health benefits of tomatoes
The tomato (Solanum lycopersicum) is a fruit from the nightshade family native to South America.
Despite botanically being a fruit, it’s generally eaten and prepared like a vegetable.
Tomatoes are the major dietary source of the antioxidant lycopene, which has been linked to many health benefits, including reduced risk of heart disease and cancer.
They are also a great source of vitamin C, potassium, folate, and vitamin K.
Usually red when mature, tomatoes can also come in a variety of colors, including yellow, orange, green, and purple. What’s more, many subspecies of tomatoes exist with different shapes and flavor.
This article tells you everything you need to know about tomatoes.
The water content of tomatoes is around 95%. The other 5% consists mainly of carbohydrates and fiber.
Here are the nutrients in a small (100-gram) raw tomato (1Trusted Source):
- Calories: 18
- Water: 95%
- Protein: 0.9 grams
- Carbs: 3.9 grams
- Sugar: 2.6 grams
- Fiber: 1.2 grams
- Fat: 0.2 grams
Carbs comprise 4% of raw tomatoes, which amounts to fewer than 5 grams of carbs for a medium specimen (123 grams).
Simple sugars, such as glucose and fructose, make up almost 70% of the carb content.
Tomatoes are a good source of fiber, providing about 1.5 grams per average-sized tomato.
Most of the fibers (87%) in tomatoes are insoluble, in the form of hemicellulose, cellulose, and lignin (2).
SUMMARYFresh tomatoes are low in carbs. The carb content consists mainly of simple sugars and insoluble fibers. These fruits are mostly made up of water.
Tomatoes are a good source of several vitamins and minerals:
- Vitamin C. This vitamin is an essential nutrient and antioxidant. One medium-sized tomato can provide about 28% of the Reference Daily Intake (RDI).
- Potassium. An essential mineral, potassium is beneficial for blood pressure control and heart disease prevention (3Trusted Source).
- Vitamin K1. Also known as phylloquinone, vitamin K is important for blood clotting and bone health (4, 5Trusted Source).
- Folate (vitamin B9). One of the B vitamins, folate is important for normal tissue growth and cell function. It’s particularly important for pregnant women (6Trusted Source, 7Trusted Source).
SUMMARYTomatoes are a good source of several vitamins and minerals, such as vitamin C, potassium, vitamin K, and folate.
The content of vitamins and plant compounds in tomatoes can vary greatly between varieties and sampling periods (8, 9Trusted Source, 10Trusted Source).
The main plant compounds in tomatoes are:
- Lycopene. A red pigment and antioxidant, lycopene has been extensively studied for its beneficial health effects (11Trusted Source).
- Beta carotene. An antioxidant that often gives foods a yellow or orange hue, beta carotene is converted into vitamin A in your body.
- Naringenin. Found in tomato skin, this flavonoid has been shown to decrease inflammation and protect against various diseases in mice (12Trusted Source).
- Chlorogenic acid. A powerful antioxidant compound, chlorogenic acid may lower blood pressure in people with elevated levels (13Trusted Source, 14Trusted Source).
Chlorophylls and carotenoids like lycopene are responsible for the rich color of tomatoes.
When the ripening process starts, the chlorophyll (green) is degraded and carotenoids (red) are synthesized (15Trusted Source, 16).
Lycopene — the most abundant carotenoid in ripened tomatoes — is particularly noteworthy when it comes to the fruit’s plant compounds.
It’s found in the highest concentrations in the skin (17Trusted Source, 18).
Generally, the redder the tomato, the more lycopene it has (19Trusted Source).
Tomato products — such as ketchup, tomato juice, tomato paste, and tomato sauces — are the richest dietary sources of lycopene in the Western diet, providing over 80% of dietary lycopene in the United States (20Trusted Source, 21Trusted Source).
Gram for gram, the amount of lycopene in processed tomato products is often much higher than in fresh tomatoes (22Trusted Source, 23).
For example, ketchup boasts 10–14 mg of lycopene per 3.5 ounces (100 grams), while one small, fresh tomato (100 grams) holds only 1–8 mg (24).
However, keep in mind that ketchup is often consumed in very small amounts. Thus, it may be easier to bump up your lycopene intake by eating unprocessed tomatoes — which also have far less sugar than ketchup.
