In recent times there has been a lot of scientific interest in the role that food plays in human health. This is because it has been established that optimum nutrition-providing all nutrients in both kind and amount – is the cornerstone of good health and the cutting edge of prevention in health. The foods we eat influence our growth, development, functional abilities and overall health. Food acts as a medicine, to maintain health, prevent and treat diseases. The nutrients in food enable the cells in our body to perform their necessary functions. Therefore, when nutrient intake does not regally meet the nutrient needs dictated by the cell activity, metabolic process slow down or stop and disease results.
These nutrients come from variety of food sources including fruits and vegetables. Diets high in fruits (Such as tomatoes) and vegetables are widely recommended for their health-promoting properties. Consumption of tomato fruits, like those of many other plant species that are part of the human diet, is considered to be associated with several positive effects on health.
Tomatoes are the edible often red fruit of the tomato plant. It is a sweet, juicy and healthy fruit; having much lower sugar content than other edible fruits. It is a popular culinary ingredient with high anti-oxidant property; they can be eaten in a variety of ways. The tomato fruits, like those of many other plant species that are part of our diet, are an important spruce of substances with known beneficial effects on health, including vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. The tomato is referred to as a “functional food”, a food that goes beyond providing just basic nutrition, additionally preventing chronic disease and delivering other health benefits, due to constituent beneficial phytochemicals such as lycopene.
A large body of research supports an inverse relationship between consuming tomatoes and tomato products and the risk of certain cancer. Fruits and vegetables have historically held a place in dietary guidance because of their concentrations of vitamins especially vitamin A and C; minerals especially electrolytes; and more recently phytochemicals especially antioxidants. Additionally, fruits and vegetables are recommended as a source of dietary fiber. Fruits and vegetables though low in calorie are nutrient dense, which means they are packed with vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and fiber.
Research has shown that people who eat fruits and vegetables as part of their diary diet have a reduced risk of chronic diseases (Diary Council of California, 2015). High fruit and vegetable intake is also associated with healthy skin and hair, increased energy and lower weight. Increasing consumption of fruits and vegetables significantly decreases the risk of obesity and overall mortality.
We are going to discuss the following:
- To explain the concept of the fruit tomato.
- To discuss the nutritional content of tomatoes.
- To discuss the medicinal benefits of tomato to the body
- To discuss the aesthetic benefits of tomato to the body.
- To explain ways of using tomatoes to maximize its full nutritional benefits.
Concept of Tomatoes
Tomatoes are a favourite food of many and are great on their own, in a salad or accompanying any meal. The word tomato (Lycopersicon esculentum) refers to the fleshly and edible often red fruit of the tomato plant. Tomato is botanically a fruit but it is considered a vegetable for culinary purposes; which has caused some confusion.
Botanically, tomato is not only a fruit, but also a berry since it is formed from a single ovary, this notwithstanding most people including chefs categorize tomato as a vegetable. Originally, tomato was named Solanum lycopersicum after the food family to which it belongs – the solanaceae (Sometimes called “solenoid” or nightshade”) family. The botanical name solanum lycopersicum for tomatoes has now largely been replaced by the name Lycopersicon esculentum.
The botanical classification of the tomato has had an interesting history, first being placed in the genus Solanum, along with the potato and being identified as Solanum Lycopersicon. However, this designation was later changed to Lycopersicum esculentum, by the French botanist Tournefort. Lycopersicon is derived from the Greek word meaning “wolf peach”, and esculentum simply meaning edible. The tomato plant is a herbaceous annual plant in the family solanaceae grown for its edible fruit. The plant can be erect with short stems or vine-like with long, spreading stems.
The stems are covered in coarse hairs and the leaves are arranged spirally. The tomato plant produces yellow flowers, which can develop into a cyme of numbering between 3-12, and usually a round fruit (berry) which is fleshly, smoothed skinned and of diverse colours (though most commonly red). The tomato plant can grow 1-3 meters (3-10 feet) in height and it has a weak stem that often sprawls over the ground and vines over other plans. It is a perennial in its native habitat, although often grown outdoors in temperate climates as an annual. An average common tomato weighs approximately 100 grams. As an annual crop, it is harvested after only one growing season.
Brief History of Tomatoes
The tomato is native to Western South America and Central America. In 1519, Cortez discovered tomatoes growing in Montezuma’s gardens and brought seeds back to Europe where they were planted as ornamental curiosities, but not eaten. As a member of the deadly nightshade family, tomatoes were erroneously to be poisonous (although the leaves; till date, are still considered poisonous) by Europeans who were suspicious of their bright, shiny fruit. Most Europeans thought that the tomato was poisonous because of the way plates and flatware was made in the 1500’s. Rich people at that time used flatware made of pewter, which has high lead content.
