Your Body Loves the Gut-friendly Tomato
Food as Medicine
Your Body Loves the Gut-friendly Tomato
Does the Nightshade Family of Vegetables Really Deserve its Infamous Reputation?
By Mark Zuleger-Thyss
Many people experience different responses to the same food. This can be the case sometimes with the nightshade family of produce. Now, don’t run off and go nightshade-free. Vegetables and fruits belonging to this family have a lot of nutrient density. They can be a healthy part of a balanced diet for many people.
Nightshades belong to the Solanaceae family of flowering plants. They include tomatoes, potatoes, eggplants, and bell peppers – even tomatillos, paprika, and pimentos. Although tomatoes are fruits in a botanical sense, they are generally classified as vegetables because they do not have sweet qualities like other fruit. Red, yellow, orange, green, or brown in color, there are over a thousand different varieties of tomatoes.
Nightshades can be inflammatory for some people and are commonly associated with allergic reactions. They sometimes cause digestive symptoms, joint issues, and other inflammatory diseases. Anecdotal case histories link consumption of nightshade vegetables to an aggravation of arthritic symptoms and other chronic illnesses. For these reasons, consider nightshade intolerance if certain symptoms present themselves. Fatigue, migraines, and skin flares might be indicators for you after eating nightshades. Prepare to be flexible and eat them in moderation or not at all.
Prebiotic, Probiotic, and Postbiotics
Generally, the tomato is one nightshade vegetable your gut loves. Why? They are one of the most well-liked prebiotic foods. They are a low-calorie food bursting with nutrition. The prebiotic effect is commanding. It encourages strains of probiotics to attach themselves to intestinal epithelial cells.
Prebiotics are foods humans cannot digest, but that feed beneficial bacteria in your gut. Inulin and Fructooligosaccarides (FOS) are naturally occurring prebiotics found in foods such as tomatoes and onions. Inulin and FOS work by promoting the growth of the beneficial bacteria in the colon. These ‘good’ bacteria discourage growth of harmful bacteria such as C. difficile and E. coli.
Probiotics are live microorganisms - usually bacteria – added to the diet with the purpose of improving health. Postbiotics are metabolic by-products of probiotics.
We live in symbiosis with microorganisms – giving them a place to live and food to eat. In return, these microbes provide support to keep us healthy. Some microbes are more harmful than helpful, and they can sometimes create havoc in our microbiomes. Here is where prebiotics and probiotics come to the rescue. They modify the balance of the microbiome and create a system that works in our favor and not against us.
The Power of Lycopene
Tomatoes have impressive lycopene benefits. Red carotene, where lycopene content is found, helps prevent diseases by neutralizing harmful free radicals. If left to circulate, free radicals do damage to cellular structures. Lycopene can protect you against cardiovascular diseases. Consuming tomatoes regularly helps decrease cholesterol and triglycerides in the blood, thereby reducing deposits of fats in the blood vessels.
Lycopene is the most powerful antioxidant which has been measured in food. It is a carotenoid that gives many fruits and vegetables their vibrant colors. Other high lycopene foods include watermelon, grapefruit, guavas, papaya, persimmon, mangos, asparagus, and red cabbage. Lycopene is one of the key factors behind the popular and healthy Mediterranean diet.
Not all tomatoes are born equal when it comes to this powerful antioxidant. In the reddest strains of tomatoes, lycopene content is highest, close to 50 milligrams per kilogram. Cooking tomatoes actually liberates the lycopene, and concentrations rise five-fold. Note that home-grown tomatoes are always better than store-bought ones.
These four tomato varieties are the best in terms of lycopene – they crop well and taste great, too.
Standard tomatoes are the most versatile. Cherry tomatoes are the sweetest and most lycopene-concentrated variety. They have the most intense flavor. Plum tomatoes are firm with few seeds and are the best for cooking in sauces. Beefsteak tomatoes are ideal for eating raw and in juices and blending into smoothies.
Wolf Peach, Love Apple, Pomme d’Amour, or Xtomatl?
In Spain the tomato was reputed to be an aphrodisiac, hence the name, love apple. The Aztecs named it Xtomatl and the French called it pomme d’amour - ‘apple of love.’ But tomatoes were not originally a popular food. Many people held the belief that tomatoes were poisonous because they were a member of the nightshade family.
This fear was misplaced as it is the leaves of the plant that contain toxic alkaloids. One indication that tomatoes were considered dangerous was their Latin name, Lycopersicon, which means “wolf peach.” After 1820, tomatoes became a dietary staple in North America, and the curse was broken. Today tomatoes are one of the top-selling vegetables in the United States. They are produced in significant quantities in the U.S., Russia, Italy, Spain, Turkey, and China.
Add Tomatoes to Your Diet
Tomatoes are a good source of vitamins A, C, K, B6, folate, lutein, and biotin. Zeaxanthin, magnesium, pantothenic acid, and niacin can also be found in fully ripe tomatoes. Red tomatoes have four times the amount of beta-carotene compared to green ones.
The nutrients found in tomatoes help to sustain our well-being. They are highly protective against breast, lung, skin, and prostate cancers. They lower the risk of heart disease and macular degeneration. Eating tomatoes regularly can also ease the symptoms of menopause.
Buy only organic tomatoes. Much store-bought produce, some labeled 'the dirty dozen,' are foods with the most pesticide residues, destructive to the gut microbiome. Organic food is grown without the use of synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, genetic modification, and ionizing radiation. Organic farming is ideal for the environment. It does not pollute, it increases soil fertility, and protects animals and bees that pollinate flowers.
Choose organically grown tomato varieties, fully colored, well-formed, plump, firm, and free of bruises. Ripe tomatoes have a noticeably sweet fragrance. And don’t forget, home-grown tomatoes are always the best.
Add tomatoes to salads and soups, making use of their variety of colors. Getting enough prebiotic fiber from our modern diets can be tricky, and tomatoes will fill these nutritional gaps.
© 1996 - 2021 Mark Zuleger-Thyss, Garden of Healing. All rights reserved.