Most produce offers greater nutrition when consumed raw. Tomatoes, however, are an exception to the rule. Health studies demonstrate the many benefits of lycopene, a phytochemical found in tomatoes. You get more phytochemical from a canned or cooked tomato than you do from a freshly picked one. A cooked tomato contains anywhere from 2 to 8 times more lycopene than raw because the carotenoid is tightly bound within a tomato's cell walls, and heat breaks down those walls, which release more lycopene for absorption and use by the body, Canned tomatoes, jarred salsa, spaghetti sauce, tomato paste, tomato soup, and even ketchup are all good sources of lycopene. Lycopene is responsible for the fruit's bright red and orange colors and is associated with a lower risk of macular degeneration, as well as some types of cancers, including prostate, cervical, breast, and lung.
Choose plump tomatoes with taut skin, deep color, and an earthy scent. Avoid those with bruises. Heirloom tomatoes, though misshapen at times, are among the most flavorful. These tomatoes are more susceptible to cracking, but as long as the crack has mended, and you're unable to see through to the flesh, these blemishes should not affect their taste.
Store tomatoes at room temperature - not in the refrigerator. Refrigerate, only after you have cut into one. Tomatoes will stay fresh for 2 to 3 days, sometimes, a little longer. Unripe tomatoes can be placed in a brown paper sack to accelerate ripening.
Because lycopene is fat-soluble, be sure to eat raw and cooked tomatoes with some healthy fat. Olive oil is the traditional choice.
Did you know?
For much of our history, the tomato's health benefits went unnoticed by humans. That's because the tomato is part of the nightshade family, some of whose members are deadly, so people assumed it was poisonous as well. They weren't entirely wrong: A tomato's leaves and stems are toxic. It's only been in the last 200 years that people have believed tomatoes are safe to eat. Legend will tell you that Colonel Robert Gibbon Johnson of Salem, New Jersey shocked his hometown in 1820 by safely consuming a basketful of tomatoes in front of a horrified crowd of spectators.
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