Did you know that tomatoes were once considered poison? It’s true, the tomato is a member of the nightshade family, and was at one time considered to be toxic. Tomatoes were first eaten in the U.S. in the early 1800s when a gentleman by the name of Robert Johnson shocked his hometown by eating a basket of tomatoes in the middle of town. When he didn’t die or even get sick from the tomatoes, they became a part of the American diet.
We now know that tomatoes are not toxic, and in fact, are quite nutritious. First, tomatoes contain a lot of vitamin C, which is quite beneficial, as you’ve probably heard. Vitamin C helps the body to produce collagen, an important protein skin, scar tissue, tendons, ligaments, and blood vessels. Vitamin C is also an antioxidant, helping to prevent cell damage by free radicals.
Tomatoes also contain a powerful antioxidant called lycopene. Studies have shown that men consuming 10 servings of tomatoes a week cut the risk of prostate cancer by 45%. Lycopene also lowers the risk of colorectal cancer and stomach cancer and inhibits the growth of other types of cancer cells. Lycopene may also help older folks remain active.
The coumaric acid and chlorogenic acid are also found in tomatoes. These two compounds are thought to block the effects of nitrosamines, which are formed naturally in the body but are also a strong carcinogen in tobacco smoke.
Tomatoes may also help to reduce the risk of heart disease. Tomatoes are a good source of potassium, niacin, vitamin B6, and folate. Niacin has been used for years to lower cholesterol. Potassium has been shown to lower high blood pressure. And vitamin B6 and folate are used by the body to convert a dangerous chemical called homocysteine into more benign compounds.
Vitamin K, found in tomatoes helps to maintain healthy bones. Vitamin K1 activates a protein in the bones called osteocalcin, which anchors calcium inside the bone. Without enough vitamin K, bone mineralization is impaired.
When you buy tomatoes, be sure to buy the ones with the brightest red color. This indicates high amounts of beta-carotene and lycopene. Lycopene is found in the cell walls of the tomato, so by cooking it in a bit of oil, more lycopene is fully released. Also, cooking the tomato in a bit of olive oil helps your body to absorb the lycopene. If all you can find are canned tomatoes, that’s fine. Cooking and canning don’t cause tomatoes to lose any of their nutritional value. So cooked and processed tomatoes are just as beneficial as fresh tomatoes.
So tomatoes, once thought to be a deadly poison, are now a nutritious staple of our diet. They help to fight cancer, and they contain a good amount of vitamin C, and other vitamins and minerals. So go ahead and start adding tomatoes to your diet.
1 Tbsp olive oil
1/2 small onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced (or more if you want)
1 lb ground beef (optional)
4 28oz. cans of crushed tomatoes
1 28oz. can of tomato sauce
2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
1 Tbsp dried oregano
3 bay leaves
In a large soup pot, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the chopped onion, and cook for a couple of minutes, until the onion is tender. Add the garlic, and cook briefly. Be sure not to burn the garlic.
If using ground beef, cook the meat in a skillet until browned. Drain the meat, and add it to the pot.
Add the tomatoes, tomato sauce, Worcestershire sauce, oregano, and bay leaves. Stir everything together, then turn the heat to medium-low, and simmer for 4 hours, stirring occasionally.
Remove the sauce from the heat, and serve over pasta. The leftover sauce will freeze well.