Tomatoes are bursting with health benefits—and they're delicious, too.

Kelly Plowe, M.S., R.D.
June 30, 2020
Advertisement

Tomatoes may be one of the most accessible and versatile vegetables you can eat. They're available fresh or canned, as juice, sauce, in salsa or sun-dried—and there are literally thousands of different varieties to choose from, whether you're looking for a crisp cherry tomato for a salad, a big beefsteak slicer or a sauce tomato for homemade pasta sauce.

Their versatility may be part of the reason tomatoes are the second most consumed vegetable in the U.S., falling in line only behind potatoes. That makes these nutrient-dense nightshades a crucial part of our diets. About 90% of adults fall short of eating enough veggies each day, but those who regularly consume plenty of tomatoes and tomato-based products (just over a cup per day on average), tend to meet the daily vegetable requirements outlined in the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. We're coming up on peak tomato season right now—so seek out some new-to-you varieties at the grocery store or farmers' market and get eating!

Nutrition information for tomatoes:

Tomatoes are nutrient-dense and low in calories. A cup of chopped raw tomato provides the following:

  • Calories: 32
  • Total fat: 0 g
  • Protein: 2 g
  • Carbohydrate: 7 g
  • Sugars: 5 g
  • Fiber: 2 g
  • Iron: 0.5 mg

You also get about 25% of your vitamin C and 10% of your vitamin K and potassium needs for the day. Tomatoes are a good source of lycopene, beta carotene, lutein and zeaxanthin—all antioxidants with various health benefits that help keep your skin, heart and eyes healthy.

Use canned tomatoes, though, and you'll get about three times the iron and more of the antioxidant lycopene, which becomes easier for your body to absorb once tomatoes have undergone the canning process. And while they look slightly different, yellow tomatoes boast fairly similar nutrition stats, except they have slightly fewer calories (21 per 1-cup serving versus 32), a little more than half the carbohydrates (4 grams versus 7) and half the fiber (1 gram). They're also lower in vitamin C, but don't let that deter you from eating them; they're still a great nutritional choice.

3 Health Benefits of Tomatoes

It's no surprise that tomatoes are healthy—they're a colorful vegetable after all—but the science also backs up their nutritional claims, with more than 400 research studies highlighting the clear benefits of a diet rich in tomato products. Here are three reasons to add them to your next meal.

1. Eating tomatoes can help keep hearts and arteries healthy

Tomatoes and tomato products alone provide an estimated 80% of the lycopene in the U.S. diet. Lycopene is a powerful antioxidant in the carotenoid family that may help protect our arteries from atherosclerosis and other cardiovascular diseases. Studies have shown that higher lycopene intake and concentrations in the body are associated with lower LDL-cholesterol levels.

2. Eating tomatoes can help lower blood pressure and risk of stroke

In a review of more than 21 published research papers assessing the effect tomatoes and lycopene have on the body, researchers determined that eating more tomatoes lowered risk factors for stroke, and that lycopene was associated with reduced blood pressure. Tomatoes are a good source of potassium, which also plays a role in lowering blood pressure.

One caveat to consuming tomato-based products—be cognizant of the sodium content. Canned tomatoes, tomato sauce, tomato paste and tomato juice can all be high in sodium. Look for products with no added salt or those that are labeled "reduced-sodium" to enjoy their health benefits without going overboard on the sodium.

3. Eating tomatoes may lower men's risk of prostate cancer

Studies conducted over the years looking at the effect of tomato consumption on prostate cancer risks haven't always come to the same conclusions. But a recent meta-analysis pooled findings from more than 260,000 participants, and concluded that eating tomatoes (and specifically, eating cooked tomatoes and sauces) was associated with a reduced risk of prostate cancer.

Delicious Ways to Enjoy Tomatoes

Because tomatoes are so versatile and come in so many different forms—from fresh to sun-dried, and everything in between—they're an excellent food to keep on hand, whether you buy fresh tomatoes (store them on the counter, not in the fridge!) or always keep a can in the pantry. That variety is also what makes it so simple to work tomatoes into any meal throughout your day. Here are a few ideas.

For breakfast:

Topping scrambled eggs or an omelet with salsa at breakfast is an easy way to add veggie-filled flavor with minimal calories. (Salsa has just 30 calories per 1/4 cup.) Or, give tomatoes a bigger role on your plate, such as in a warm and spicy shakshuka, where they create the base of the dish.

We'd be remiss in failing to mention the joys of imbibing a Bloody Mary at brunch. Made from tomato juice (or fresh tomatoes), the zesty drink tastes great with or without alcohol.

For lunch:

Cherry tomatoes are smaller in size, which means they're a tad sturdier and hold up well in salads. Try pairing them with chopped cucumbers and fresh herbs for a healthy Mediterranean side dish. Sun-dried tomatoes are another easy option for adding a flavorful punch to any green salad.

For dinner:

When it comes to dinner, there's no limit to what a tomato can do. One obvious choice—and fan favorite—is pizza. Using tomato sauce as the base is a great start, but you can always take the tomato flavor up a notch by topping the 'za with sliced fresh tomatoes or sun-dried tomatoes. Pack on the veggies—or even use a cauliflower crust—to further bump up your veggie intake for the day.