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Tomato Health Benefits

Healthy Tomato Soup

Tomatoes have high concentrations of lycopene. Lycopene is a carotenoid and is one of the most powerful of anti-oxidants. In plants it protects leaves from the ravages of sunlight. In humans (and other animals) it serves a similar function, it works to prevent breakdown of cellular DNA.

The body accesses the anti-oxidant properties best when the tomato is cooked or processed. The processing breaks the cells of the tomato down into a form where the digestive system can best process the nutrients provided. Lycopene within tomatoes is thought to have health benefits that extend to helping prevent cancer, reducing LDL cholesterol, and even slowing the aging process. Absorption by the body is also aided when tomatoes are consumed with fat rich foods like olive oil. More is also available in processed foods that contain the tomato peel. Tomato paste, puree, juice, and almost any canned form are beneficial.

Even so, lycopene by itself as a supplement is not as effective for nutrition as it is when consumed with the other elements of the tomato. These nutrients include vitamins B, C, E, and K - with minerals iron, copper, phosphorous - plus protein, pantothetic acid, and niacin. Tomatoes even contain a trace of tryptophan1. Tomato consumption is thought to help reduce blood-clotting and inflammation. The vitamin K helps maintain bone health by keeping up osteocalcin levels. Folate in tomatoes helps to reduce the risk of colon cancer. The chromium content of tomatoes helps diabetic patients maintain stable blood sugar levels.

Although processed tomatoes are better, fresh tomatoes are still have excellent nutritional value.

Tomato Safety and Allergic Reactions

Tomatoes are a member of the nightshade family as are potatoes. As such they contain an alkaloid in the leaves called "tomatine" that is poisonous. Nevertheless, the poison is not extreme. Gardeners can handle the plants with relative impunity. However, directly consumed in large amounts, tomatine is a gastrointestinal tract irritant and can cause "inflamed intestinal mucosa, ulceration, hemorrhage, stomach pains, constipation or diarrhea." Other symptoms include: "apathy, drowsiness, salivation, labored breathing, trembling, ataxia, muscle weakness, convulsions, involuntary urination, paralysis, loss of consciousness, coma, [or] death due to respiratory paralysis."2 In other words, do not eat the stems or leaves!

Allergic reactions may occur with any food. In tomatoes allergic reactions occur more frequently than average. They are caused by a body specific response to some element within the food. Symptoms are wide ranging and include, hives and skin rashes, headaches, itching, stomach ache, hyperactivity, insomnia, and runny nose. Once an allergy to a food is established, most doctors sensibly recommend that the food be avoided.

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  1. WHFoods on Tomato Health
  2. Cornel University: Nightshade