Foods high in acid, like tomatoes, would cause the lead to leech out into the food, resulting in lead poisoning and death. Poor people, who ate off of plates made of wood, did not have that problem, and hence did not have an aversion to tomatoes. This is essentially the reason why tomatoes were only eaten by poor people, especially Italians until the 1800’s. Tomato use as a food originated in Mexico, and spread throughout the world following the Spanish colonization of the Americas. Originally, tomatoes were “Small, hallow, tough, watery” fruits. The modern tomato we know today was developed in Mexico where the first variety to reach Europe was yellow in color, since in Spain and Italy they were known as pomid’oro, meaning yellow apples. The French referred to the tomato as pommes d’amour, or love apples, as they thought them to have stimulating aphrodisiacal properties (Diary Council of California, 2015).
The civil war was a tomato game-changer. Canneries boomed, filling contracts to feed the union army. Tomatoes, which grew quickly and held well during the canning process, rose to the occasion. After the war, demand for canned products grew, with more tomatoes being canned than any other food; this meant more farmers needed to grow them. It was not regarded as a kitchen vegetable until the times proceeding the Civil War period in the United States. From this point forward, tomatoes have become a staple item in the kitchen throughout the world. Each area of the world has its own tomato history and how it is used in everyday dining.
Varieties of Tomato
There are around 7,500 tomato varieties grown around the globe with different sizes, shapes and colours ranging from red to orange, yellow, pink, purple, green and white. Tomato fruit varieties are roughly divided into several categories, based mostly on shape and size. The most common types of tomatoes according to shape and size include:
- Globe Tomatoes: These are the standard tomatoes often referred to as “Slicing” tomatoes. They are the tomatoes of commerce, used for a wide variety of processing and fresh eating. They are easily identifiable because they are large, round and red.
- Beefsteak Tomatoes: are large tomatoes often used for sandwiches and similar applications. They are kidney-bean shaped, have thinner skin, and shorter shelf lie. This makes commercial use of this variety impractical.
- Roma Tomatoes: also known as plum or paste tomatoes (including pear tomatoes) because they are thick and contain fewer seeds than other tomato variants. They are bred with higher solid content for use in tomato sauce and paste, and are usually oblong in shape.
- Cherry Tomatoes: are small and round, just about the same size as a cherry but they are sweeter and juicer than the large varieties and are generally eaten whole in salads.
- Peer Tomatoes: they are peer-shaped and just about the size of a cherry tomato but without the high juice levels.
- Grape Tomatoes: a more recent introduction, are smaller and oblong, a variation on plum tomato, and used in salads.
- Campari Tomatoes: these are low in acidity but sweet and juicy. They are bigger than cherry tomatoes, but are small hanp;umtpomatoes.
Tomato Varieties Based on Colour
Tomatoes were not always red. The tomato varieties that existed when tomatoes were first cultivated were yellow or orange but through breeding, the standard of tomato plant varieties is now red. While red may be the predominant color among tomatoes now, other colors of tomatoes are still available.
- Red Tomato Varieties: Red tomatoes are the ones that you will see most commonly. Red tomato varieties include commonly known varieties like: better boy, early girl, beefsteak, beef master.
- Pink Tomato Varieties: These tomatoes are just a bit less vibrant than red varieties. They include; pink Brandywine, Caspian pink, Thai pinks. The flavors of these tomatoes are similar to red tomatoes.
- Orange Tomato Varieties: An orange tomato variety normally has roots in older tomato plant varieties. Some orange tomatoes include: Hawaiian Pineapple, Kellogg’s Breakfast and Persimmon. These tomatoes tend to be sweeter, almost fruit like in flavor.
- Yellow Tomato Varieties: Yellow tomatoes are anywhere from a dark yellow to a light yellow color. Some varieties include: azoychka, yellow stuffer, and garden peach. These tomato plant varieties are normally low acid and have a les tangy flavor than the tomatoes must people are used to.
- White Tomato Varieties: White tomatoes are a novelty among tomatoes. Typically they are a pale, pale yellow. Some white tomatoes include: White beauty, ghost cherry, and white queen. The flavor of white tomatoes tends to be bland, but they have the lowest acid of any of the tomato varieties.
- Green Tomato Varieties: Normally, when we think of a green tomato, we think of a tomato that is not ripe. But there are tomatoes that ripen green. These include: German Green Stripe, Green Moldovan, and green zebra, green tomato variety is typically strong but lower in acid than reds.