Other foods in your diet may have a strong effect on lycopene absorption. Consuming this plant compound with a source of fat can increase absorption by up to four times (25Trusted Source).
However, not everyone absorbs lycopene at the same rate (26Trusted Source).
Even though processed tomato products are higher in lycopene, it’s still recommended to consume fresh, whole tomatoes whenever possible.
SUMMARYLycopene is one of the most abundant plant compounds in tomatoes. It’s found in the highest concentrations in tomato products, such as ketchup, juice, paste, and sauce.
Consumption of tomatoes and tomato-based products has been linked to improved skin health and a lower risk of heart disease and cancer.
Heart disease — including heart attacks and strokes — is the world’s most common cause of death.
A study in middle-aged men linked low blood levels of lycopene and beta-carotene to increased risk of heart attacks and strokes (27Trusted Source, 28Trusted Source).
Increasing evidence from clinical trials suggests that supplementing with lycopene may help lower LDL (bad) cholesterol (29Trusted Source).
Clinical studies of tomato products indicate benefits against inflammation and markers of oxidative stress (30Trusted Source, 31Trusted Source).
They also show a protective effect on the inner layer of blood vessels and may decrease your risk of blood clotting (32Trusted Source, 33Trusted Source).
Cancer is the uncontrolled growth of abnormal cells that spread beyond their normal boundaries, often invading other parts of the body.
Observational studies have noted links between tomatoes — and tomato products — and fewer incidences of prostate, lung, and stomach cancers (34Trusted Source, 35Trusted Source).
While the high lycopene content is believed responsible, high-quality human research needed to confirm the cause of these benefits (36Trusted Source, 37Trusted Source, 38Trusted Source).
A study in women shows that high concentrations of carotenoids — found in high amounts in tomatoes — may protect against breast cancer (39Trusted Source, 40Trusted Source).
Tomatoes are considered beneficial for skin health.
Tomato-based foods rich in lycopene and other plant compounds may protect against sunburn (41Trusted Source, 42Trusted Source).
According to one study, people who ingested 1.3 ounces (40 grams) of tomato paste — providing 16 mg of lycopene — with olive oil every day for 10 weeks experienced 40% fewer sunburns (43Trusted Source).
SUMMARYStudies show that tomatoes and tomato products may reduce your risk of heart disease and several cancers. This fruit is also beneficial for skin health, as it may protect against sunburns.
When tomatoes start to ripen, they produce a gaseous hormone called ethylene (44Trusted Source, 45Trusted Source).
Commercially grown tomatoes are harvested and transported while still green and immature. To make them red before selling, food companies spray them with artificial ethylene gas.
This process inhibits the development of natural flavor and may result in tasteless tomatoes (46).
Therefore, locally grown tomatoes may taste better because they’re allowed to ripen naturally.
If you buy unripened tomatoes, you can speed up the ripening process by wrapping them in a sheet of newspaper and keeping them on the kitchen counter for a few days. Just make sure to check them daily for ripeness.
SUMMARYTomatoes are often harvested while still green and immature, then ripened artificially with ethylene gas. This may lead to less flavor development, resulting in bland tomatoes.
Tomatoes are generally well tolerated and tomato allergy is very rare (47Trusted Source, 48Trusted Source).
Although tomato allergy is rare, individuals allergic to grass pollen are more likely to be allergic to tomatoes.
This condition is called pollen-food allergy syndrome or oral-allergy syndrome (49Trusted Source).
In oral-allergy syndrome, your immune system attacks fruit and vegetable proteins that are similar to pollen, which leads to allergic reactions like itching in the mouth, scratchy throat, or swelling of the mouth or throat (50Trusted Source).
People with latex allergy can also experience cross-reactivity to tomatoes (51Trusted Source, 52Trusted Source).
SUMMARYTomatoes are generally well tolerated but may cause allergic reactions in people allergic to grass pollen.
Tomatoes are juicy and sweet, full of antioxidants, and may help fight several diseases.
They are especially high in lycopene, a plant compound linked to improved heart health, cancer prevention, and protection against sunburns.
Tomatoes can be a valuable part of a healthy diet.
Is a Tomato a Fruit or Vegetable?
Tomatoes are quite possibly one of the summer season’s most versatile produce offerings.
