The tomato has numerous beneficial properties as it is rich in minerals, vitamins and antioxidants. It is an excellent ally of the line because it is low in calories and represents the king of the Mediterranean diet. Discover the characteristics and benefits of tomatoes.
Tomatoes represent the most cultivated vegetable (in botanical terms it is defined fruit) in the world, after the potato. It is a plant native to South America, but today it is grown all over the world. The tomato plant belongs to the Solanaceae family, which also includes aubergines, peppers and potatoes.
It needs a lot of water and can reach a maximum height of 2 meters, but it is not resistant enough to bear the weight of the tomatoes, so bamboo canes are usually used where the branches are woven.
The fruits of the plant are precisely tomatoes (technically, in fact, tomatoes are fruits but they belong to the food category of vegetables), which exist in various sizes and colors depending on the variety. Among the best known varieties are the San Marzano and Datterino tomatoes (as we will see later).
Tomatoes usually have a deep red color, but there are green, yellow and black varieties (such as the black Crimean tomato). The season for tomatoes is definitely summer, although today it is possible to find them all year round. We advise you to always consume seasonal fruit and vegetables, as they are richer in flavor and nutritional values. As we anticipated above, there are many varieties of tomatoes. Let’s see, therefore, the main types present in the area and, subsequently, the nutritional values of the tomatoes.
Tomatoes: the most common varieties
Tomatoes are a key food of the Mediterranean diet which, depending on the variety, are suitable for different purposes and can be used for the preparation of the sauce, as well as a condiment or side dish. Let’s see together the main types: the best known and most cultivated in our peninsula.
✓ Ox heart
It is a variety of tomatoes more suited to being eaten raw as a side dish rather than cooked. They are medium-sized tomatoes, not perfectly rounded but with an irregular shape. Their color, when brought to the table, varies from red-orange to green and one of their peculiar characteristics is that of having a thin skin, which makes them perfect for summer salads.
It is a medium-sized tomato, characterized by the presence of wrinkles on the surface, which give it a shape similar to that of a flower. It is a tomato suitable to be eaten raw in salads, or in the “caprese”, one of the most famous summer dishes (the classic “tomato and mozzarella”). Its flavor is sweet and is also used for grilling.
✓ San Marzano
This tomato is one of the best known for the production of tomato sauce, the condiment that makes Italy famous all over the world. It has an elongated shape and is harvested when it reaches full ripeness and has an intense red color.
This tomato is an ancient variety typical of Lazio and takes its name from its particular shape: it is in fact empty inside. It is also used for the preparation of sauces or for the preparation of stuffed tomatoes, taking advantage of its characteristic shape.
✓ Cherry tomato
It is a variety of tomato with a round shape and small size. This tomato, easy to grow because it is not subject to some diseases frequent in other varieties, is used both in salads and for the preparation of different recipes (such as baked fish with cherry tomatoes or for pasta salads or other cereals). It has a very sweet taste and this makes it appreciated even by children.
✓ Datterini tomatoes
Like the cherry, the datterino is also a small tomato, with a more elongated and less round shape than the previous one. This type of tomato can take on different colors and it is not unusual to find yellow datterini even in the aisles of supermarkets. It has an even sweeter flavor than cherry tomato and can also be used for the preparation of salads, cold cereal-based dishes or in oven cooking.
✓ Vesuvian Piennolo del
Vesuvio tomatoes are a variety of tomatoes that is grown on the slopes of Vesuvius and which can boast the DOP (protected designation of origin) mark. They have an oval shape and are slightly pointed. They have a sweet but at the same time acidic taste and are used for the preparation of sauces. In particular, these tomatoes are often preserved through an ancient practice called “al piennolo”, which gives this food a peculiar flavor and allows it to be preserved for several months.
Tomatoes: calories and nutritional values
Tomatoes are mostly made up of water and a negligible fat content, resulting in a very low calorie intake. In fact, tomatoes have only 18 calories per 100 grams. The protein intake is also low and the fiber content is discreet.
