Cooked tomato products can be many different things, including stewed tomatoes, tomato paste, tomato sauce and ketchup. Tomatoes fall into the category of red and orange vegetables, and the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010 recommends people eat more of them. While there are plenty of nutritious components in tomatoes, recent research has focused on specific phytochemicals such as lycopene, which occurs at higher levels in cooked tomatoes than in any other food.
Tomatoes are a low-calorie food, with only 33 calories in a large tomato. Tomatoes are high in vitamins C, A and K. They also contain high levels of potassium and manganese. Tomatoes are also a good source of fiber, which helps keep the digestive tract healthy by increasing stool bulk and preventing constipation. While cooking often reduces the levels of vitamins in tomatoes, some of these beneficial components remain intact. The tomato skins contain fiber and nutrients as well, so cooked tomato products with the skin are better than those without it.
Lycopene and Health
One of the most beneficial components in the tomato isn't a vitamin or mineral, but the phytochemical lycopene. This compound, which gives tomatoes their distinctive red color, acts as an antioxidant in the body. Consuming high levels of lycopene can lower the risk of heart disease and certain types of cancer. Cooking tomatoes for two minutes, a quarter-hour and a half-hour boosts the lycopene levels in tomatoes by 6, 17 and 35 percent, respectively, according to research published in the "Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry" in May 2002.
A Meta-Analysis published in the April 2011 issue of "Maturitas" found that cooked tomato products could lower cholesterol at levels comparable to prescribed statins. Doses of 25 mg of lycopene a day lowered cholesterol levels by about 10 percent, according to the research. Getting this much lycopene from fresh tomatoes can be difficult, but it is easy to get this amount from tomato sauce or other cooked tomato products.
Additional Benefits of Tomatoes
A 2011 report in the "American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine" reviewed current research on tomatoes to determine what health benefits might arise from this vegetable. In addition to other health benefits, the researchers found that tomatoes and tomato products could help prevent osteoporosis, UV light–induced skin damage and cognitive dysfunction. Levels of beta-carotene, a compound that boosts eye health, are also higher in cooked tomatoes than in raw ones.
When choosing cooked tomato products, look for those that don't include many additives, such as sugar or salt. Added sugars and salt can increase health risks and counteract the beneficial nature of these foods. You can cook tomatoes at home and even create your own tomato sauce or paste using whole tomatoes. This way, you get the full benefits of cooked tomatoes while ensuring there are no unhealthy components added to your food.
- Science Daily; Cooking Tomatoes Boosts Disease-Fighting Power; April 2002
- "Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry"; Thermal Processing Enhances the Nutritional Value of Tomatoes by Increasing Total Antioxidant Activity; V. Dewanto, et al.; May 2002
- EurekAlert; Health Benefits of Eating Tomatoes Emerge; Feb 2011
- "Maturitas"; Protective Effect of Lycopene on Serum Cholesterol and Blood Pressure: Meta-Analyses of Intervention Trials; K. Ried, et al.; April 2011
- USDA National Nutrient Database: Tomatoes, Red, Ripe, Raw, Year-Round Average