The healthy good looks of a fresh, red ripe tomato are not just skin deep. Tomatoes are packed with health promoting vitamins and phytochemicals, in particular lycopene. Tomatoes also contain 1g of fiber, have almost no sodium and fat and, like all vegetables, have no cholesterol. All this great nutrition for a mere 25 calories per medium tomato.
The remarkable tomato nutrition story is full of technical terms – some may be familiar, some less so. The following compendium of terms should make the accompanying tomato research report and others you read in the future easier to understand.
VITAMINS: Essential substances that must be consumed because the body is unable to manufacture them. They are required to maintain health and normal body functions and to prevent the diseases that result from consuming insufficient amounts. Tomatoes are a good source of VITAMIN A and an excellent source of VITAMIN C.
VITAMIN A: Vitamin A is essential for vision, normal growth and a healthy immune system. There are two types of vitamin A – retinoids (pre-formed vitamin A found in foods of animal origin) and carotenoids (found in foods of plant origin and converted into vitamin A). A medium tomato supplies 20% of our daily value for vitamin A.
VITAMIN C: Also referred to as ascorbic acid; vitamin C plays a vital role in combating infection, keeping gums healthy and healing wounds. Vitamin C is also involved in bone health. One medium tomato meets 40% of our daily need for vitamin C. The vitamin also functions as an ANTIOXIDANT. Some scientific evidence suggests that consumption of antioxidant vitamins may reduce the risk of certain forms of cancer. However, FDA does not endorse this claim because this evidence is limited and not conclusive.
CAROTENOIDS: The source of vitamin A activity in tomatoes. Carotenoids are plant pigments, responsible for the bright rosy color of tomatoes. Carotenoids are fat-soluble, which means they are better absorbed in the presence of oil or fat. There are a number of different carotenoids in tomatoes including BETA-CAROTENE and LYCOPENE.
BETA-CAROTENE: The carotenoid in tomatoes with the most vitamin A activity. Once thought to be a major player in cancer prevention, recent scientific studies show less encouraging results, possibly because beta-carotene was studied alone rather than in association with other vitamins and antioxidants.
PHYTOCHEMICALS: Hundreds of substances produced naturally by plants to protect themselves from disease. Their exact roles in promoting human health are still under investigation.
FREE RADICALS: Highly reactive oxygen by-products created by normal cell metabolism. Free radicals lack electrons and try to steal them from other molecules, damaging them. This damage is thought to be a fundamental cause of many degenerative diseases and the aging process. If free radicals attack the molecules involved in normal cellular reproduction, cells may become cancerous. Free radicals can damage the molecules responsible for moving cholesterol through the bloodstream resulting in the build up of plaque in the arteries.
LYCOPENE: Lycopene, one of nature’s most powerful antioxidants, is found almost exclusively in tomatoes.
FIBER: A mixture of indigestible carbohydrates found in plant foods, does not supply calories or nutrients but aids in digestion and elimination. Tomatoes contain 1g of fiber; people who eat diets high in fiber have a lowered risk of heart disease. Low fat diets rich in fruits and vegetables (foods that are low in fat and may contain dietary fiber, Vitamin A, or Vitamin C) may reduce the risk of some types of cancer, a disease associated with many factors.