Tomatoes are a mildly sweet citrus fruit, although they are often thought of as vegetables and used in salads. In the United States, it wasn’t until the middle of the 19th century that raw tomatoes became a staple of the American diet. Prior to that, the acidity of tomatoes was thought to be toxic and unhealthy. Thanks to modern medical research, raw tomatoes are now considered quite healthy due to the antioxidants, vitamins, minerals and fiber they contain. However, some people are allergic to raw tomatoes and experience gastrointestinal issues such as acid reflux.
Nutrients in Raw Tomatoes
A medium-sized raw tomato contains less than 30 calories, very little fat, no cholesterol, over 1 gram of dietary fiber and a variety of essential nutrients. For example, the same tomato provides about 40 percent of the recommended daily allowance of vitamin C and approximately 20 percent of vitamin A. The most abundant nutrient in tomatoes, and perhaps the one most associated with health benefits, is lycopene. Lycopene is a powerful antioxidant and the main reason why tomatoes are red. Interestingly, stewed and baked tomatoes provide more lycopene per weight than raw tomatoes. It seems that the cooking process makes the lycopene more bioavailable to your body.
Established Health Benefits
The established health benefits of raw tomatoes are primarily related to the antioxidant activity of lycopene, beta-carotene and vitamins C, A and E, as well as the presence of soluble fiber. Antioxidants reduce the damage of oxidation done by free radicals, which has wide-ranging health benefits for the cardiovascular system. Many studies have concluded that tomato consumption reduces the risk of heart disease, atherosclerosis and high blood pressure, according to the “Natural Standard Herb & Supplement Reference: Evidence-based Clinical Reviews.” The soluble fiber in raw tomatoes contributes to lower blood cholesterol levels and reduced risk of clogged arteries. Furthermore, any fruit or vegetable high in vitamin C stimulates immune response and reduces the risk and duration of minor infections, such as the common cold.
Potential Health Benefits
Other benefits of consuming tomatoes that are not as clearly established include reduced risk of certain cancers, obesity, Type-2 diabetes, osteoporosis and kidney stones. Lung, stomach and prostate cancers are the types that appear to benefit most from the nutrients in tomatoes. Eating raw tomatoes also has an anti-inflammatory effect, which may be helpful for autoimmune conditions, prostate enlargement and certain types of arthritis.
Potential Harmful Effects
Eating raw tomatoes is not without potential pitfalls. Raw tomato is fairly acidic, which might aggravate or trigger gastrointestinal problems such as heartburn, acid reflux disease or Crohn’s disease. As such, consider eating raw tomatoes with other food, such as whole grains or dairy products, to reduce the acidic impact. Furthermore, some people are highly allergic to raw tomatoes and other tomato products. An allergic reaction occurs when your immune system mistakes certain proteins in food as potential pathogens, which triggers the release of antibodies and histamines. An allergy to raw tomatoes typically involves breathing difficulty, inflammation in the throat and face, runny nose and itchy skin.
- The Nutribase Complete Book of Food Counts; Art Ulene
- Natural Standard Herb & Supplement Reference: Evidence-based Clinical Reviews; Catherine E. Ulbricht and Ethan M. Basch
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.