Tomatoes: Health benefits and recipes

I say tomato — you say tomahto! Even though I eat tomatoes practically 365 days a year, I always look forward to summer when they’re in season. There is something about when their color gets deeper and their taste sweeter, that I am beyond happy.

Technically tomatoes are a fruit, and that’s because they have seeds and grow from the flower of a plant. But if you’re like me, you’ll continue to call them a veggie.

[See: How 16 Fruits Boost Your Health.]

What Are the Health Benefits of Tomatoes?

May reduce the risk of prostate cancer.
Probably one of the most well-known nutrients of tomatoes is lycopene. Lycopene is an antioxidant, which has been shown in numerous studies to possibly prevent prostate cancer. An interesting fact: Cooking a tomato actually increases the level of lycopene. So as much as one might think raw veggies are always better, here that isn’t necessarily the case.

May reduce the risk of heart disease.
Once again lycopene, with its anti-inflammatory properties, may also help reduce the risk for cardiovascular disease, and well as stroke. Furthermore, tomatoes are also a good source of the antioxidant vitamin C. Same as lycopene, vitamin C has anti-inflammatory properties, which may help to reduce heart disease. Also, according to the American Heart Association, foods rich in potassium, like tomatoes, are important in managing high blood pressure.

May help improve eye health.
Tomatoes also include the antioxidants beta-carotene, lutein and zeaxanthin. Research supports that these nutrients are vital for our eye health, possibly preventing eye diseases, such as cataract, age-related macular degeneration and diabetic retinopathy.

May help prevent constipation.
A medium-sized tomato contains 1.5 grams of fiber and is 95% water. A diet rich in fiber and fluids has been shown to help improve bowel movements.

Are some varieties of tomatoes better for you than others?
The short answer is yes. However, there are thousands of different varieties of tomatoes in the world, all packed with vitamins and minerals. So, instead of focusing on which one is healthiest, I would rather someone focus on which one they enjoy the most. The more you enjoy, the more you will eat. Nonetheless, if you are looking to reap the benefits of lycopene from your tomato choice, then stick with the red color versus the yellow or green.

What’s the best way to store your tomatoes?
That depends. For flavor and texture, it is best to leave your tomatoes on the counter side-by-side, never stacked, in a cool, dark spot — especially if they haven’t totally ripened yet.

Once totally ripe, you have a couple of days, maybe a week tops, before they start to spoil and should definitely be placed in the fridge. They can easily last another two weeks there. However, once refrigerated, it’s best to bring to room temperature before eating for better flavor.

[See: Uses for Zucchini.]

Best Ways to Eat Tomatoes

From salads, sauces, soups, stews, omelets and sandwiches, to simply popping a grape tomato into your mouth, the options are really endless.

Gazpacho Recipe

A real favorite this time of year is gazpacho soup. Love this recipe by registered dietitian and award-winning cookbook author Ellie Krieger.

Ingredients:

— 1 medium cucumber, peeled and seeded.

— 1 medium red bell pepper, cored.

— 1 ½ pounds ripe tomatoes (4-5 medium), cored and quartered.

— 1 slice whole wheat sandwich bread, crusts removed.

— 1 small clove garlic, minced.

— 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus 4 teaspoons for garnish.

— 1 tablespoon sherry vinegar.

— ¾ teaspoon salt.

Directions:
Chop half of the cucumber and half of the pepper into large chunks and put them into a blender. Finely chop the remaining peppers and cucumber and set aside for garnish.

Add the tomatoes, bread, garlic, 3 tablespoons of olive oil, sherry vinegar, salt and ½ cup of water to the blender and blend until smooth. Chill in the refrigerator in an airtight container for at least ywo hours and up to four days.

Stir before serving and garnish each bowl with 2 tablespoons each chopped cucumber and peppers and drizzle with 1 teaspoon olive oil.

Makes 4 servings. Serving size: about 1 cup.

Per serving: Calories 190; Total Fat 15g (Mono Fat 10.8g, Poly Fat 1.8g, Sat Fat 2.1g); Protein 3g; Carb 13g; Fiber 3g; Cholesterol 0mg; Sodium 480mg.

[See: Best Summer Salads and Recipes.]

Plant-based Pesto Pasta Salad With Grilled Grape Tomatoes Recipe

Another delicious recipe for summertime with tomatoes is this one by registered dietitian and chef Jackie Newgent.

Ingredients:

— 8 ounces tri-color grape tomatoes (about 24).

— 2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil.

— 8 ounces dry whole-grain rotini or farfalle.

— 1/3 cup fresh vegan basil pesto (see below) or pesto of choice.

— 1½ cups packed fresh baby arugula (1½ ounces).

— ¼ teaspoon sea salt, or to taste.

— 2 tablespoons pine nuts, pan-toasted.

— 4 lemon wedges.

Directions:
Preheat a grill or grill-pan. Insert grape tomatoes onto skewers. Brush with the olive oil. Grill over direct medium-high heat until rich grill marks form, about 8 minutes.

Meanwhile, boil pasta per package directions (ideally in salted water), about 10 minutes. Drain, toss with ice cubes to cool, then drain again.

Toss the cooled pasta with the pesto. Then toss with the arugula, grilled grape tomatoes, sea salt, and pine nuts. Adjust seasoning.

Serve with the lemon wedges.

Makes 4 servings. Serving size: 1 1/3 cups.

Per serving: 340 calories, 12g total fat, 1g saturated fat, 0g trans fat, 0mg cholesterol, 210mg sodium, 54g total carbohydrate, 8g dietary fiber, 3g total sugars includes 0g added sugars, 12g protein.

Fresh Vegan Basil Pesto Recipe

Ingredients:

— 2 cups packed fresh basil leaves.

— ½ cup pan-toasted pine nuts or shelled roasted pistachios.

— 2 to 3 large chopped garlic cloves.

— Zest of 1 small lemon.

— 2 teaspoons lemon juice.

— ¼ teaspoon sea salt.

— 1/8 teaspoon each crushed red pepper flakes and smoked paprika.

— ½ cup extra-virgin olive oil

Directions:
In a food processor, pulse all ingredients except olive oil until finely chopped. Then drizzle in olive oil and puree until desired consistency. Makes 1 cup. Freeze extra pesto for later use.

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Tomatoes: Health Benefits and Recipes originally appeared on usnews.com

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