They’re typically grouped alongside vegetables in the culinary world, but you may have also heard them referred to as fruits.
This article explores whether tomatoes are fruits or vegetables and why they’re sometimes confused for one or the other.
Nutritionally, fruits and vegetables get a lot of attention for being rich sources of vitamins, minerals and fiber (1Trusted Source).
Although they have a lot in common, fruits and vegetables also have some distinct differences.
However, these differences will vary dramatically depending on whether you’re talking to a farmer or a chef.
Botanical classification of fruits and vegetables is primarily based on the structure and function of the part of the plant in question.
Fruits are formed from flowers, have seeds and assist with the plant’s reproduction process. Some common fruits include apples, peaches, blueberries and raspberries (2).
On the other hand, vegetables are the roots, stems, leaves or other auxiliary parts of the plant. Some well-known vegetables include spinach, lettuce, carrots, beets and celery (2).
When it comes to cooking, the classification system for fruits and vegetables changes significantly compared to how they’re categorized botanically.
In culinary practice, fruits and vegetables are utilized and applied based primarily on their flavor profiles.
Generally, a fruit has a soft texture and tends to err on the sweet side. It may also be somewhat tart or tangy. It’s best suited for desserts, pastries, smoothies, jams or eaten by itself as a snack.
Conversely, a vegetable typically has a blander and possibly bitter flavor. It usually has a tougher texture than fruit and, though some are enjoyed raw, may require cooking. They’re best suited for savory dishes like stir-fries, stews, salads and casseroles.
SUMMARYWhether a food is a fruit or vegetable depends on if it’s being discussed in culinary or botanical terms. Botanical classification is based on the structure and function of the plant, while culinary classification is based on flavor and recipe application.
According to science, tomatoes are fruits.
All fruits have a single seed or many seeds inside and grow from the flower of a plant (2).
Like other true fruits, tomatoes form from small yellow flowers on the vine and naturally contain a multitude of seeds. These seeds can later be harvested and used to produce more tomato plants.
Interestingly, some modern varieties of tomato plants have been intentionally cultivated to stop producing seeds. Even when this is the case, a tomato is still considered to be the fruit of the plant in botanical terms.
SUMMARYTomatoes are botanically fruits because they form from a flower and contain seeds.
Much of the confusion about whether a tomato is a fruit or vegetable comes from the common culinary applications for tomatoes.
Cooking is as much an art as it is a science, which tends to give way to more flexibility for how different foods are categorized.
In cooking, tomatoes are usually used alone or paired alongside other true vegetables in savory dishes. As a result, they’ve earned a reputation as a vegetable, even though they’re technically a fruit by scientific standards.
This was the method of classification used by the US Supreme Court in 1893 during a legal dispute with a tomato importer who argued his tomatoes should be considered fruits to avoid the higher vegetable tariff.
It was during this case that the court ruled the tomato would be classified as a vegetable on the basis of its culinary applications instead of its botanical categorization as a fruit. The rest is history (3).
Tomatoes aren’t the only foods that struggle with this kind of identity crisis. In fact, it’s fairly common for plants botanically classified as fruits to be used as vegetables in culinary practice.
Other fruits that are often considered vegetables include:
- Pea pods
Though much less common, sometimes vegetables are utilized more like fruits in certain culinary scenarios, too.
Rhubarb, for example, is often included in sweet dessert-style recipes even though it’s a vegetable. This is also exemplified in other dishes like carrot cake or sweet potato pie.
SUMMARYTomatoes are usually used in savory preparations, which is why they’ve earned the reputation of being a vegetable. Some other fruits that are used as vegetables include squash, pea pods and cucumber.
Tomatoes are botanically defined as fruits because they form from a flower and contain seeds.
Still, they’re most often utilized like a vegetable in cooking. In fact, the US Supreme Court ruled in 1893 that the tomato should be classified as a vegetable on the basis of its culinary applications.
It’s not uncommon for culinary practices to blur the lines of scientific definitions of what constitutes a fruit or a vegetable. Many plants that are considered to be vegetables are actually fruits.
For all intents and purposes, tomatoes are both. If you’re talking to a farmer or gardener, they’re fruits. If you’re talking to a chef, they’re a vegetable.
Regardless, they’re a delicious and nutritious addition to any diet.