From the point of view of micronutrients, however, tomatoes are a good source of potassium, phosphorus, vitamin C, vitamin K and folate. The red color of tomatoes is due to an antioxidant, lycopene, whose action is aided by two other antioxidants, namely lutein and zeaxanthin. Let’s take a closer look at the characteristics of these antioxidants:
- Lycopene: Tomato is an excellent source of lycopene. It is an antioxidant carotenoid which is responsible for the red color of tomatoes and other vegetables such as watermelon and red fruits. It has an anti-inflammatory action and protects the eyes from age-related degeneration. Its strong antioxidant power makes it valuable in the fight against both cellular aging and cancer. Lycopene is mainly contained in the peel and increases its bioavailability with cooking;
- Lutein and zeaxanthin: these are two carotenoids that are present inside the retina where, thanks to their antioxidant action, they protect the eyes from damage from light radiation.
For greater clarity, we report below the table with the nutritional values of the tomatoes.
Nutritional values per 100g of tomatoes:
- Waterfall: 94.52 gr
- kcal: 18
- Proteins: 0.88 g
- Fat: 0.2 g
- Fibers: 1.2 g
- Soccer: 10 mg
- Magnesium: 11 mg
- Phosphorus: 24 mg
- Potassium: 237 mg
- C vitamin: 13.7 mg (22.8% RDA)
- Vitamin B1: 0.037 mg (2.6% RDA)
- Vitamin B2: 0.019 mg (1.2% RDA)
- Vitamin B3: 0.594 mg (3.3% RDA)
- Vitamin B5: 0.089 mg (1.5% RDA)
- Vitamin B6: 0.08 mg (4% RDA)
- Folate: 15 µg (7.5% RDA)
- Vitamin A: 42 µg (5.3% RDA)
- Vitamin E: 0.53 mg (5.4% RDA)
- Vitamin K: 7.9 µg (11.3% RDA)
- Lycopene: 2573 µg
- Lutein + Zeaxanthin: 123 µg
- Glycemic index: 30
- Cholesterol: 0 g
Tomatoes: health benefits
The presence of the substances we have just seen, in particular lycopene, give the tomato properties useful for health. Specifically, tomatoes have a good antioxidant, diuretic action, are useful for heart health and offer benefits to the eyes and bones, but not only. Let’s see the benefits that these foods offer.
✓ Reduce blood pressure
The potassium contained in tomatoes acts as a vasodilator so it is a great help for those suffering from high blood pressure. Consequently, the consumption of tomatoes reduces the risks associated with high blood pressure such as strokes.
✓ They fight aging
Cellular aging is due to the action of free radicals, which are effectively counteracted thanks to the antioxidants contained in tomatoes such as vitamin C, beta-carotene and lycopene.
✓ Protect the sight
The properties of tomatoes also extend to the eye. The lutein and zeaxanthin found in tomatoes help protect the eyes from solar radiation. Furthermore, these two substances, combined with beta-carotene, promote health of sight in general.
✓ They stimulate diuresis
Thanks to the abundance of water and potassium, the consumption of tomatoes has a diuretic effect, consequently reducing the retention of liquids and the formation of cellulite.
✓ Helps with bone health
Tomatoes contain substances useful for strengthening bones, namely calcium and vitamin K.
✓ Promote digestion
The presence of fiber makes tomatoes useful in stimulating intestinal transit, thus helping the digestive process.
✓ Tomatoes and diabetes
Tomato has a low glycemic index and is one of the foods recommended in case of diabetes. Its antioxidant content, in fact, is useful in reducing oxidative stress and reduces the cardiovascular risk associated with type 2 diabetes.
✓ Counteracts muscle cramps
The first symptoms of a potassium deficiency are muscle aches and cramps. It follows that regular consumption of tomatoes, thanks to their high potassium content, is able to prevent the appearance of these disorders.
✓ Useful in cancer prevention
Thanks to the richness of antioxidant substances, especially lycopene, the regular consumption of tomatoes is able to help prevent the onset of cancer, for example breast, ovarian, prostate and pancreas, carrying out a good preventive action.
How many tomatoes to eat
Tomatoes, although from a botanical point of view they can be classified as fruits, from a nutritional point of view they are treated as vegetables. In this context, therefore, a portion of tomatoes is equivalent to about 200 grams, which correspond to 2/8 tomatoes, depending on the size. In a healthy and balanced diet we recommend at least 2 portions of vegetables a day, therefore, when they are in season (in the summer) it is advisable to eat 2 or 3 portions of tomatoes a day, possibly alternating them with other seasonal vegetables.
