The tomato (Solanum lycopersicum) is a fruit from the nightshade family native to South America.
Despite botanically being a fruit, it’s generally eaten and prepared like a vegetable.
Tomatoes are the major dietary source of the antioxidant lycopene, which has been linked to many health benefits, including reduced risk of heart disease and cancer.
They are also a great source of vitamin C, potassium, folate, and vitamin K.
Usually red when mature, tomatoes can also come in a variety of colors, including yellow, orange, green, and purple. What’s more, many subspecies of tomatoes exist with different shapes and flavor.
Here are the nutrients in a small (100-gram) raw tomato:
- Calories: 18
- Water: 95%
- Protein: 0.9 grams
- Carbs: 3.9 grams
- Sugar: 2.6 grams
- Fiber: 1.2 grams
- Fat: 0.2 grams
Carbs comprise 4% of raw tomatoes, which amounts to fewer than 5 grams of carbs for a medium specimen (123 grams).
Simple sugars, such as glucose and fructose, make up almost 70% of the carb content.
Tomatoes are a good source of fiber, providing about 1.5 grams per average-sized tomato.
Most of the fibers (87%) in tomatoes are insoluble, in the form of hemicellulose, cellulose, and lignin .
Tomatoes are a good source of several vitamins and minerals:
- Vitamin C. This vitamin is an essential nutrient and antioxidant. One medium-sized tomato can provide about 28% of the Reference Daily Intake (RDI).
- Potassium. An essential mineral, potassium is beneficial for blood pressure control and heart disease prevention.
- Vitamin K1. Also known as phylloquinone, vitamin K is important for blood clotting and bone health .
- Folate (vitamin B9). One of the B vitamins, folate is important for normal tissue growth and cell function. It’s particularly important for pregnant women.
The content of vitamins and plant compounds in tomatoes can vary greatly between varieties and sampling periods .
The main plant compounds in tomatoes are:
- Lycopene. A red pigment and antioxidant, lycopene has been extensively studied for its beneficial health effects.
- Beta carotene. An antioxidant that often gives foods a yellow or orange hue, beta carotene is converted into vitamin A in your body.
- Naringenin. Found in tomato skin, this flavonoid has been shown to decrease inflammation and protect against various diseases in mice.
- Chlorogenic acid. A powerful antioxidant compound, chlorogenic acid may lower blood pressure in people with elevated levels.
Chlorophylls and carotenoids like lycopene are responsible for the rich color of tomatoes.
When the ripening process starts, the chlorophyll (green) is degraded and carotenoids (red) are synthesized .
Lycopene — the most abundant carotenoid in ripened tomatoes — is particularly noteworthy when it comes to the fruit’s plant compounds.
It’s found in the highest concentrations in the skin.
Generally, the redder the tomato, the more lycopene it has .
Tomato products — such as ketchup, tomato juice, tomato paste, and tomato sauces — are the richest dietary sources of lycopene in the Western diet, providing over 80% of dietary lycopene in the United States.
Gram for gram, the amount of lycopene in processed tomato products is often much higher than in fresh tomatoes.
For example, ketchup boasts 10–14 mg of lycopene per 3.5 ounces (100 grams), while one small, fresh tomato (100 grams) holds only 1–8 mg (24).
However, keep in mind that ketchup is often consumed in very small amounts. Thus, it may be easier to bump up your lycopene intake by eating unprocessed tomatoes — which also have far less sugar than ketchup.
Other foods in your diet may have a strong effect on lycopene absorption. Consuming this plant compound with a source of fat can increase absorption by up to four times (25Trusted Source).
However, not everyone absorbs lycopene at the same rate (26Trusted Source).
Even though processed tomato products are higher in lycopene, it’s still recommended to consume fresh, whole tomatoes whenever possible.
Consumption of tomatoes and tomato-based products has been linked to improved skin health and a lower risk of heart disease and cancer.
Heart disease — including heart attacks and strokes — is the world’s most common cause of death.
A study in middle-aged men linked low blood levels of lycopene and beta-carotene to increased risk of heart attacks and strokes.
Increasing evidence from clinical trials suggests that supplementing with lycopene may help lower LDL (bad) cholesterol.
Clinical studies of tomato products indicate benefits against inflammation and markers of oxidative stress.
They also show a protective effect on the inner layer of blood vessels and may decrease your risk of blood clotting.
Cancer is the uncontrolled growth of abnormal cells that spread beyond their normal boundaries, often invading other parts of the body.
Observational studies have noted links between tomatoes — and tomato products — and fewer incidences of prostate, lung, and stomach cancers.
While the high lycopene content is believed responsible, high-quality human research needed to confirm the cause of these benefits.
A study in women shows that high concentrations of carotenoids — found in high amounts in tomatoes — may protect against breast cancer.
Tomatoes are considered beneficial for skin health.
Tomato-based foods rich in lycopene and other plant compounds may protect against sunburn.
According to one study, people who ingested 40 grams of tomato paste — providing 16 mg of lycopene — with olive oil every day for 10 weeks experienced 40% fewer sunburns.