- Purple Tomato Varieties Or Black Tomato Varieties: Purple or black tomatoes hold onto more of their chlorophyll than most other varieties and will, therefore, ripen to dark red with purple tops or shoulders. Tomatoes plant varieties include: Cherokee purple, black Ethiopian and Paul Robeson. Purple or black tomatoes have a strong, robust, smoky flavor.
Other common varieties of tomatoes described are:
- Determinate (“bush”) tomatoes are varieties purposefully bred to grow vertically and remain relatively compact. The plant will stop growing one fruit begins developing on the terminal shoot and all the fruits ripen at around the same time. In contrasts.
- Indeterminate (“vining”) tomato varieties spread laterally and will continue to grow and produce fruit until frosts begin to fall. Indeterminate varieties can produce fruit all season and fruits will develop and ripen at different times.
- Heirloom tomatoes are generally open-pollinated varieties which have been conserved over many generations due to certain desirable characteristics such as flavor.
- Hybrid tomatoes are the product of cross-pollination between two parents with desirable characteristics such as high yield, early maturation, improved flavor or resistance to certain diseases.
Some of the tomato varieties available in our markets include: UTC tomato, UTC Igala, Igala tomato, Panchi tomato, Gboko tomato and Jos Plateaus tomato.
Nigeria is ranked the second largest tomato producer in Africa and 13th in the world with a total production estimated at 1 million hectares of land producing 1.701 million tones per annum with an average of 20 to 30 tonnes per hectare (Youth Initiative for Sustainable Agriculture [YISA], 2013). Tomato is best cultivated during the rainy season but is also cultivated all year round with good irrigation system. The supply of tomato in Nigeria comes from four principal zones concentrated in the northern part of the country namely; Jos Plateau, Gboko, Gombe, Zaria (Kicthen Butterfly, 2013.
Nutritional Contents of Tomato
Tomato is a nutrient dense fruit; whether raw or cooked, containing considerable amount of various food nutrients and phytonutrients.
The table below gives details of the nutritional content of 100 grams of red, ripe and raw tomato fruit (Source: USDA National Nutrient Data Base):
|Principle||Nutrient Value||Percentage of RDA|
The following phytonutrients are found in tomatoes:
- Flavonones: naringenin, chalconaringenin
- Flavonols: rutin, kaempferol, quercetin
- Hydroxycinnamic acids: caffeic acid, ferulic acid, coumaric acid
- Carotenoids: lycopene, lutein, zeaxanthin, beta-carotene
- Glycosides: esculeoside A
- Fatty acid derivatives: 9-oxo-octadecadienoic acid
Medicinal Benefits of Tomatoes
In the distant past tomatoes were thought to be toxic in nature and a contributing factor in the development of conditions such as cancer, brain fever and appendicitis. Research however has shown evidence to the contrary. Tomato consumption confers countless benefits on the human body. The nutrient dense fruit plays vital roles in the functioning of various body systems and they include:
Tomatoes are a good source of niacin (Vitamin B3) which plays a role in lowering high cholesterol levels. Fresh tomatoes and tomato extracts have been shown to help lower total cholesterol, low density lipoprotein (LDL) and triglycerides. In addition, tomato extracts have been shown to help prevent unwanted aggregation of platelet cells in the blood- a factor that is especially important is lowering risk of cardiovascular diseases such as stroke and atherosclerosis.
The potassium in tomatoes plays a role in lowering blood pressure, prevent heart attacks, strokes as well as many other heart related problems that are life threatening. Antioxidants like lycopene vitamin E and vitamin C contained in tomatoes provide critical antioxidant support in the cardiovascular system, thereby reducing the risk of cell damage.
Vitamin B6 and folates present in good amounts in tomatoes are both needed by the body to convert homocysteine (a potentially dangerous chemical capable of damaging the walls of the blood vessel and increasing the risk of heart attack and stroke) into other benign molecules.
Tomatoes counteract acidosis in the body by supplying alkaline minerals such as calcium, magnesium, potassium and sodium which help the body to maintain an alkaline balance with a pH of 7.365.
Central Nervous System
Choline is an important nutrient found in tomatoes that helps with sleep, muscle movement, learning and memory. Choline and potassium also helps to maintain the structure of cellular membranes, aid in the transmission of nerve impulses. High potassium intakes are also associated with a reduced risk of stroke.
The folic acid in tomatoes helps in preventing the development of depression by preventing an excess of homocysteine from forming in the body; which can prevent blood and other nutrients from reaching the brain. Excess homocysteine interferes with the production of the feel-good hormones serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine, which regulate not only mood, but sleep and appetite as well.