Remember, however, that tomatoes contain solanine, a substance that if taken in excessive quantities can cause headaches, diarrhea and abdominal cramps. Therefore it is always good not to overdo the quantities and choose ripe tomatoes (they contain less solanine), especially if we have particular sensitivity to this substance.
Tomatoes: how to use and consume them
Tomatoes can be eaten raw in salads, or cooked in the form of peeled tomatoes or tomato sauce. Our advice is to consume only organic tomatoes therefore free of pesticides and, above all, in season, to benefit from all the nutritional characteristics. There are also dried tomatoes , but be careful that there is no added salt. Tomatoes should be stored in a cool and dry place and can be eaten in many ways, in fact our kitchen is full of tomato-based recipes.
The classic way to consume raw tomatoes is, as mentioned above, to add them to salads or summer couscous, perhaps combined with onion, basil, aubergines, cucumbers and other summer vegetables. Also famous is the “caprese” prepared by combining tomatoes and mozzarella, with the addition of aromatic herbs to taste.
On the other hand, cooked tomatoes can be used to make sauces or preserves and must be stored in airtight glass jars, tightly closed and stored in a cool and dry place. In this regard, remember that cooking tomatoes, although it reduces the content of some vitamins, makes lycopene, a powerful antioxidant contained in this vegetable, more bioavailable. Even the consumption of a classic tomato sauce can be useful to increase the intake of this antioxidant. Therefore, in a healthy and balanced diet, it is recommended to eat both raw and cooked tomatoes.
Finally, remember that the benefits of tomatoes are also on the skin: in fact they have astringent and purifying properties. We can then prepare a face mask by blending the fresh tomato pulp, half a cucumber and a few drops of lemon, leaving it on for 10 minutes. The skin will immediately appear smooth and refreshed!
Is it okay to freeze tomatoes?
A popular method of preserving tomatoes is freezing. To freeze tomatoes it is first of all necessary to choose the firmest ones, avoiding those with dents or blackened parts; then the stem (if present) must be removed and then washed well under running water and then dried. At this point it is possible to place them in special bags and put them in the freezer. In this way the tomatoes can also be kept for 5 or 6 months.
But is this practice safe? In general, the freezing of tomatoes, as well as that of all foods rich in water, can compromise their organoleptic quality. Once defrosted, in fact, tomatoes can be rather soft and, often, even not very tasty. However, the nutritional qualities are maintained quite well, even if not totally (specifically, some vitamins, proteins and minerals can be lost in the so-called “defrosting water”).
Dried tomatoes: characteristics and differences with fresh ones
Dried tomatoes are a widely used preparation throughout Italy: it is a method to preserve and therefore to be able to consume tomatoes, a typically summer fruit, throughout the year.
The preparation of dried tomatoes involves using ripe tomatoes, typically of the San Marzano variety, and letting them dry in the sun (or through the use of a dryer), sprinkled with salt. Generally these tomatoes are then preserved in oil for a few months.
From a nutritional point of view it is a product that no longer contains water: therefore it is more caloric and all the vitamins and minerals are more concentrated in the product. However, pay attention to the presence of salt.
Tomatoes in oil: properties and how to make them
Tomatoes in oil are the method of preserving dried tomatoes. From a nutritional point of view they maintain most of the properties of tomatoes seen so far, however they are much more caloric and rich in fats (the oil, in fact). It is therefore important to pay attention to what type of oil is used for conservation: a poor quality oil, in fact, will make the final product less healthy than one produced with a good extra virgin olive oil.
For the preparation of tomatoes in oil you must start from drying: after picking the ripe tomatoes you need to cut them in half and let them dry in the sun (or use an oven or a dryer). Once dried, the tomatoes will be boiled in a solution of water and vinegar for 3-4 minutes, to prevent any bacterial contamination. They will then be left to dry and only when they are perfectly dry will they be placed in a jar and covered with oil. Chunks of garlic and chilli are also frequently added as flavorings.
Tomato: contraindications and potential negative effects
In addition to many benefits, tomatoes also have some contraindications. In particular, it should be avoided in case of specific allergy. Symptoms of tomato allergy include redness of the mouth, hives, difficulty swallowing, diarrhea and other intestinal disorders. It is also necessary to pay attention in case of intolerance to the Solanaceae family or allergy to nickel, an element present in these vegetables.
Those suffering from stomach acid, gastritis or reflux should be careful with the consumption of tomatoes because it can worsen the symptoms.