Tomato Pickin’ Season

Though I often begin mourning the end of summer the last couple weeks of August, I do celebrate the abundance late summer brings us when my tomato plants can’t seem to stop producing (Yay!).  Hooray garden tomatoes!

Tomato_DebsGardenDid you know that though tomatoes are mostly thought of in Italian cuisine, they are actually originally native to western South America? It seems that they weren’t first cultivated in South America, however, but rather in Mexico, most likely in Aztec. The word “tomato” may actually originate from the Nahautl (Aztecan) word “tomatl,” meaning, “the swelling fruit.” Spanish explorers in the 1500s brought tomato seeds from Mexico back to Spain and introduced this food to European populations.

Tomatoes belong to the nightshade family of plants, along with potatoes, sweet and hot peppers, eggplant, tomatillos, tamarios, pepinos, pimentos, paprika, and cayenne. Substances in these foods, called alkaloids, can impact nerve-muscle function and digestive function in animals and humans, and may also be able to compromise joint function. The amount of alkaloids is very low in nightshade foods so health problems from nightshade foods may only occur in individuals who are especially sensitive to these alkaloid substances. Cooking lowers alkaloid content of nightshade foods by about 40-50%, so though highly sensitive individuals may want to avoid this category of food altogether, non-sensitive individuals may be able to eat these foods, especially in cooked form, without problem.

Tomatoes are a treasure of riches when it comes to their antioxidant benefits. In terms of conventional antioxidants, tomatoes provide an excellent amount of vitamin C and beta-carotene; a very good amount of the mineral manganese; and a good amount of vitamin E. In terms of phytonutrients, tomatoes are basically off the chart. While not as thoroughly researched as these other areas of antioxidant support, cardiovascular support, and anti-cancer benefits, several other health benefit areas are important to mention with respect to tomatoes. Diets that include tomatoes have been linked with reduced risk of some neurological diseases (including Alzheimer’s disease) in multiple studies. Tomato-containing diets have also been linked in a few studies with reduced risk of obesity.

Intake of tomatoes has long been linked to heart health. Fresh tomatoes and tomato extracts have been shown to help lower total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, and triglycerides. In addition, tomato extracts have been shown to help prevent unwanted clumping together (aggregation) of platelet cells in the blood – a factor that is especially important in lowering risk of heart problems like atherosclerosis.

Source:  Worlds Healthiest Foods (www.whfoods.com)

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