Riboflavin (Vitamin B2) richly present in tomatoes has been shown to be helpful in reducing the frequency of migraine attacks
Tomatoes contain healthy amount of fiber which can bulk up stool and reduce symptoms of constipation. A healthy amount of fiber helps to stimulate peristaltic motion in the smooth digestive muscles and also release gastric and digestive juices. This regulates bowel movements, thereby improving overall digestive health and preventing colorectal cancer.
Choline present in tomatoes assists in the absorption of fat and reduces chronic inflammation. It is also effective in preventing indigestion with the associated heartburn and flatulence.
Tomatoes contain coumaric acid and chlorogenic acid that work to protect the body by fighting against nitrosamines; the main carcinogens that are produced from cigarette smoke, thus tomatoes counter the effect of cigarette smoke in the body. This function also protects against lung cancer.
The vitamin A found in tomatoes is essential for maintaining and improving vision. It is also vital for maintain the integrity of the retina, preventing macular degeneration and night blindness.
The phytonutrient zeaxanthin found in tomatoes filters ultra violet (UV) rays from the eyes and protects the eyes to the extent of possibly preventing age-related macular degeneration.
Tomatoes contain a considerable amount of calcium and vitamin K. Both of these nutrients are essential in strengthening and performing minor repairs on the bones as well as the bone tissue. High potassium intakes from tomato consumption are also associated with protection against loss of muscle mass and preservation of bone mineral density. Lycopene present in tomatoes has been proven to decrease oxidative stress and risk of osteoporosis by maintaining the density.
The Vitamin A in tomatoes is essential for normal cell growth and division, the development of strong bones and teeth, healthy skin and mucous membrane in various organs. It works perfectly to keep our hair shiny and strong.
Vitamin C promotes wound healing and supports many other vital functions in the body.
The high potassium content of tomatoes helps the renal system maintain the body’s fluid balance. It is associated with reduction in the formation of kidney stones.
Tomatoes reduce the incidence of urinary tract infection as well as bladder cancer. This is because, tomatoes high water content (>90%) is diuretic and increases the elimination of toxins from the body.
Research has demonstrated that lycopene: the key compound in tomatoes could be used to improve male fertility and sperm quality. A study done in Britain among infertile men showed that lycopene could increase sperm count by up to 70 percent. By reacting with and neutralizing free radicals, lycopene could reduce the incidence of oxidative stress and thus, lessen the damage that would otherwise be inflicted on spermatozoa. It also increases the swimming speed of sperm and reduces number of abnormal sperm modulation of gene expression by regulation of the cell cycle and immune-enhancement.
As an excellent source of the strong antioxidants such as the carotenoids, vitamins C and vitamin A tomatoes can help combat the formation of free radicals known to cause cell damage in the body. These antioxidants are strongly linked to regulation of the immune system and protection from numerous diseases.
Tomatoes are anti-inflammatory; lycopene and beta-carotene in tomatoes neutralize free radicals which boosts inflammatory compounds within cells thereby reducing the incidence of inflammation and chronic degenerative diseases.
Tomatoes have been credited by experts with helping to fight flu and colds. These illnesses have been linked to a deficiency of carotenoids including low amounts of lycopene and beta carotene, tomatoes provide a rich source of these carotenoids.
Other health benefits of tomatoes include:
Studies have shown that type 1 diabetics who consume high-fiber diets have lower blood glucose levels and type 2 diabetics may have improved blood sugar, lipids and insulin levels. This has been related to the following:
- Chromium present in tomatoes works effectively to help diabetics keep their blood sugar levels under better control.
- Alpha-lipoic acid helps the body to convert glucose into energy. Some evidence suggests that alpha-lipoic acid can aid in blood glucose control, improve vasodilation and protect against retinopathy in diabetic patients and may even help protect against brain and nerve tissue damage.
According to the American Cancer Society (2010), some studies have shown that people who have diets rich in tomatoes may have a lower risk of certain types of cancer, especially cancers of the prostate, breast, lung, cervix, rectum and stomach. As an excellent source of the strong antioxidants such as lycopene and vitamin C, tomatoes can help combat the formation of free radicals known to cause various cancers. Lycopene has been linked with prostate cancer prevention in several studies. The natural antioxidant lycopene works effectively to slow the growth of cancerous cells. Beta-carotene consumption has been shown to have an inverse association with the development of colon cancer in the Japanese population. High fiber intake from fruits like tomatoes has also been associated with a lowered risk of colorectal cancer (Ware, 2014).
Adequate folic acid intake is essential for pregnant women to protect against neural tube defects in infants. Tomatoes provides a rich source of folate for the pregnant mother.
