Tomatoes are a treasure of riches when it comes to their antioxidant benefits. In terms of conventional antioxidants, tomatoes provide an excellent amount of vitamin C and beta-carotene; a very good amount of the mineral manganese; and a good amount of vitamin E.
1. Cardiovascular Support
Reduced risk of heart disease is an area of health benefits in which tomatoes truly excel. There are two basic lines of research that have repeatedly linked tomatoes to heart health. The first line of research involves antioxidant support, and the second line of research involves regulation of fats in the bloodstream.
No body system has a greater need for antioxidant protection than the cardiovascular system. The heart and bloodstream are responsible for taking oxygen breathed in through the lungs and circulating it around throughout the body. In order to keep this oxygen in check, antioxidant nutrients are needed in an ample supply. It's worth noting here that conventional vitamin antioxidants like vitamin E and vitamin C are sometimes overlooked in tomatoes because of their unique phytonutrient composition. Yet vitamin E and vitamin C provide critical antioxidant support in the cardiovascular system, and they are an important part of the contribution made bytomatoes to our heart health. It's the carotenoid lycopene, however, that has gotten the most attention as tomatoes' premier antioxidant and heart-supportive nutrient. Lycopene (and a related group of nutrients) has the ability to help lower the risk of lipid peroxidation in the bloodstream. Lipid peroxidation is a process in which fats that are located in the membranes of cells lining the bloodstream, or fats that are being carried around in the blood, get damaged by oxygen. This damage can be repaired if it is kept at manageable levels.
The second line of research linking tomatoes with heart health involves regulation of fats in the blood. Dietary intake of tomatoes, consumption of tomato extracts, and supplementation with tomato phytonutrients (like lycopene) have all been shown to improve the profile of fats in our bloodstream. Specifically, tomato intake has been shown to result in decreased total cholesterol, decreased LDL cholesterol, and decreased triglyceride levels. It's also been shown to decrease accumulation of cholesterol molecules inside of macrophage cells. (Macrophage cells are a type of white blood cell that gets called into action when oxidative stress in the bloodstream gets too high, and the activity of macrophages—including their accumulation of cholesterol—is a prerequisite for development of atherosclerosis.) Many phytonutrients in tomatoes are likely to be involved with the improvement of our blood fat levels. Two little-known phytonutrients—one called esculeoside A and the other called 9-oxo-octadecadienoic acid—are currently under active investigation by researchers as tomato phytonutrients especially important in blood fat regulation.
Yet another area of increasing interest in tomatoes and heart health involves blood cells called platelets. The excessive clumping together of platelet cells can cause problems for our bloodstream in terms of blockage and unwanted clotting, and prevention of this excessive clumping is important for maintaining heart health. Numerous phytonutrients in tomatoes have been shown to help prevent excessive clumping of our platelet cells. (This ability is usually referred to as an "antiaggregatory effect.") In combination with the other heart benefits described above, this platelet-regulating impact of tomatoes puts them in a unique position to help us optimize our cardiovascular health.
2. Supports Bone Health
Bone health is another area of growing interest in tomato research. Interestingly, the connection of tomato intake to bone health involves the rich supply of antioxidant in tomatoes. We don't always think about antioxidant protection as being important for bone health, but it is; and tomato lycopene (and other tomato antioxidants) may have a special role to play in this area. In a recent study, tomato and other dietary sources of lycopene were removed from the diets of postmenopausal women for a period of 4 weeks to see what effect lycopene restriction would have on bone health. At the end of 4 weeks, women in the study started to show increased signs of oxidative stress in their bones and unwanted changes in their bone tissue. We expect to see follow-up studies in this area that will hopefully determine exactly what levels of tomato intake are most helpful in protecting bone tissue.
3. Anti-Cancer Benefits
While not well researched for all cancer types, tomatoes have repeatedly been show to provide us with anti-cancer benefits. The track record for tomatoes as a cancer-protective food should not be surprising, since there is a very large amount of research on tomato antioxidants and a more limited but still important amount of research on tomato anti-inflammatory nutrients. Risk for many cancer types starts out with chronic oxidative stress and chronic unwanted inflammation. For this reason, foods that provide us with strong antioxidant and anti-inflammatory support are often foods that show cancer prevention properties.
Prostate cancer is by far the best-researched type of cancer in relationship to tomato intake. The jury verdict here is clear: tomatoes can definitely help lower risk of prostate cancer in men. One key tomato nutrient that has received special focus in prostate cancer prevention is alpha-tomatine. Alpha-tomatine is a saponin phytonutrient and it's shown the ability to alter metabolic activity in developing prostate cancer cells. It's also been shown to trigger programmed cell death (apoptosis) in prostate cancer cells that have already been fully formed. Research on alpha-tomatine has also been conducted for non-small cell lung cancer, with similar findings.
Along with prostate cancer and non-small cell lung cancer, pancreatic cancer and breast cancer are the two best-studied areas involving tomatoes and cancer risk. Research on tomatoes and breast cancer risk has largely focused on the carotenoid lycopene, and there is fairly well documented risk reduction for breast cancer in association with lycopene intake.
4. Other Health Benefits
While not as thoroughly researched as these other areas of antioxidant support, cardiovascular support, and anti-cancer benefits, several other health benefit areas are important to mention with respect to tomatoes. Diets that include tomatoes have been linked with reduced risk of some neurological diseases (including Alzheimer's disease) in multiple studies. Tomato-containing diets have also been linked in a few studies with reduced risk of obesity.
The following chart shows the nutrients for which this food is either an excellent, very good, or good source (below the chart you will find a table that explains these qualifications). If a nutrient is not listed in the chart, it does not necessarily mean that the food doesn't contain it. It simply means that the nutrient is not provided in a sufficient amount or concentration to meet our rating criteria. Now, returning to the chart itself, you can look next to the nutrient name in order to find the nutrient amount it offers, the percent Daily Value (DV%) that this amount represents, the nutrient density that we calculated for this food and nutrient, and the rating we established in our rating system. For most of our nutrient ratings, we adopted the government standards for food labeling that are found in the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's .