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Tomatoes have many health benefits. Although best known as a rich source of lycopene, tomatoes are low in calories, sugar, sodium, and fat and are an excellent source of many necessary vitamins and minerals.

The lycopene in tomatoes acts as a powerful antioxidant that helps to protect the body from free radical damage. Several studies suggest a diet rich in lycopene offers an important reduction in the risk of developing prostate cancer and may offer protection against other cancers such as lung, breast, colorectal, esophageal, oral, and cervical. Research also suggests lycopene may promote heart health by reducing the risk of heart attack.

Tomatoes are rich in vitamin K, a vitamin important to bone health. The fiber in tomatoes aids healthy digestion, helps to improve constipation, lower cholesterol, and aids in weight loss. The vitamins A, C, and E in tomatoes also act as antioxidants, neutralizing the damage of free radicals and providing anti-aging benefits.

Tomatoes also contain lutein which is needed for healthy eyes and may help prevent macular degeneration and to improve vision. Research suggests the liquid around the seeds of the tomato has anti-clotting properties much like aspirin, thereby reducing the risk of blood clots and stroke.

Tomatoes are very low in calories, with one medium-sized tomato containing only 22 calories. Since the tomato is low in glycemic load and low on the glycemic Index, tomatoes do not cause spikes in insulin in the body and help to keep blood sugar balanced.

Nutrients in Tomatoes

Tomatoes are the richest source of lycopene in the diet, accounting for nearly 80 percent of lycopene intake. Tomatoes are also high in:

* Vitamins A, C, E, K, and B complex

* Potassium

* Manganese

* Chromium

* Copper

* Iron

* Beta-carotene

* Fiber

* Tryptophan

Fresh, vine-ripened tomatoes contain more vitamin C than cooked tomatoes as the cooking process destroys some of the vitamin C; however, cooked or processed tomatoes contain higher concentrations of lycopene. Eating or cooking tomatoes with a small amount of healthy fat or oil increases the body’s absorption of lycopene.

While tomatoes are available year-round in the supermarket, it is best to buy tomatoes in season from local farmers. If fresh tomatoes are not available, choose canned tomatoes with no added sugar or sodium and sun-dried varieties.

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