Veg­etable or fruit? Toma­toes are great

The Hamilton Spectator - - HEALTH - BAR­BARA QUINN

In these glo­ri­ous tomato grow­ing months from June to Septem­ber, the best tast­ing toma­toes are those grown close to home.

Be­fore the 19th cen­tury, Euro­peans re­ferred to toma­toes as “poi­sonous ap­ples,” ac­cord­ing to an in­for­ma­tive ar­ti­cle on this topic in a re­cent is­sue of Food and Nu­tri­tion. Din­ers in those days mis­tak­enly blamed toma­toes for what ac­tu­ally was lead poi­son­ing — caused when the mild acid in toma­toes leached lead from the pot­tery dishes from which they ate their meals. Now we know that toma­toes are rich in health pro­mot­ing prop­er­ties. They in fact play a big role in the rec­om­mended eat­ing pat­tern we know as the Mediter­ranean diet.

And here’s a trivia ques­tion: Are toma­toes a veg­etable or a fruit? Both are cor­rect. By botan­i­cal def­i­ni­tion, toma­toes are fruits — the seed bear­ing parts of flow­er­ing plants. Since 1893 how­ever, toma­toes have been des­ig­nated as veg­eta­bles by the U.S. gov­ern­ment.

And nu­tri­tion­ally, toma­toes are in­deed closer to veg­eta­bles than to fruit. They are low in calo­ries (one cup of reg­u­lar or cherry toma­toes has about 30 calo­ries) and high in nu­tri­ents in­clud­ing potas­sium (im­por­tant for blood pres­sure con­trol) and vi­ta­mins A and C. Toma­toes are also rich in carotenoids — nat­u­ral an­tiox­i­dant sub­stances such as be­tac­arotene, lutein and ly­copene. Ly­copene is the pig­ment that give toma­toes their rich red colour. And re­searchers have found many ben­e­fits from eat­ing this com­pound. At the cel­lu­lar level, ly­copene ap­pears to pro­tect our body cells from the stresses of ev­ery­day liv­ing. Re­searchers are es­pe­cially in­ter­ested in the pro­tec­tive ef­fects of ly­copene and other carotenoids on the preven­tion of can­cer.


If you eat toma­toes with a source of fat such as olive oil or av­o­cado, you’ll ab­sorb more fat-sol­u­ble ly­copene.

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