Seeing an abundance of tomatoes show up on the scene means summer is in full swing — the longer days, sunshine and warm weather are the peak growing conditions for this fruit. (It's true, the tomato is technically not a vegetable.)
But “thanks to technologies like hydroponics and hot houses, good quality tomatoes are available year-round,” says Laura Allen, professional chef and Director of Food and Beverage at THE WELL Kitchen & Table.
In other words, you can score the health benefits of tomatoes in any season. Ahead, all about tomato nutrition — plus, the best ways to include them in your meal repertoire.
Tomato Nutrition Facts
According to a 2022 article in the journal Biology, tomatoes are packed with a cocktail of essential nutrients, including vitamin C, folate, iron and potassium. The juicy fruit is also incredibly rich in lycopene, a natural plant pigment that gives red produce (e.g. tomatoes, watermelon) their iconic hue. Lycopene also has powerful antioxidant properties, according to registered dietitian Roxana Ehsani, MS, RD, CSSD, LDN.
And you can’t talk about tomato nutrition facts without discussing the ingredient’s impressive water content. In fact, tomatoes hold almost 95 percent H2O inside their thin (edible) skins, according to Michigan State University. Meaning, the ingredient can be a particularly nutritious way to stay hydrated.
Tomato Health Benefits
Thanks to the robust profile of tomato nutrition, eating the summer ingredient can have positive effects on the body. Case in point? Keep reading…
Reduces Risk of Disease
In addition to containing lycopene, tomatoes also teeming with other antioxidant compounds, such as flavonoids, beta-carotene and vitamin C, according to the aforementioned 2022 article. Antioxidants protect your cells from molecules called free radicals, explains Ehsani. Your body produces free radicals as normal byproducts of basic biological functions, such as metabolism, but also when you’re exposed to stressors, such as cigarette smoke and environmental pollution. If free radicals accumulate, they can cause oxidative stress and damage healthy cells, potentially increasing the risk of infection, illness and disease, says Ehsani. Thus, “it’s important to consume plenty of antioxidant-rich foods — like tomatoes — to help protect healthy cells,” she adds.
Promotes Heart Health
As the antioxidants in tomatoes combat oxidative stress, they can also protect your heart. After all, oxidative stress can damage heart cells, thereby increasing the risk of cardiovascular issues, according to a 2020 review article. Lycopene — such as that in tomatoes — may also help reduce LDL (“bad”) cholesterol and increase HDL (“good”) cholesterol, says Ehsani. This can go a long way for a healthy heart, as high LDL and low HDL are major risk factors of heart disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Supports Eye Health
As it turns out, carrots aren’t the only vegetables that are good for your eyes. Thanks to its rich lycopene content, tomato benefits also include eye health. “Lycopene can help prevent or delay the formation of cataracts and macular degeneration, which could lead to poor vision or blindness,” shares Ehsani. This is due to lycopene’s ability to quell oxidative stress, a situation that can damage cells in the eye and increase the risk of eye diseases, according to a 2020 article in the Journal of Clinical Research and Ophthalmology.
Encourages Healthy Digestion
One cup of chopped raw tomatoes offers ~2 grams of fiber, according to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). As Ehsani notes, most of this fiber is insoluble, meaning it doesn’t dissolve in water in the gut. (This is different from soluble fiber, which does dissolve in water.) Insoluble fiber bulks up the stool, making it easier to pass, says Ehsani. “[This] can help you have more regular bowel movements and prevent constipation.”
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How to Buy, Store and Use Tomatoes
“You can find tomatoes in many forms at the grocery store,” including fresh, canned, jarred and dried, explains Ehsani. When buying fresh tomatoes, there are several things to keep in mind. In general, choose tomatoes with bright, shiny skins, firm flesh and that are rich in color, according to the University of Kentucky (UK) College of Agriculture, Food and Environment. And for peak flavor, opt for a local product that has been grown outdoors, suggests Allen.
That being said, there are thousands of varieties of tomatoes grown worldwide. Some of the most popular types in the US? Beefsteak — which are large, known for their meaty texture and often sliced — cherry — which are small, round, sweet and often seen on salads — and plum — which are oblong, contain few seeds and considered a go-to for cooking, explains Allen.
Once you’ve purchased your produce, store it at room temperature and use within three days for optimal freshness, according to the UK College of Agriculture, Food and Environment. You also want to keep the fruit out of direct sunlight to avoid uneven ripening (think "half your tomato will be mushy and the other half will be ripe and ready," says Allen).
How to Eat Tomatoes
From quick appetizers to filling meals, there are plenty of ways to enjoy the health benefits of tomatoes. The classic options include salads and sauce, but if you’d like to switch things up, consider these ideas from Allen:
“If your tomatoes are getting overripe or if your plants have produced in abundance, a simple tomato confit is a great way to preserve tomatoes at peak flavor,” shares Allen. Slowly roast tomatoes in olive oil, herbs and garlic until soft and caramelized, then pair them with toast, eggs or all of the above.
Gazpacho is a cold soup made of raw blended vegetables. You can make tomatoes the star of the show or blend it with other produce, like cucumber or green bell pepper. What’s more, since it’s blended, the tomatoes don’t have to look pretty, says Allen.
“Salsa is a great summer snack,” notes Allen. Simply combine diced tomatoes, chopped onions, minced garlic, fresh lime juice and a sprinkle of salt in a bowl. You can also add diced jalapeño pepper for some heat or chopped cilantro, if that’s your thing. Enjoy with tortilla chips or crackers.