Have you had your BLT today? Part 3: Tomatoes

Functional Food

Bell pepper, Leafy greens and TOMATO 

By Janet Colston

These are the most common salad items added to our weekly shopping basket and they supplement our food plates adding nutrients to our diets. We want to delve deeper into their additional phytonutrients and this week it’s the ubiquitous Tomato. 

Tomato (Solanum lycopersicum)

Is it a fruit or a vegetable? This is a question that often comes up when people discuss tomatoes. The answer is it’s both; the botanical definition of a fruit is a ripened flower ovary that contains seeds whereas vegetables are roots, leaves, or other secondary parts and generally lower fructose content [1]. Nutritionists consider the tomato a vegetable as they are more likely to be added to savoury dishes although cape gooseberry (physalis peruviana), also called ground cherry tomato or husk tomato is often added to sweet desserts in the UK. Although the ground cherry comes from the same nightshade family (Solanum) as tomatoes, they are a completely different fruit. Tomatillos (physalis isocarpa), also called wild husk or green tomatoes are one of the oldest cultivated plants. Domesticated by the Aztecs as early as 800 BC, they are a great source of nutrition and usually added to pickles and sauces [2].

Tomato consumption is known to reduce risk the of heart disease, cancer and reduces UV damage

Tomatoes contain all the major carotenoids including alpha and beta carotene, lutein and lycopene [3]. They are particularly high in lycopene linked to many health benefits [4]. Lycopene is a naturally occurring red/pink carotenoid pigment found in many other fruits including pink grapefruit, watermelon, papaya and guava. 

Image from Vectorstock

Lycopene has been extensively studied for anti-cancer effects linked to a reduction of the risk of prostate, stomach, pancreatic, lung, breast and skin cancer [5][6][7][8][9]. Consuming just 16mg of lycopene from tomato paste daily can dramatically reduce the severity of sunburn and help prevent age related macular degeneration [10][11]. It is generally thought that a diet rich in lycopene can help you live longer and protect the heart, reducing the risk of heart disease and stroke [12] and reduce the chances of premature death by nearly 40% [13]. The average intake of lycopene in the US is around 8mg/day [14], much higher than other countries around the world [15].

The CDC recommends 10 strategies to help increase consumption of vegetables in diets to prevent obesity [16]. Making a basic tomato stock is an easy way to access health promoting ingredients. We love chef Andrew Zimmern’s tomato stock recipe, why not give it a go with peppers, tomatoes and spinach.

Growing Tomatoes

Growing tomatoes in hydroponics can require a degree of knowledge but once mastered growing is straight forward. Generally they are started in ever increasing rockwool cubes and dripper at the base. Temperature range should be around 75-85 Fahrenheit and not allowed to drop below 60 at night. Remember tomatoes need lower nitrogen and higher potassium levels in a tight pH range 5.6-5.8 to ensure good flowering and fruiting. More detailed information is available from Hort Americas with their short course on hydroponic production of vine crops. The “Tomato Greenhouse Roadmap” from Hort Americas is designed to be a step by step guide to growing tomatoes.

Remember!
The CDC recommends the following measures in regard to COVID-19.
How to protect yourself • What to do if you are sick
Disclaimer: We are not doctors and do not prescribe this blog as a medicinal alternative to bona fide medical advice should you contract seasonal flu or Coronavirus.


Janet Colston PhD is pharmacologist with an interest in growing ‘functional’ foods that have additional phytonutrients and display medicinal qualities that are beneficial to human health. She grows these using a range of techniques including plant tissue micropropagation and controlled environmental agriculture to ensure the highest quality control.

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