiotics and can be characterized by skin bruising. Vitamin K is stored in the fatty tissue in your body and helps to anchor the calcium in your bones. It's also a clotting agent [source: Westfall].

If tomatoes aren't your favorite vegetable, other good sources of vitamin K are spinach, cabbage, broccoli, soy, Swiss chard, collard greens, green onion and parsley.

4

Tomatoes Help Lower Blood Pressure

Your blood pressure is serious business.
Your blood pressure is serious business.
©iStockphoto.com/webphotographer

A good source of potassium citrate, tomatoes can help to lower your blood pressure while they're protecting your bones. With 11.4 percent of your daily requirement of potassium in a single cup, eating more tomatoes is one easy way to help fight high blood pressure with diet rather than relying on supplements or prescription medications [source: Your Total Health].

Other foods high in potassium citrate are bananas, citrus, salmon, tuna, spinach, potatoes, yogurt and poultry. Having a low potassium level can result in loss of energy, muscle cramps and an irregular heartbeat. For some conditions like kidney disease, increased potassium intake is contraindicated, so before you make any big changes, check with your doctor.

3

Tomatoes Help Lower Cholesterol

In the fight against high cholesterol, tomatoes provide a double whammy. Some of the phytocompounds, like lycopene, in tomatoes help to lower bad LDL cholesterol and also increase good HDL cholesterol in the body, although the mechanism that makes this happen isn't completely understood.

One big advantage to eating tomato-based products is that tomatoes are one of the few vegetables (OK, they're technically a fruit) that retain some of their important phytocompounds like lycopene when cooked. In some ways, processed tomatoes are even more nutritious than fresh because lycopene becomes more available to the body after it's been cooked, and many cooked tomato preparations are concentrated. Some delicious examples are pizza sauce, ketchup and cocktail sauce [source: Cooking Nook].

2

Tomatoes Help Keep Your Eyes Bright

Don't lose sight of the good-for-you properties of the tomato.
Don't lose sight of the good-for-you properties of the tomato.
©iStockphoto.com/NejroN

Diseases of the eye, like cataracts and macular degeneration, have a close association with diet, and tomatoes are high in compounds, vitamins and minerals that contribute to good eye health.

With high levels of vitamins E, A and C, as well as copper, tomatoes are a pretty good menu choice if you want to keep your eyes in top condition, but they also have a few secret ingredients that make them a super food for your eyes.

Tomatoes contain the phytochemical antioxidants zeaxanthin, lutein and lycopene, all compounds that protect the eye from light damage. The human body cannot synthesize these compounds, so they have to be introduced by the foods we eat [source: California Growers].

Instead of eating an apple, eat a tomato a day to keep the eye doctor away.

1

The Benefits of Lycopene

Lycopene may aid the body in fighting heart disease and some cancers. Although there's conflicting evidence (in 2005, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration refused to approve the marketing and sale of lycopene as a cancer preventative supplement), there is some defense for the persistent belief that lycopene, or lycopene in conjunction with other phytochemicals in tomatoes, may help in the fight against pancreatic and prostate cancer as well as a number of other ailments [source: Reinberg].

Whether you're willing to hop on the lycopene bandwagon or not, there's ample evidence to support the belief that tomatoes are a good source of nutrients that the body needs to replenish itself and stave off disease. The next time you're at the store, adopt a tomato. Either fresh, stewed, juiced, pureed or sun-dried, eating tomatoes is a delicious way to stay healthy.

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