Are Tomatoes Bad for Weight Loss?

Judging all of the contradictory weight loss information available to figure out whether or not it is true and if it has value can be confusing, but when it comes to tomatoes, nutrition experts give them two thumbs-up. Tomatoes are low in calories and high in vital nutrients, making them an ideal choice for any weight loss meal plan.

Tomatoes are low in calories and still have a lot of nutrients. (Image: fcafotodigital/iStock/GettyImages)

Tomatoes, as with most natural foods, are neither good nor bad for weight loss on their own. What matters is how you prepare and serve them. Raw tomatoes or grilled tomatoes served with a pinch of salt, a sprinkle of pepper and a drizzle of olive oil are far better for your weight loss program than fried green tomatoes slathered in sour cream. The former adds a bit of healthy fat while the latter adds both fat and a lot of empty calories.

The only caution that applies when discussing tomatoes and weight loss is that they are considered a simple carbohydrate, which is good to know if you are doing a low-carb diet. Aside from that, their fiber, vitamins, high water content and powerful antioxidants make them a marvelous addition to a healthy diet.

Tip

Tomatoes are not at all bad for weight loss and are an excellent source of beta carotene, which is a powerful antioxidant.

Basics of Weight Loss

One of the reasons that weight loss is so challenging, explains Katherine D. McManus, MS, RD, LDN on Harvard Health Publishing, is because there is no single approach that is guaranteed to work for everyone. Differences in your metabolism, age, activity level, gender and relationship with food can all affect your weight loss success, so no matter how hard your friends or family are pushing the latest fad diet, what works for them may not work for you.

That does not mean you are doomed to fail or that you should give up before ever really getting started. Aside from the aesthetic considerations, McManus also points out that losing weight is beneficial to your health. Dropping those extra pounds can help reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease, certain types of cancers and Type 2 diabetes. It can also ease joint pain and help you sleep better.

The best way to approach weight loss, McManus advises, is to approach it as a lifestyle change rather than a diet. Stay on track 80 percent of the time and let yourself enjoy your favorite treats the other 20 percent so that you don't feel horribly deprived to the point that you just give up. She also suggests that you avoid pre-packaged diet foods and build your meal plan around natural whole foods such as vegetables, fruits, whole grains, lean protein and healthy fats. A diet such as this would, of course, include tomatoes.

The Importance of Exercise

A healthy meal plan, which incorporates complete nutrition and consistent portion control, is an effective start to your weight loss plan, but an improved diet is only one part of weight loss. Combining a lean, nutritious diet with both aerobic and anaerobic exercise is crucial, according to the fitness experts at the International Sports Sciences Association (ISSA), so that you do not burn lean muscle mass instead of burning fat. Burning lean muscle mass might make you look thinner, but it will not increase your fitness level or strength.

Part of an effective exercise regimen is timing the foods you eat correctly with the type of workout you are doing, explains ISSA. Your body's preferred fuel is glucose, which is basically sugar. Doing low-intensity, longer duration aerobic exercise, such as walking, swimming, dancing or cycling, will only burn fat if glucose is not available, so on those days, it is best to avoid simple carbohydrates such as refined sugars, processed starches and tomatoes.

On days when you do intense, anaerobic workouts such as lifting weights, running sprints, cross-training or high-intensity interval training, your body will burn glucose for the first 10 seconds or even a few minutes, but after that, you will start burning fat. On those days, ISSA suggests you take in complex carbohydrates before and after these workouts. So while tomatoes are not bad for losing weight, it is best to consume them on days when you are doing a high-intensity anaerobic workout to get the results you're looking for.

