Diet Nutrition

The one fruit (you probably think is a vegetable) that'll turn your health around in a flash

Tomatoes are one of Mother Nature’s wonder foods, cheap, versatile and offering health-boosting benefits in every bite.

While tomatoes make a wonderful addition to so many recipes, they're far more than just a delicious fruit. "They're an excellent source of antioxidants, in particular lycopene, which is terrific for fighting disease, ageing and inflammation," dietitian Melanie McGrice says.

"They're also packed full of vitamins and fibre, and are low in kilojoules, sodium and fat." Whether as part of your main meal or just as a snack, Melanie advises serving them up every day.

Stay heart healthy

The unique combination of vitamins, antioxidants and fibre in tomatoes plays an essential role in protecting against heart disease. "Antioxidants fight off free radicals while protecting cells and blood vessels against oxidation and inflammation, which can impact your overall cardiovascular risk," Melanie says.

Studies suggest that a diet rich in tomatoes may even help to lower the risk of stroke, due to the powerful carotenoid lycopene – a pigment that gives fruits and vegetables their red, orange and yellow colouring.

Tomatoes are also high in salicylates, chemicals with natural anticoagulating benefits. "Because they're low in salt and high in water, they can even have a positive effect on your blood pressure, which is essential for maintaining a healthy heart," Melanie explains.

"They're also a fantastic source of fibre, which helps to bind fats in the digestive system and assists in cleaning out your bowel. This helps to eliminate excess fats that would otherwise continue to circulate in the bloodstream, increasing your risk of heart disease."

Fun fact: There are over 10,000 varieties of tomato, these come in a variety of colours including pink, purple, black, yellow and white.
Fun fact: There are over 10,000 varieties of tomato, these come in a variety of colours including pink, purple, black, yellow and white.

Ward off depression

Boosting your emotional health has never been tastier. "Studies show eating foods from the Mediterranean diet – like tomatoes – can have a positive effect on depression and mental health," Melanie says. The point of the diet is to get a healthy amount of fruits, vegetables, wholegrains and omega-3 fats without consuming a lot of sugar or saturated fats. "It's essentially about eating real food, as opposed to having processed foods," she says.

Higher levels of lycopene help to boost mood by preventing the formation of inflammatory compounds associated with depression. "And because tomatoes are so high in fibre, they're excellent for your gut microbiome, which can have a direct impact on your mental health," Melanie adds.

Plus, they're packed with natural mood-enhancers, such as folate and magnesium, as well as iron and vitamin B6, which help to increase your body's levels of feelgood hormones.

Did you know, tomatoes originally came from Peru, where their Aztec name translated to plump thing with a navel?
Did you know, tomatoes originally came from Peru, where their Aztec name translated to plump thing with a navel?

Protect your eyesight

Your eyes will thank you when you eat more tomatoes, too. High levels of vitamins A and C found in them can help to improve your normal vision and may prevent onset of night blindness and certain eye conditions, such as age-related macular degeneration.

"Consuming tomatoes also provides you with quite a rich supply of the carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin, which have been shown to have a protective effect on eye health and can even reduce light-induced damage associated with the development of cataracts," Melanie says. "These powerful antioxidants help to protect the retina of your eyes from the oxidative damage caused by free radicals – a process similar to a piece of metal going rusty."

Shh, don't tell anyone. Tomatoes increase in weight as they ripen, even after harvesting.
Shh, don't tell anyone. Tomatoes increase in weight as they ripen, even after harvesting.

Slow the signs of ageing

Don't worry if you can't afford expensive skin creams – stock up on tomatoes for younger-looking skin! "Once again, the age-defying ingredient is lycopene, which helps to keep skin looking fresh by protecting it from sun damage," Melanie says.

While you can eat them in a variety of ways, cooked tomato products, such as sauce, paste and juice, have the highest amounts of lycopene. What's more, a UK study found that people who regularly eat tomato paste have significantly higher pro-collagen levels, and this molecule helps skin retain its firmness and elasticity.

Another benefit is significant water content. "When skin cells become dehydrated they get all wrinkly, like prunes, which can make you look a lot older. The high water content in tomatoes makes them fantastic for keeping your skin hydrated and plump," she says.

People used to be afraid to eat tomatoes, thinking them poisonous due to their relation to the belladonna or (deadly nightshade) plant.
People used to be afraid to eat tomatoes, thinking them poisonous due to their relation to the belladonna or (deadly nightshade) plant.

Prevent Type 2 diabetes

"While the evidence is limited, research suggests that the carotenoids found in tomatoes may even help to reduce your risk of developing Type 2 diabetes," Melanie explains. The botanical fruit also contains a considerable amount of chromium, which studies suggest can help to regulate blood sugar levels and decrease insulin needs in people with glucose intolerance and insulin resistance.

"One of the biggest misconceptions is that tomatoes are vegetables, but they're actually classified as a fruit because they have seeds, just like cucumbers," Melanie says.

Tomatoes have been around forever, they were first brought to Europe in the mid 1500's.
Tomatoes have been around forever, they were first brought to Europe in the mid 1500's.