Most of my recipes lately have included tomatoes, including yesterdays soup. It’s no surprise, given that the prime season for tomatoes is July through September. This is when tomatoes are at their prime and you can find all sorts of varieties, not just the traditional red ones. There are yellow, orange, purple, and green tomatoes too, and all of them are so full of flavor this time of year — as sweet as the fruit they are (yes, that’s right, tomatoes are actually fruit, not vegetables)!
Surely you’ve heard at some point or another that tomatoes are healthy, but what makes them so beneficial?
- They are an excellent source of vitamins C, A, and K. Vitamins C and A have antioxidant properties, which means they help fight off disease. And vitamin K plays a big role in bone health.
- They’re a good source of fiber and potassium. Fiber helps keep you full and lower high cholesterol, and potassium helps lower high blood pressure and reduce the risk of heart disease.
- They’re known for containing lycopene. Lycopene in tomatoes has been a hot topic for a while. It’s an antioxidant that helps protect cells and other structures in the body from oxygen damage. Therefore, it helps to prevent certain cancers, including prostate cancer, and heart disease. A couple of notes about lycopene:
- To get the benefits of lycopene, it is best to eat cooked tomatoes. During cooking, especially with olive oil, the nutrients become more concentrated and more available to your body.
- Lycopene supplements won’t have the same benefits of lycopene from tomatoes, because there are other compounds in tomatoes that combined with lycopene give them their health benefits.
When buying fresh tomatoes, look for a deep color, smooth skin, and no soft spots. It’s important to store tomatoes at room temperature — NOT in the refrigerator! Refrigerating tomatoes impedes their ripening and decreases their flavor. Not only does cooking tomatoes increase the benefits of lycopene, it also adds to the sweetness of the tomatoes (this is especially true when tomatoes are not in season).
When buying canned tomato products and sauces, look at the ingredients. Many canned and jarred products have added salt and sweeteners, like high fructose corn syrup and sugar. Your best bet is to buy unsalted canned tomatoes or tomato paste and some fresh tomatoes to combine and make your own sauce at home with fresh herbs and spices.
What’s your favorite tomato dish?