Boost your Immunity with Tomatoes

Tomatoes benefit the cardiovascular, nervous, glandular, and mus­culoskeletal immune centers.

The tomato is some tomato. We eat it (along with the potato) more than any other vegetable (although technically it is a fruit). Like that other favorite fruit, the apple, the tomato is complex. More than 400 compounds account for the taste of the Solanum lycopersicum when it is ripe, and there are 4,000 varieties of tomatoes worldwide. Shaped like grapes, potatoes, mushrooms, or grapefruit, out-of-the­mainstream heirloom tomatoes may be yellow, purple, even white or striped. We not only eat it regularly, but we also plant it in our gardens and porch planters more than any other vegetable, including squash and carrots.

Immunity Strengths

The French called them pommes dâmour, or love apples; on the other hand, they are also the symbol of the French Revolution because of their blood-red color. Today, the Mexican state of Sinaloa flies the tomato flag as its symbol. You should, too.

Cancer-Fighting Fruit. A tomato a day may keep the oncologist away. Tomatoes are rich in saponins. Also present in potatoes, soybeans, and asparagus, these plant chemicals function like natural antibiotics, warding off infection and blocking disorders such as cancer.

Big Red Risk Reducer. See red, think healthy heart. Tomatoes offer more lycopene for lowering heart disease risk than any other food source. Lycopene, the big red antioxidant that is the star of the carote­noid family and the coloring-brush compound that makes tomatoes red (or orange, purple, or black), keeps your cardio immune center well and protects against several cancers of the prostate, lung, diges­tive tract, cervix, and bladder like few other phytochemicals. (Out of Big Boys? You can also get your daily dose of that tomato antioxidant lycopene from watermelon and red grapefruit.) Stick with the reds for lycopene; green and yellow tomatoes are lycopene-poor.

Got Diabetes? Bump up the gazpacho and vegetable juice in your diet. Eight ounces of a tomato product daily thin the blood, accord­ing to studies reported in the Journal of the American Medical Associa­tion, decreasing the chance of clotting and cardiovascular problems that complicate diabetes.

Cooked Trumps Raw. While uncooked and fresh usually trumps processed, tomatoes are the exception. Curiously, cooked and canned tomato sauce and paste (yes, even ketchup) appear to offer more lycopene than a tomato out of the hand. Heating actually increases the bioavailability of lycopene, concluded a six-year study by Harvard Medical School and Harvard School of Public Health. According to reports in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition, the protec­tive dose of lycopene is 35 milligrams, which is the amount in 2 cups of tomato juice or cooked tomato products. On the other hand, while cooking increases the lycopene fourfold, eating your tomato raw gives you 40 percent of what the government considers your RDA for vita­min C. Have your tomatoes both ways.

Antiaging Medicine. The tomato is some tomato when it comes to vision, too. The red-pigment antioxidant also protects against macular degeneration, the leading cause of blindness after age sixty-five, and lung damage caused by environmental toxins. When sixth-century herbalists prescribed tomatoes for cataracts, they were pre­scient. Lycopene and beta-carotene, as well as vitamin C, in tomatoes all help strengthen and protect vision. Tomato lycopene slows down aging by stopping free radicals from binding with oxygen, a process that slows immune building, cleansing, and repair.

Forty-Six-Plus Nutrients. Those are just the front-runner phy­tochemicals. Tomatoes offer forty-six more vitamins, minerals, trace minerals, and phytochemicals—chlorophyll for healthy blood, alpha­lipoic acid for improved memory and cellular integrity, tocopherols and tocotrienols (part of the vitamin E complex), as well as the fla­vonoids quercetin and rutin for the blood vessels and capillaries. h~at beefsteak, Roma, or Brandywine tomato also offers calcium, magne­sium, and potassium for healthy blood pressure; the minerals zinc, iron, copper, and manganese for healthy nerves and bones; vitamin B complex for energy; and vitamin E.

To Have (a Tomato) and to Have Not. On the dark side, Solanum lycopersicum is also a nightshade vegetable. So if you have arthritis, tomatoes should appear infrequently at the end of your fork if at all in your diet. Nightshade vegetables also pose a problem for those whose diets are low in calcium, since tomatoes contain glycoalkaloids toma­tine that can interfere with the metabolism of calcium (riper plants have less).

Buying, Storing, and Preparing

  • To benefit the most, buy organic. According to a study in the Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry, the use of inorganic nitrogen in conventional fertilizers produces tomatoes with reduced levels of flavonoids (and what goes for tomatoes goes for potatoes and the rest of our produce). Worse, conventional tomatoes are still sprayed with fifty pesticides. One of them, the banned fungicide methyl bromide, is linked to neurological damage.
  • Grow your own in the backyard or on the patio in pots for more flavor and nutrition than store-bought tomatoes.
  • True vine-ripened tomatoes have twice the vitamin C and beta-carotene of tomatoes that have been ripened artificially. Be wary of where you buy tomatoes: “vine ripened” is not a legal definition. To be sure, get your store-bought tomatoes at a quality pro­duce store.
  • Buy them ripe. Cradled in your palm, the skin of a tomato should feel taut, as if the juices are about to burst out of the skin.
  • To ripen tomatoes, place in a pierced paper bag with an apple or banana for several days. Don’t set on a windowsill. This produces uneven ripening. The natural ethylene gases will do the rest.
  • If it’s mealy and lacks fragrance, it’s been ethylene-gassed in storage. Choose vine-ripened next time or, better yet, organic­ which hasn’t been sprayed with any of the fifty pesticides used on tomatoes commercially.
  • Keep your tomatoes at 60°F or higher. Temperatures below that flatten the plant’s flavors and make for a pulpy texture. Store them stem-side up.
  • Freeze those extra summer tomatoes to make them last. Blanch in hot water to remove skins, and store in freezer-safe plastic con­tainers, leaving an inch at the top.
  • Slice a tomato from top to bottom (not side to side) for slices that keep their juices better and longer.
  • Heat your tomatoes (and other acidic foods) in a cast-iron skillet to maximize the amount of iron you absorb. And couple iron-rich foods with vitamin C–rich foods (i.e., beans and tomatoes, ber­ries and cereal, spinach and lemon).

Jean-Paul Marat

Many tips are based on recent research, while others were known in ancient times. But they have all been proven to be effective. So keep this website close at hand and make the advice it offers a part of your daily life.