Tomato Nutrition Facts and Health Benefits

Tomatoes

Verywell / Alexandra Shytsman  

Have you ever wondered if a tomato is a fruit or a vegetable? Botanists classify tomatoes as a fruit because they develop from the ovary of flowering plants and contain seeds. However, because tomatoes are prepared and served like vegetables, they're generally thought of as a vegetable from a culinary perspective. Either way, tomatoes are a delicious and nutritious food that makes a good addition to most healthy eating plans.

Tomato Nutrition Facts

The following nutrition information is provided by the USDA for 1 small (2 2/5" in diameter) whole tomato (91g).

  • Calories: 16
  • Fat: 0.2g
  • Sodium: 5mg
  • Carbohydrates: 3.5g
  • Fiber: 1.1g
  • Sugars: 2.4g
  • Protein: 0.8g

Carbs

A cup (180g) of fresh, chopped tomatoes has 7 grams of carbs. Of the carbohydrates, 4.7 grams are from naturally occurring sugars and 2.2 grams come from fiber.

Fats

Tomatoes contain very little fat, less than half a gram per cup.

Protein

There are just over 1.5 grams of protein per cup of fresh tomato.

Vitamins and Minerals

Tomatoes are a great source of potassium and vitamin C. Several beneficial forms of vitamin A are also present in tomatoes including lutein, zeaxanthin, and lycopene.

Health Benefits

Tomatoes offer several health benefits related to their phytonutrient content. Here are a few reasons to enjoy this popular veggie both cooked and raw.

May Reduce Risk of Prostate Cancer

Lycopene is an antioxidant in tomatoes that have been associated with a reduced risk of prostate cancer. Lycopene acts on various biochemical pathways that help prevent cancer cells from developing and spreading. The amount of lycopene is higher in processed tomato foods (such as ketchup or canned tomatoes) because processing involves removing water and leaving a more concentrated tomato product.

Lycopene is known to be

Supports Heart Health

The lycopene in tomatoes works synergistically with other antioxidant vitamins (like vitamins A, E, and C) to provide compounding benefits for heart health. Some studies demonstrate a relationship between the lycopene in tomatoes and a reduction in oxidized LDL and arterial plaque. Tomatoes also contain potassium, which is well-known to reduce blood pressure.

Aids Eyesight

Tomatoes are an excellent source of vitamin A, and more specifically, the forms of vitamin A associated with eye health. Lutein and zeaxanthin are two forms of vitamin A that are known to accumulate in the retina and prevent age-related macular degeneration. Consuming tomatoes as a part of dishes that include some fat (such as in a salad with olive oil) improves absorption of the fat-soluble vitamins which are crucial for good eyesight.

Protects Against Sun Damage

The phytonutrients in tomatoes are protective against some of the effects of UVB damage. Although tomatoes alone aren't enough to prevent skin cancer, including tomatoes in your meal plan may improve your body's resilience to the dangers of certain types of sun rays.

May Reduce Risk of Diabetes Complications

Tomatoes have been associated with antihyperglycemic effects in rodents, but not in humans. Nonetheless, tomatoes are still beneficial for people with diabetes. Tomatoes have been shown to reduce the oxidative stress that's caused by diabetes. They also reduce inflammation, accelerated atherosclerosis, and tissue damage, all common complications of the disease.

Allergies

If you have seasonal allergies to grass pollen, you may experience an oral allergy after eating tomatoes. Symptoms may include itchy mouth, ears, or throat, or swelling of the lips, mouth, tongue, and throat. Talk to your doctor if you suspect you may be allergic to tomatoes.

Adverse Effects

Tomatoes are naturally acidic. If you suffer from acid reflux or heartburn, you may want to limit your intake of tomatoes and tomato products.

Varieties

There are hundreds of varieties of tomatoes. Tomatoes are available in many shapes (from tiny spheres to large ovals), colors (from green to red, yellow, and orange), and sizes (from small grape tomatoes to large beefsteak tomatoes).

The level of sweetness and acidity vary depending on the growing conditions and ripeness at harvest. Some tomatoes have few seeds, such as the plum, whereas others have many.

In addition to fresh tomatoes, you can find canned tomatoes that are diced, crushed, or puréed, which often have additional ingredients like added sodium. There are also a variety of tomato products like tomato paste (which is concentrated, cooked tomatoes), tomato juice (which is sold on its own or as part of vegetable juice blends), and sundried tomatoes (may be sold on their own or packed in oil).

Many condiments use tomato as a base, such as catsup and salsa. When purchasing commercial tomato sauces, always read the label. Some brands of jarred sauce contain lots of added sugar and sodium. Making your own with fresh or canned tomatoes is a good way to avoid these added ingredients.

When It's Best

Look for fresh tomatoes that are plump and firm with smooth, shiny skin. The color should be uniform. Avoid tomatoes with cuts, bruises, soft spots, or mold. Local tomatoes from the farmer's market are best during the summer season.

You can purchase canned and jarred tomatoes and tomato products at any time of the year. 

Storage and Food Safety

Contrary to popular belief, you should not store fresh tomatoes in the refrigerator. This can turn the flesh mealy and reduce the flavor. Instead, store tomatoes in a cool, dry place.

Wash fresh tomatoes well before cutting into them. Once tomatoes are cut, store in them the refrigerator and use within a few days. Dishes with cooked tomatoes should be refrigerated and consumed within a week.

How to Prepare

Tomatoes are used often in salads, soups, dips (like guacamole), sauces, and casseroles. Tomatoes can be enjoyed raw or cooked.

To cook tomatoes, consider sautéing, grilling, or roasting. Roasting yields a juicy, concentrated flavor and texture. To roast, season tomatoes with olive oil, garlic, red pepper, and other herbs and spices. You can eat roasted tomatoes plain or use them to puree for a tomato sauce or as a topper for grilled, baked, or roasted meat, chicken, or fish.

You can also use tomatoes to make a simple marinara sauce or use tomato sauce and tomato products to flavor foods such as spaghetti squash, chili, and stews. Season your sauce however you'd like, using basil, oregano, parsley, or garlic. Large tomatoes can also be stuffed with meat and rice for a hearty dish.

Recipes

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Article Sources
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