Raw tomatoes can be a contentious food item. While some people adore their natural sweetness and use them on everything from sandwiches to casseroles to pizzas, others dislike their relatively slimy texture and acidic nature. Whether you love or hate them, however, raw tomatoes provide essential vitamins, minerals and nutrients that can deliver a number of profound health benefits.
Raw tomatoes naturally contain an assortment of antioxidants, vitamins and minerals that have the potential to guard against serious diseases. Eating more tomatoes and vegetables in general can help prevent conditions including bone loss, cancer, diabetes, kidney stones, stroke, heart attack and obesity. In an article for the “American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine,” Dr. Britt Burton-Freeman observes that raw tomatoes have anti-inflammatory properties and that they might even help prevent cognitive dysfunction. Tomatoes might have particular benefits for men. The American Dietetic Association encourages men to eat tomatoes at least once a week because the lycopene present in them promotes prostate health.
The tomato’s positive health properties are a result of the antioxidants and beneficial compounds found in the food. AARP.org notes that the main antioxidant in tomatoes is lycopene, which neutralizes harmful free radicals that can damage cells in the body. Tomatoes also contain beta-carotene, folic acid, and vitamins A, C and E. Additionally, tomatoes have exceptionally low energy density, which means a large serving size delivers only a small amount of calories and fat. According to the USDA, a cup of sliced tomatoes has just 30 calories and less than 0.5 g fat.
There are also potential ill effects of eating raw tomatoes. They have an acidic quality that might aggravate frequent heartburn or acid reflux. Dr. Frank Jackson, of Jackson Siegelbaum Gastroenterology Clinic, recommends steering clear of tomatoes altogether if you suffer from gastroesophageal reflux disease because they might act as a “trigger food.” Eating too many tomatoes at the expense of other fruits and vegetables might also lead to eventual nutrient deficiencies.
Eating cooked tomatoes and processed tomato products can deliver many of the same health benefits as raw tomatoes, although some enzymes and beneficial compounds are destroyed in the cooking and production processes. If you have specific questions related to tomatoes in your diet, talk them over with your physician or a registered dietitian before making any significant changes to your current eating plan.
- USDA.gov: Nutrient Data Laboratory
- ChooseMyPlate.gov; "Why Is It Important to Eat Vegetables?"; May 31, 2011
- "American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine"; "Tomato Consumption and Health"; Britt Burton-Freeman; May 5, 2011
- American Dietetic Association: Healthy Eating for Men
- AARP.org; "Health Benefits of Tomatoes"; Monica Bhide; July/August 2011
- Jackson Siegelbaum Gastroenterology; "Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease Diet"; Dr. FrankJackson; 2008