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Tomatoes: From History to Health Benefits

Every year, more than 177 million tonnes of tomatoes are produced around the world and they are regarded as being grown “worldwide”. There are more than 7500 varieties of this fruit, which originally was yellow in colour when it was grown first by the Aztecs of Central America. Introduced into Spain in the l6th century, tomatoes were not eaten for a couple of hundred more years because people thought they might be poisonous. They loved the look of them, though, and used them for decoration. Originally, they were small and yellow and called pomo d’oro or apple of gold, and red tomatoes did not exist for some time.

Grow your tomatoes

Tomatoes can be grown in all areas of Australia, but they are frost sensitive. Sow tomatoes when soil temperatures are above 15°C, which means in cooler zones in spring and summer. In warmer climates they can be grown pretty much all year. Temperatures over 30°C might causes blossoms to drop.

Your tomato plants prefer a sunny, well-drained position with good air circulation, although strong winds can cause heavy plants to blow over.
Tomatoes need high levels of phosphorus, potassium and calcium; give them some liquid seaweed fertiliser once a month and keep them well watered, especially during fruiting. Lack of water and low calcium levels can cause blossom end rot.

Taller-growing varieties need staking, or support such as a wire frame, although some of the smaller-growing bush varieties can manage without. Mulch with pea straw or lucerne to help ensure fruit does not contact the soil.

Harvest when the fruit is mature (fully coloured and soft) for best taste.

Your healing tomatoes

When fully ripe, tomatoes are packed with nutrition. They contain lots of vitamin C, carotenes and potassium. However, a fully ripe tomato contains up to four times more beta-carotene than green tomatoes.
Lycopene is a carotenoid, related to beta-carotene, and found in high concentration in tomatoes. Lycopene has gained a lot of attention for its healing potential, but it is by no means the end of tomato’s nutritional bonanza. Tomatoes also provide fatty acid

derivatives (including 9-oxo-octadecadienoic acid), vitamin A as well as bone-healthy vitamin K. They are also a source of vitamin B6, folate and fibre. Understandably, tomatoes have a range of health benefits.

Prostate protection

Studies are showing that men who eat a lot of tomato products may be protected against developing prostate cancer.

Bone health

Research suggests that removal of lycopene-containing foods (including tomatoes) from the diet is likely to put women at increased risk of osteoporosis.

Stroke protection

Eating tomatoes on a regular basis will lower your risk of stroke. Men with the highest levels of lycopene are 59 per cent less likely to suffer an ischaemic stroke (due to a blood clot) compared to those with the lowest blood levels.

Heart protection

The 9-oxo-octadecadienoic acid (9-oxo-ODA) from tomatoes has been found to treat conditions that feature abnormal blood fats such as cholesterol and triglycerides.

Tomatoes in your kitchen

Some tomatoes, not organic ones, are picked when green and are then ripened using a gas called ethylene. Ethylene is produced by many fruits as a catalyst for the ripening process. When the gas is artificially applied to tomatoes, however, the fruit lacks taste and has a more floury consistency. Non-vine-ripened tomatoes can also lack the nutrients of their counterparts and properly ripened tomatoes are vastly superior in taste and nutrition.

If you are not growing your own tomatoes, always go for organic or vine-ripened varieties if you can. When choosing your tomato, make sure its colour is vibrant and that its skin is smooth with no wrinkles, cracks, bruises or soft spots.

In your cooking, tomatoes serve no end of purposes. They can be enjoyed raw, are essential for a bruschetta, add something wonderful to a gazpacho, perk up a salad, are vital for a salsa, enliven stews and are indispensable to many pasta sauces.

Just one word of caution: despite all their wonderful taste and healing potential, tomatoes are a member of the nightshade family and if you have an allergy to nightshades and you have arthritis, tomatoes may make your arthritis worse.

WellBeing Team

WellBeing Team

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