Aesthetic Benefits of Tomatoes
Tomatoes not only taste great but also keep the skin healthy and glowing in the following ways:
- Tomatoes are a good source of vitamin C which is necessary to make and maintain collagen; the skins support system. Vitamin C also works in our bodies as an antioxidant to help prevent damage caused by the sun, pollution and smoke, smooth wrinkles and improve overall skin texture.
- Lycopene in tomatoes works as a natural sunscreen and provides protection against ultraviolet rays.
- Shrinking large pores: facial application of a mixture of tomato juice and fresh lime juice (one table spoon and four drops respectively) is effective in shrinking large facial pores.
- Acne healing: the acidity in tomatoes helps in reducing and clearing up acne. Vitamin A and C are commonly found in a lot of acne medications and tomatoes are rich in vitamin A, C and K. for milk acne, cut tomatoes into half and apply the inside on your face. For severe acne mash up fresh tomato, apply the pulp on your face and leave it on for about an hour then rinse off and moisturize. Do this regularly as many times as you can and the acne will dry off.
- Topical application of tomato juice is known to cure severe sun burns.
- Astringent: to control excessive oiliness on face, crush fresh a tomato and strain it. Make a little cucumber juice and add it to the tomato juice. Apply this with a cotton ball daily to control excessive oiliness and acne.
- Healing sunburns: crush half a tomato and mix with two table spoons of plain yoghurt apply this mixture on affected area and wash off after 2o to 30 minutes.
- For glowing skin: mix honey with tomato juice until you get a thick paste. Apply this mixture and wash off after 15 minutes for smooth and glowing skin
- Facial cleaner: a mixture of mashed tomatoes and avocados helps in soothing and cleaning the skin. While the tomato works as an astringent as well as black head remover and oil reducing agent, the avocado have an antiseptic and moisturizing effect on the skin.
Ways of Using Tomatoes to Maximize its Full Nutritional Benefits
- Choose plump tomatoes with smooth skins that have no bruises, cracks, or blemishes. Depending on the variety, ripe tomatoes will be completely red or reddish-orange
- Make sure to store fresh tomatoes at room temperature. Avoid refrigeration, as this causes tomatoes to lose their flavor
- Select the Roma Tomatoes; known for its size and redness, it is unique because of its long shelf life owing to its characteristic thick skin and low water content
- Always add sliced tomato to your sandwiches, toast, omelets or scrambles for breakfast
- Dice fresh tomatoes and add them to rice and beans
- Never use metal pans, spoons or storage containers, because impurities and poisons, including aluminum, can be absorbed first by your tomato products and then your body when ingested.
- Garnish your meals with sliced tomatoes
- Cooking tomatoes with the skin increases the amount of lycopene available to the body. Lycopene is fat soluble and enhanced by cooking in a little oil
- In addition, you also want to keep in mind that cooking destroys the Vitamin C (ascorbic acid in oxidized to the nutritionally inactive dehydroascorbic acid, so for these benefits, the tomatoes need to be eaten raw.
- Wash tomatoes properly with plenty of water before use to prevent contamination and poisoning.
Summary & Conclusion
Tomatoes are believed to originate from America and though botanically fruits are used as vegetables. Tomatoes come in different colorus though most commonly red. Common varieties of tomatoes grown globally include: globe, roma, cherry and pear tomatoes. Tomatoes are consumed in a variety of ways such as; it can be eaten raw, with salads, made into sauce, stew, soup, ketchup, juice and so forth. Tomatoes are rich in vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients, antioxidants and fiber which are vital for supporting the functions of various body systems including the cardiovascular, immune system, musculoskeletal system. Tomato consumption reduces the risk of certain diseases and cancers such as prostate cancer. Tomatoes play a vital role in maintaining healthy and glowing skin free of acne and wrinkles. To maximize these benefits, both raw and cooked tomatoes must be consumed on regular basis.
In conclusion, there is more to eating florida tomatoes than good taste, there are great for health. Consume tomatoes daily in order to maintain health and prevent diseases.
- It is recommended that tomatoes should be eaten regularly for optimal health
- Nurses should be aware of the health benefits of tomatoes and as such recommend tomatoes to clients during nutrition education
- It is recommended to eat cooked as well as raw tomatoes to derive the full nutritional benefit of the fruit.
- People with cardiovascular problems, gastrointestinal problems, low sperm count, wound, skin problems and allergies should be encouraged to take tomatoes daily.
- The use of tomato as a natural facial cleansers
- The use of Tomato is recommended for the treatment of mil and severe acne.