Did you know that the humble tomato is still alive when you get it home from the supermarket? Did you know a tomato ‘knows’ when it’s been picked from the vine?
It’s a fact that tomatoes are still alive in the sense that they can still respond to the environment they are put in, even when you get them home.
We love tomatoes!
Depending on which study you read tomatoes are either the number 1 vegetable (fruit!) or number 2 In 2017 we ate 188 million tonnes of them!
The rich red colour of tomatoes comes from a phytonutrient called lycopene. Tomatoes are thought to be the richest source of this important nutrient.
Lycopene has great anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant properties and helps ward off illnesses like heart disease, cancer and strokes. Lycopene is natures sunscreen – so varieties grown in sunnier climate will have more.
Tomatoes are a rich source of vitamins A, B -complex and vitamin C. They are also very rich in potassium.
In a study carried out at Manchester Uni, a group of women were split into a test group and a control group. The control group were given a daily placebo whilst the test group were given 55g of tomato paste daily. (55g of tomatoes equates to an average serving of pasta sauce, or a small bowl of tomato soup).
At the end of three months it was discovered that the test group who ate a daily dose of tomatoes in their diet had 33% better UV protection in their skin compared to those in the placebo group. Moreover the test group were also shown to have more procollagen in their skin – so the tomatoes have anti-wrinkle properties!
Don’t put them in the fridge!
The production of lycopene is influenced by exposure to sunlight. It is known that the concentration of lycopene can double in 1-2 weeks exposure. Importantly the chemical reactions that produce lycopene stop working when the temperature goes below 10 degrees C. The average fridge is about 3 degrees C – so you are depriving yourself of an important nutrient if you keep them in the fridge!
Does size matter?
Phytonutrients in tomatoes are largely concentrated in the skin. This means gram for gram cherry tomatoes have more lycopene than say large beef tomatoes. In fact there is about 5x lycopene in the skin than in the juicy pulp. Cherry tomatoes are also much sweeter and richer in flavour compared to bigger tomatoes.
It also turns out that shape matters as well. Research at the University of Catania in Italy found that there is 30% more lycopene in a baby plum tomato compared to the equivalent spherical one.
Is cooked or raw best?
It so happens that although lycopene is very good for us – it is actually difficult for our bodies to access it. It’s trapped deep within the tomatoes cells – until you cook it!
It’s interesting to note that if you put cooked tomatoes in a plastic box (like tupperware) that the box gets stained red and it’s difficult to remove? This doesn’t happen with chopped raw tomatoes.
This is because cooking tomatoes for about 30 minutes releases a lot more of the lycopene pigment. The heat has the effect of opening up the hard-to- get- at crystals making it easier for our bodies to absorb the lycopene. So you might be shocked to know that tinned tomatoes are much better for you than raw!
Well it gets even more interesting because tomato puree compared to the equivalent volume of raw tomatoes is 16 times more powerful in lycopene according to the US Department of Agriculture.
What about green tomatoes?
Remember the film ‘Fried green tomatoes at the whistle stop cafe’ ? Well it turns out they knew something! Unripe tomatoes contain little or no lycopene. But they do contain other important compounds called tomatine and tomatidine. Researchers in the US found that tomatidine not only halted muscle waste in mice but can even reverse it. Mice fed on tomatidine increased muscle mass strength and exercise capacity. Similar results were found in human muscle cells cultivated in a test tube.
The sister compound tomatine has been found to be highly effective in fighting breast, colon, liver and gastric cancer cells.