The Health Benefits of Tomatoes

Tomatoes are not only delicious; they also have surprising health benefits.

By Karen Keb

Summer 2012

Heirloom Tomatoes

Tomatoes are not only delicious, they are also incredibly good for you.

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I like to think of heirloom tomatoes as a “gateway drug” for gardeners and eaters. Any non-tomato lover will soon become a disciple upon tasting that first summer sun-ripened heirloom tomato. Give me a Cherokee Purple, a Brandywine, or a Chocolate Cherry and some salt and that’s nirvana in my book.

In addition to cardiovascular benefits, tomatoes also support bone health; they’ve got anti-cancer benefits; and studies have shown a link between tomatoes and reduced risk of some neurological diseases (including Alzheimer’s). And if that’s not enough, studies have also indicated that tomato-containing diets are linked with a reduced risk of obesity. 

But from where did this magical, mystical, healing fruit come? Tomatoes are native to the western side of South America, where Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Chile, and the western half of Bolivia now sit. The earliest tomatoes are believed to have been very small, cherry-type tomatoes. The fruits were not cultivated in their native lands, but rather in Mexico, most likely in Aztec civilizations in the form of small, yellow fruits. During the 16th century, Spanish explorers brought tomato seeds from Mexico back to Spain and introduced this food to European populations. 

With this tomato celebration in mind, I’ve written up my all-time favorite, super easy preparations for fresh tomatoes. Summer is no time for slaving over a stove (unless you’re canning tomato sauce)! However, note that cooking tempers the acidity in tomatoes and brings out their rich and sweet flavors.