Facts About Tomatoes

While technically a fruit, tomatoes are more savory than sweet and are popularly considered to be, and are utilized as, a vegetable. There are many different types of tomatoes, from tiny, bright grape tomatoes to meaty beefsteak tomatoes to the huge and gorgeously striped heirloom varieties, and they come in a variety of colors from yellow and green to the more familiar fire engine red, all packed with vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. According to Pennsylvania State University Extension, tomatoes provide:

  • Vitamin A
  • Vitamin B6
  • Vitamin C
  • Fiber
  • Iron
  • Lycopene
  • Manganese
  • Potassium

According to the Food and Drug Administration, vitamin A supports your growth. It also supports your red blood cells and vision, as does vitamin B6, which also helps metabolize macronutrients. Vitamin C, explains the FDA, supports your immune system and is a powerful antioxidant, as is lycopene. Iron keeps your red blood cells healthy, says the FDA, while manganese helps with wound healing and potassium regulates blood pressure. Fiber aids in healthy elimination, reminds the United States Department of Agriculture.

Benefits of Eating Raw Tomatoes

Even though tomatoes are a fruit, the United States government declared them to be a vegetable in 1893, according to Kris Swartzendruber at Michigan State University Extension. Either way, they offer many benefits, which can help you to not only feel better but to look better too. The beta-carotene and lycopene in tomatoes help protect your skin from the damage and signs of aging caused by exposure to the sun's UV rays.

Swartzengruber goes on to sing the praises of the potassium and vitamin B6 because they help lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels. Keeping both of these health risks at an acceptable level can help lessen your risk of heart attack and stroke as well as certain types of cancer. Another benefit of eating tomatoes, Swarzengruber says, is that they are instrumental in lessening your risk of developing painful gallstones and kidney stones.

Finally, tomatoes contain chromium, Swartzengruber explains, which is necessary to support your body's ability to process sugar. This is crucial when you are trying to lose weight because any sugar that cannot be processed must be stored as fat. Keeping your blood sugar regulated also helps you avoid the insulin spikes that can cause a sudden drop in energy and even prompt your brain to send out hunger signals, which can lead to overeating.

Benefits of Eating Cooked Tomatoes

Tomatoes are very high in lycopene and beta-carotene, which are powerful antioxidants, explain the experts at Tufts University. Antioxidants fight the damage caused by free radicals which occur when you are exposed to toxins and environmental pollutants such as air pollution, exhaust fumes and cigarette or cigar smoke. They are also caused by your normal metabolic functions such as breathing and digesting foods.

If left unchecked, free radicals work very much the same way rust works on iron, or mold can eat away at damp concrete or wood. Free radicals do actual damage to the integrity of your cells and can also change their DNA. If this damage and the changes to your DNA are severe enough, it can increase your risk of heart attack, stroke and some kinds of cancers. Free radicals are also partly responsible for the visible signs of aging such as wrinkles and age spots.

In order to get the full benefits of antioxidants, such as lycopene and beta-carotene, Purdue University Extension recommends cooking the tomatoes and adding olive oil or another healthy fat because this will help your body to absorb the antioxidants. This will work whether you eat the tomatoes whole or reduce them to a sauce. While eating tomato seeds will not hurt you, removing them before cooking the tomatoes down makes for a smoother sauce.

Adding Tomatoes to Your Diet

Tomatoes are best during the warmer months, according to the botanical experts at Utah State University, and they are very easy to grow yourself as long as you have a sunny place with good drainage in which to plant them. If you do not have a green thumb or a place to grow your own, purchase your tomatoes from a farm stand or see if your supermarket has locally-sourced tomatoes to ensure maximum freshness.

The benefits of eating seasonal, local produce are many, encourage the experts at Purdue. Eating produce when it is in season will ensure that you eat a wider variety of fruits and vegetables throughout the year. Buying locally means that your produce does not have to be treated with any sort of preservatives, and you can ask the growers what kind of fertilizers and pesticides they use. Buying locally not only ensures peak freshness, but it also helps to support your local farms and smaller grocery stores.

Add fresh tomatoes to egg dishes and salads, or combine them with chopped onion, garlic, jalapeno, cilantro, salt and pepper for homemade pico de gallo. Put them on sandwiches or forget the bread and stuff tomatoes with chicken, tuna or quinoa salad. Grill or broil them with a little olive oil, salt and pepper as a side dish or a burger topping. Blanch tomatoes, remove the skins and cook them down in olive oil, a splash of red wine or dry sherry with minced onion and garlic. Add Italian seasoning and blend for a fresh and delicious sauce.

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