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  • The Dietitian

You say “tomato” I say “tom-ah-toe”

It is tomato season! There is nothing quite like plucking a juicy red tomato off the vine and popping it into your mouth! It is such a versatile vegetable that can make its way into almost any dish from a fresh salad, stuffed tomatoes, Taco Tuesday, home cooked pasta sauce or homemade salsa (our friends just canned 20 jars of salsa!). It may be just as versatile as shrimp…I must say I’m not really much of a movie buff but it seems I have a movie reference more often than not.


I think I’ve mentioned it before but tomatoes are in the Solanaceae family, or the nightshades (peppers, potatoes and eggplant). We often refer to a tomato as a vegetable, however botanically speaking they are a fruit. They are low in calories, good source of fiber and high in potassium.


They also contain a compound called lycopene. Lycopene is a phytochemical that helps to fight inflammation, antioxidant. It is found in a variety of red colored fruits. Some studies have shown Lycopene to help protect the skin from UV rays, thus offering some protection from skin cancer. Along with lycopene, tomatoes contain good sources of Vitamin C and Vitamin A, both of which also protect against harmful byproducts of metabolism.


There has been some debate as to the differences in antioxidant content of cooked tomatoes versus fresh tomatoes. In the cooking process, nutrients can be lost. Vitamin C for example is water soluble, thus you do lose some Vitamin C in the cooking process if you cook it in water. So are fresh tomatoes better? There are studies out there which have shown that actually cooking tomatoes can boost the antioxidant power of the tomato. That is, cooking will increase the amount of phytochemicals however it does decrease the levels of Vitamin C.


Here’s the catch, studies have shown that lycopene, the phytochemical most prevalent in tomatoes, may be a stronger antioxidant that some of the Vitamins. So when you cook tomatoes you may be losing some antioxidant properties with the loss of Vitamin C, but your gains may far exceed your losses with the increase in the bioavailable form of

lycopene.


But cooked or fresh, tomatoes are a nutritious addition to your plate!



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