Tomato is believed to have originated in Peru, South America and was consumed by the local Aztec and Mayans.
During the Spanish invasion 16th century on South America, the Spaniards came across tomato and took it Europe along with them. It was not until the late 18th century that Europeans actually ate tomatoes. During 16th and 18th centuries in Europe, it was believed that tomatoes were poisonous and could also cause cancer. It was only after 1860s that people came out of the superstition and started eating tomatoes.
Most consider tomato to be a vegetable, but actually it is a fruit just like eggplant, zucchini and pumpkin. But, they are considered as vegetables because they are consumed in the main course rather than a dessert or as regular fruits.
The tomato not only thrills the taste buds, it also helps fight disease. Tomatoes are a treasure of riches when it comes to their health benefits. The tomato is an excellent source of vitamin C (one medium tomato provides 40% of the RDA), biotin (vitamin B7) and vitamin K, and a very good source of copper, potassium, manganese, fiber, vitamin A, B6, B9 (folate), B3 and E, and phosphorus.
A review of 72 different studies showed consistently that the more tomatoes and tomato products people eat, the lower their risks of many different kinds of cancer. The secret may lie in lycopene, the chemical that makes tomatoes red, said Dr. Edward Giovannucci, Harvard School of Public Health, Cambridge, Massachusetts. Among the studies he reviewed, 57 showed that the more tomatoes one ate, the lower the risk of cancer.
Processed tomatoes (e.g. canned tomatoes, tomato sauce, ketchup) contain even more lycopene because cooking breaks down cell walls, releasing and concentrating carotenoids. Eating tomatoes with a small amount of fat enables lycopene to be better absorbed.
In a notable Harvard study of 48,000 men, those who ate more than two servings of tomato sauce a week were up to 36% less likely to develop prostate cancer over a 12-year period than men who ate less than one serving a month. Data are also suggestive of a benefit for cancers of the lungs, stomach, pancreas, colon and rectum, esophagus, oral cavity, breast, and cervix.
In another study, 10 healthy women ate a diet containing two ounces of tomato puree each day for three weeks, either preceded by or followed by a tomato-free diet for three weeks. The researchers measured blood levels of lycopene and evaluated oxidative damage to cells before and after each phase. They found that cell damage dropped by 33% to 42% after consuming the tomato diet.
Protects the heart and supports bone health
Diets rich in lycopene may also be heart-protective. In a study of more than 28,000 women, those with the highest blood lycopene levels were about half as likely to develop heart disease over five years as women with the lowest levels.
Researchers have recently found an important connection between lycopene, its antioxidant properties, and bone health. A study was designed in which tomato and other dietary sources of lycopene were removed from the diets of postmenopausal women for a period of 4 weeks, to see what effect lycopene restriction would have on bone health. At the end of 4 weeks, women in the study started to show increased signs of oxidative stress in their bones and unwanted changes in their bone tissue. The study investigators concluded that removal of lycopene-containing foods (including tomatoes) from the diet was likely to put women at increased risk of osteoporosis. They also argued for the importance of tomatoes and other lycopene-containing foods in the diet. We don’t always think about antioxidant protection as being important for bone health, but it is, and tomato lycopene (and other tomato antioxidants) may have a special role to play in this area.