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Teaming up with Tomatoes
In pasta sauces, on sandwiches, on pizzas, and in soups, tomatoes are a staple of cuisines around the world. But did you know that this savory and juicy vegetable is not actually a vegetable? Scientifically known as Solanum lycopersicum, tomatoes are classified as fruits . They are a part of the nightshade family, which also includes potatoes, peppers, and eggplants, as well as other common food plants. Originating from the mountainous Andes of South America, tomatoes have a long history of human cultivation and consumption. After they were introduced to Europe in the 1500's (not long after the Spanish "discovery" of the Americas), tomatoes became a global phenomenon. Today, over 159 million tons of tomatoes are produced worldwide per year . It's hard to imagine what our cuisine would be like without them. Not only are tomatoes colourful and tasty, they are also incredibly good for you. Scientists have found tomatoes to be particularly rich in vitamins (A, C and K, biotin), and a host of bioactive phytonutrients (tomatine, lycopene, pregnane, naringenin chalcone, and fatty acid derivatives) that fight obesity, osteoporosis, cancer, and heart disease. Indeed there is far more in a juicy red tomato than meets the eye!
Vitamins are essential nutrients for homeostasis - the balancing act in that takes place in your body every day to keep you healthy. Vitamins can be found throughout the body, serving as enzyme or protein co-factors to help in blood clotting, vision, and bone health. Tomatoes are a great source of vitamin C, which is crucial in maintaining collagen - a protein found in skin, bones, tendons, ligaments and many other parts of your body. Without vitamin C, you would develop a disease called "scurvy", which is characterized by bleeding gums, spotty skin, jaundice and wounds that don't heal. Vitamin C is a critical cofactor that plays a role in fat and hormone metabolism . Tomatoes are also rich in vitamin A. Vitamin A is important for vision - it is used in the eye's light absorbing protein (called rhodopsin). Children who are short on vitamin A can become blind. Indeed, vitamin A deficiency and childhood blindness is a major problem in the developing world . Blood clotting is also aided by tomatoes, which are high in vitamin K. Vitamin K is also important in bone health and growth .
Bottom line: Tomatoes are plentiful in three essential vitamins (A, C and K) that keep your body functioning and healthy.
Bottom Line: Tomatoes are a great source of biotin. Biotin is an essential nutrient that can help to prevent type 2 diabetes!
More positive health effects of tomatines include their ability to 1) help reduce cholesterol, and 2) boost the immune system to fight against pathogenic bacteria . Cholesterol reduction is achieved when tomatine physically breaks down cholesterol in the cell membrane. One study found that cholesterol and tomatine bonded together pre-digestion and were excreted before absorption by the stomach, thereby reducing circulating cholesterol levels . Other studies have shown that tomatine binds to and inhibits the ACAT enzyme (acyl-CoA-cholesterol acyl-transferase). This enzyme is important for cholesterol synthesis . Tomatine has also been shown to be effective in fighting disease and infection. In one study, tomatine was shown to generate an antigen-specific cellular immunity, which means that there is great future capacity for fighting bacterial pathogens and viruses. Tomatine's ability as an immunostimulator means that it can be used as an effective vaccine adjuvant, inducing a response from T-killer cells (also known as a CTL response), improving the efficacy of vaccines .
Bottom Line: The tomatine from tomatoes in its various forms has lots of health benefits, including anti-cancer, cholesterol reduction, and improvement in immunity.
The health benefits of lycopene don't end with cholesterol reduction. Lycopene is also an anti-inflammatory agent that prevents the production of inflammatory cytokines. A recent diet intervention trial  involving overweight and obese women showed that tomato juice consumption (1 glass/day) significantly reduced the levels of the inflammatory cytokines interleukin 8 (IL-8) and tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNF-a). These proteins can cause fever, swelling, redness, pain and muscle wasting. They can also exacerbate symptoms associated with obesity and metabolic syndrome. By reducing the levels of these noxious blood proteins, lycopene is able to protect overweight individuals from a state of chronic inflammation. Lycopene not only promotes heart health and cuts down inflammation, it also protects women against osteoporosis. Studies have found that women consuming larger amounts of carotenoids and lycopenes have a significantly reduced risk of hip fractures , while women who were on lycopene-restricted diets exhibited significant bone loss . So eat more tomatoes if you want strong bones.
Bottom line: Lycopene makes tomatoes red and is excellent in promoting heart health, lowering cholesterol, reducing inflammation and preventing osteoporosis.
Bottom line: A tomato a day can keep the doctor away
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