Health Benefits of Tomatoes

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A vegetable “survival” garden isn’t a vegetable garden without some nice tomato plants, but is the tomato really a vegetable, or is it a fruit? In 1893, this question went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled (erroneously) that the tomato is a vegetable!

So what determines whether something is a fruit or a vegetable? Technically, if it results from the flower of a plant and the seeds are in the part that you eat, it’s a fruit. Interestingly, this makes a fruit out of a lot of things you might consider vegetables, including:

• Cucumbers
• Green beans
• Squash
• Peppers
• Olives

True vegetables don’t have seeds in the parts we eat, such as leaves, stalks, bulbs, or roots, and include:

• Carrots
• Celery
• Potatoes
• Onions
• Lettuce
• Cabbage

Both fruits and vegetables are part of a healthy diet, and tomatoes are some of the healthiest foods you can eat. One serving (1 cup) of red tomatoes is good source of vitamins and minerals such as the following:

• Vitamin A
• Vitamin C
• Vitamin K
• Vitamin B6
• Thiamine
• Niacin
• Folate
• Potassium
• Phosphorus
• Copper
• Chromium
• Magnesium
• Calcium

Whew! Tomatoes also help provide fiber to the diet. In addition, tomatoes are low in a lot of things you might not want:

• Sodium
• Saturated fat
• Cholesterol
• Calories

Another substance in tomatoes that has known health benefits is Lycopene, a vital anti-oxidant. Lycopene flushes out free radicals, substances involved in cell damage. Our body doesn’t produce lycopene on its own, so we need sources like tomatoes to reap its benefits. The tomato isn’t the only plant that contains Lycopene, but nothing else has so much of it. You’ve probably heard that cooking often removes some of the vitamins from food, and that’s mostly true, but tomatoes actually retain their lycopene content if cooked.

Tomatoes have beneficial effects on a number of organ systems:

1. Hair and skin: Lycopene and Beta-carotene in tomatoes protect skin against damage from the sun’s ultraviolet rays. Vitamin A helps keep your hair thick and shiny.
2. Eyes: Vitamin A helps protect against night blindness, and might even reduce the risk of macular degeneration, an irreversible deterioration of the center of your visual field.
3. Bones: Lycopene in tomatoes may improve bone mass, which protects against osteoporosis, a brittling of the bones which occurs with age, especially in women. Tomatoes also contain vitamin K and calcium, which helps strengthen bone tissue.
4. Heart: Potassium and Vitamin B in tomatoes help to lower blood pressure and possibly cholesterol, leading to less risk of heart attacks and strokes.
5. Lungs: Although eating tomatoes doesn’t make you want to stop smoking, chlorogenic and coumaric acid may mitigate some of the damage caused by the carcinogens in cigarettes.
6. Pancreas: Chromium in tomatoes may help diabetics keep blood glucose levels under control.

In addition, tomatoes may lessen the chance of prostate cancer, stomach, colorectal, and other cancers (again, due to Lycopene) and may have a role in inhibiting cancerous cell growth.

Tomatoes are a terrific way to help with weight loss, as well. Due to their high water content and fiber, they fill you up faster without adding a lot of calories or fat.

So consider adding some tomato plants to your garden this Spring. For information on how to grow an awesome crop of this healthy fruit, check out Nurse Amy’s video on the subject:

Joe Alton, MD


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