Tomatoes are a versatile fruit often mistakenly thought of as vegetables. They can be sliced, diced, baked, fried, marinated, juiced and stewed. Unlike many fruits and vegetables, tomatoes release more of certain nutrients when they are lightly cooked. As a consequence, stewed tomatoes are a great source of antioxidants but are low in fats and calories.
Tomatoes are rich in lycopene, which is a red phytochemical similar to beta-carotene and is one of the most powerful natural antioxidants found in food, according to the “Natural Standard Herb & Supplement Reference.” Tomatoes also contain high levels of vitamins A, C and K, as well as potassium, manganese, iron and dietary fiber. One cup of stewed tomatoes contains about one-third of your daily vitamin C requirement and 2.6 grams of soluble fiber. Tomatoes are also low in calories, with less than 30 in a serving, and contain no cholesterol.
Consuming high levels of lycopene can lower your risk of cardiovascular disease and certain types of cancer and can protect the prostate gland and other tissues from the negative effects of free radical oxidation. Lycopene and soluble fiber combine to help lower blood cholesterol levels nearly as well as prescribed medications but without the side effects. Lycopene and other antioxidants in tomatoes such as beta-carotene and vitamin C also promote healthy vision and stimulate immunity. The insoluble fiber in tomatoes adds bulk to the stool, helps clean out the large intestine and promotes regular bowel movements. Tomatoes have low glycemic indexes, which means they don’t cause spikes in blood glucose levels or trigger large releases of insulin from your pancreas.
Stewing tomatoes increases the amount of lycopene and soluble fiber available for your body compared to raw tomatoes. Stewing tomatoes for 30 minutes increases available lycopene levels by at least 35 percent and perhaps as high as 164 percent, depending on the variety of tomato and its degree of ripeness, according to the book “Contemporary Nutrition: Functional Approach.” Stewing tomatoes reduces the levels of heat-sensitive nutrients such as vitamin C.
When choosing canned, stewed tomatoes from the grocery store, pick products that contain the skin, which holds most of the soluble fiber, and avoid products that contain added sugar or salt. Some types of store-bought stewed tomatoes contain more than 600 milligrams of sodium per cup, which is about a quarter of your daily allowance. Choose organic tomatoes when available. They are a tasty and nutritious addition to soups, pasta sauce, stews and chili.
- Contemporary Nutrition: Functional Approach; Gordon M. Wardlaw et al.
- Natural Standard Herb & Supplement Reference: Evidence-based Clinical Reviews; Catherine E. Ulbricht and Ethan M. Basch
- The Nutribase Complete Book of Food Counts; Art Ulene
Sirah Dubois is currently a PhD student in food science after having completed her master's degree in nutrition at the University of Alberta. She has worked in private practice as a dietitian in Edmonton, Canada and her nutrition-related articles have appeared in The Edmonton Journal newspaper.