Spring and summer bring a renewed burst of energy in each of us. Renewed interest in growing fruits and vegetables has spurred many individuals to be creative in growing and raising them within a limited space. The desire to know how our fruits and vegetables are grown and concerns for safe foods have increased the numbers of individuals and families growing their own fruits and vegetables. It seems that for many, the easiest plant to grow is the tomato.
As you think about what you might grow this season, consider the health value of tomatoes. Did you know that tomatoes provide unique health benefits? Tomatoes are chock full of essential vitamins C, A, and B6, along with iron, potassium, manganese, and fiber. One cup of canned tomatoes contains only 41 calories and no fat. Recent research on their health benefits, indicates tomatoes are rich in powerful antioxidants called carotenoids that protect against certain types of cancers and slow the development of atherosclerosis (plaque associated with hardening of arteries). The most abundant type of carotenoid found in tomatoes is lycopene. Research supports that foods high in lycopene may help to reduce the risk for prostate, digestive, and pancreatic cancers. Tomato products are responsible for more than 80% of the lycopene in the U.S. diet.
Tomato products also fight inflammation associated with chronic diseases. Recent studies show that a diet rich in tomatoes lowers the levels of inflammatory stress markers noted in the development of cardiovascular disease. Regular intake of tomato products has been consistently associated with lower rates of cardiovascular disease. Further evidence shows improved cholesterol values as a result of eating tomato products, such as decreased LDL ("bad") cholesterol levels.
Besides powerful heart-health benefits, tomatoes can keep our skin from being damaged by the sun. In a German study, participants who consumed tomato products 2 to 3 times per week showed less likelihood of sunburn when exposed to UV light.
It just goes to show that the tomato is full of great health benefits. Whether eaten fresh or preserved for later use, tomatoes are versatile in creating great tasting recipes. Take advantage of your abundant harvest of tomatoes if you grow them. Be prepared to handle the excess; share with your neighbors and family members. Tomatoes can also be easily preserved using methods such as freezing, canning or dehydrating. The benefit for you and your family is the year round availability of fresh, quality, homegrown tomatoes to use in a variety of recipes.