Tomato: Keeping health troubles away

TomatoBy Henrylito D. Tacio 

“Let thy medicine be thy food.” Hippocrates, the father of medicine, must have had the tomato in mind when he made this statement thousands of years ago. Now, in a world where drugs and supplements dominate, it appears that conventional medicine has forgotten the healing power of food.  

Modern science knows that food provides vitamins, minerals and calories for energy, but does it believe that food offers any real medical treatments?  Take the case of tomato, a powerhouse of nutrition. It contains a multitude of vitamins and minerals that act to support health. 

Tomato is considered one of the richest of all foods in vitamins.  It is very rich in all three important vitamins like A, B and C while most vegetables are deficient in one or more.  Vitamin A plays an important role in vision, fighting infection and bacteria, maintaining skin and body linings, bone and body growth, reproduction, and normal cell development. 

The B vitamins are very important to maintain good health.  A deficiency of Vitamin B6 can raise a person’s risk of heart disease.  Evidence also indicates that about 40 percent of heart attacks and strokes may be caused by a deficiency of folic acid, another important B vitamin. 

Vitamin C is needed by the body to form collagen and fiber for teeth, bone, cartilage, connective tissue, skin and capillary walls.  It helps in fighting bacterial infections.  It may also protect against declining mental ability and stroke. Vitamin C of tomatoes is not destroyed by heat and therefore they are practically valuable for all sorts of stomach and liver troubles.  

Tomato is a major crop in India, where several authors have written about its medicinal properties.  Dr. S. J. Singh, author of ‘Practical Naturopathy’ has described the tomato as very rich in food minerals which help to keep the blood alkaline and thus maintain a high resistance to disease. It is very rich, in iron and potash salts. Tomato stimulates torpid liver and is good in dyspepsia, diarrhea, and dysentery.  

As a source of fiber, one medium tomato will equal one slice of whole wheat bread with a penalty of only 35 calories. 

In his book, ‘Introduction to Ayurveda,’ Dr. C. C. Thakur claimed that tomato improves the digestive system and cures chronic diseases of the stomach. It is a blood purifier, cures anemia, piles, liver troubles, and chronic fever. 

On the other hand, Dr. G. S. Verma – the man behind ‘Miracles of Fruits’ — has written that tomato is a sort of fruit and should better be eaten uncooked.  Tomato removes constipation and strengthens teeth.  It is easily digestible and as such, it is recommended as a good diet for invalids and especially in fevers, diabetes and after long fasts. Although green tomatoes are wonderful when cooked or pickled, they should be avoided in large amounts when raw, nutritionists warn. 

Green tomatoes contain large amounts of tomatin, a toxin which is often extracted from seeds for its antibiotic prowess. 

However, it was not until the discovery of the carotenoid lycopene that modern science began to truly recognize the healing power of the tomato.  In 1998, a press release from the Heinz Institute of Nutritional Sciences touted the benefits of lycopene, an antioxidant which purportedly fights the free radicals that can interfere with normal cell growth and activity.  Lycopene is present in tomatoes and, especially when tomatoes are cooked, has been found beneficial in preventing prostate cancer. 

Lycopene is now recognized as a powerful substance in the fight against cardiovascular disease. One study investigated close to 40,000 women and their dietary habits, which revealed that the consumption of 7 to 10 servings of lycopene-rich tomato products produced a 29 percent lower incidence of cardiovascular disease compared to women consuming the lowest amounts. This result was increased to 34 percent when women consumed two servings a week of tomato products that contained oil. 

Observed a commentator: “The lycopene-rich tomato, with its synergistic nutrients, is a powerful protector of heart disease. When the sauce is made in the traditional Italian fashion, with garlic, oregano, parsley and all the other spices, a tremendous amount of antioxidant, antithrombotic, and anti-inflammatory action is added.” 

There is even some mounting evidence that lycopene in tomatoes may help to prevent cataracts, age-related macular degeneration, and sunburns.  More and more research appears to show that lycopene assists the immune system in protecting the body from illness. 

Some people claim that tomatoes have stimulating aphrodisiacal properties.  However, this status as an aphrodisiac may be due to a mistranslation.  Legend has it a Frenchman on his travels ate a meal with tomatoes in it and was fascinated with the new taste.  He went back to the chef, who was Italian, and asked him what this new ingredient was.  The chef said “Pomme de Maure” (Apple of the Moors), but the Frenchman misunderstood and thought he said “Pomme d’amour” (apple of love).  But there is no plausible connection of the tomato to the Moors.

Unknown to many, the tomato is native to western South America.  By some means, it migrated to Central America, where people used the fruit in their cooking. In 1519, Hernando Cortez discovered tomatoes growing in Montezuma’s gardens and brought seeds back to Europe where they were planted as ornamental curiosities, but not eaten. 

It was French botanist Tournefort, who provided the Latin botanical name, “Lycopersicon esculentum,” to the tomato. The English word “tomato” comes from the Spanish “tomatl,” first appearing in print in 1595. A member of the deadly nightshade family, tomatoes were erroneously thought to be poisonous (although the leaves are poisonous) by Europeans who were suspicious of their bright, shiny fruit. 

After their conquest of South America, the Spanish distributed the plant throughout their colonies in the Caribbean. Tomatoes were also brought to the Philippines, from which point tomatoes were exported to Southeast Asia and then the entire Asian continent. Though it is botanically a fruit, the tomato is nutritionally categorized as a vegetable.  Since “vegetable” is not a botanical term, there is no contradiction in a plant part being a fruit botanically while still being considered a vegetable.  Today, tomatoes are now eaten freely throughout the world.  In the Philippines, tomato is one of the most common ingredients of Filipino dishes.  It is served raw or cooked and can be processed into tomato sauce, ketchup, and seasonings. Tomato thrives best in areas with mild seasons and without great extremes of heat or excessive rainfall.  It can be grown anywhere, but for best results, it is grown in fertile, well-drained and friable soil (sandy to clay loam). — ###

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One response to “Tomato: Keeping health troubles away

  1. As a health coach treating many people suffering from digestive problems I found this to be a great post for me in my own continuing quest for research and knowledge. I wonder how the “acidic” or nightshade components of tomatoes play into this for people who suffer from ulcerative colitis or other similar ailments. For general constipation and IBS I will continue to recommend well cooked tomatoes or well marinated raw tomatoes. What is your take on marinating in citrus and oil to break down the troubling properties and pureeing to ease digestion. I also want to add that making guacamole or similar dishes with tomatoes and avocados has wonderful health benefits and the mashing/pureeing process does wonders for digestion for all kinds of people of all ages from very young children to older people.

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