Tomatoes 101: Nutrition Facts and Health Benefits
Updated: Aug 20, 2019
Written by Adda Bjarnadottir, MS on February 6, 2015
Known scientifically as Solanum lycopersicum, the tomato is the berry of a plant from the nightshade family, native to South America. Despite technically being a fruit, the tomato is generally categorized as a vegetable. Tomatoes are the major dietary source of the antioxidant lycopene, which has been linked to many health benefits, including reduced risk of heart disease and cancer. They are also a great source of vitamin C, potassium, folate and vitamin K.
Health Benefits of Tomatoes
Consumption of tomatoes and tomato-based products has been linked to many benefits regarding heart disease, cancer prevention and skin health.
Cardiovascular disease, including heart attacks and strokes, is the world's most common cause of death.
A study in middle-aged men showed that low blood levels of lycopene and beta-carotene are linked to increased risk of heart attacks and strokes. Increasing evidence from clinical trials shows that lycopene supplementation is effective at lowering LDL cholesterol. Clinical trials of tomato products have also shown benefit against inflammation and markers of oxidative stress. They also show a protective effect on the inner layer of our blood vessels and may decrease the risk of blood clotting.
Cancer is a generic term for the uncontrolled growth of abnormal cells that spread beyond their normal boundaries, often invading other parts of the body. Observational studies have found links between tomatoes, tomato products, and fewer incidences of prostate-, lung- and stomach cancers.
The high lycopene content is believed to be the main reason for these protective effects, but high quality human trials are needed to confirm this. A study in women shows that high concentrations of carotenoids, found in high amounts in tomatoes, may protect against the development of breast cancer.
Tomatoes are considered beneficial for skin health. Tomato-based foods rich in lycopene and other plant compounds may protect against sunburn. According to one study, there were 40% fewer sunburns after ingesting 40 grams of tomato paste (providing 16 mg of lycopene) with olive oil, every day for 10 weeks.
Tomatoes are juicy and sweet, full of antioxidants and may help fight several diseases. They are especially high in lycopene, a plant compound that has been linked to improved heart health, cancer prevention and protection against sunburns. Tomatoes can be a valuable part of a healthy diet.