by Julie Christensen
Tomatoes are ranked as Americans’ third favorite veggie (after potatoes and lettuce) and most of the tomatoes we consume are in the form of cooked tomato products, such as ketchup, tomato paste, marinara sauce and salsa.
Roma tomatoes, also known as Italian or plum tomatoes, are most commonly used in cooked tomato products. These oval red or yellow tomatoes have less juice and seeds than slicing tomatoes, and thick, meaty flesh. They cook down to a thick, savory sauce, making them the ideal tomato for processing.
Best of all, Roma tomatoes pack a powerful nutritional punch. At only 37 calories per cup, roma tomatoes are excellent sources of vitamin C (34.38 mg), vitamin A (1121.40 IU) and vitamin K (14.22 mcg). In recent years, scientists have discovered numerous benefits from eating Roma tomatoes. Tomato products contain lycopene, a phytochemical known to suppress many cancers and improve heart health. Read on to learn more about the benefits of eating Roma tomatoes.
Nutritional Benefits of Roma Tomatoes
When researchers from Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Beer-Sheva, Israel, incubated cancer cells with lycopene, the phytochemical produced cancer-fighting enzymes within the cells. Numerous studies have found that a diet high in tomato products can help protect against breast, colorectal, prostrate, lung and pancreatic cancer. Patients already diagnosed with cancer also benefit from a diet high in tomato products. Researchers have found that taking a lycopene supplement doesn’t offer the same benefits. Compounds within tomatoes probably work synergistically to promote maximum health.
Leave your bicycle out in the rain and it becomes rusted by the combination of moisture and oxygen. In your body, a similar process, known as oxidation, occurs as free radicals attack and scavenge cells. Inflammation is your body’s response to free radicals, but chronic inflammation can lead to chronic disease, including cardiovascular disease, Alzheimer’s disease, osteoporosis and cancer. Antioxidant compounds in tomato products reduce oxidation and can lower markers of inflammation in your body, according to a study published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry. Consuming one glass of tomato juice daily can lower inflammation markers by 35 percent in just one month.
Tomatoes are rich in potassium, niacin, folate and vitamin B6, all nutrients necessary for good heart health. Numerous studies have found that diets rich in tomato products can lower blood pressure and cholesterol, and improve heart health. One study at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston followed participants for seven years. Those who consumed tomato products 7 to 10 times per week had a 29 percent reduced risk of heart disease over those who did not regularly eat tomato products.
Choosing Tomato Products
Forget French fries slathered in ketchup or the greasy pizza. Instead, eat Roma tomato products with a bit of olive oil or real butter. Lycopene is a fat-soluble compound, meaning that the body absorbs it best through fat. Researchers have found that adding a little oil to a tomato-based meal increases nutrient absorption.
Additionally, researchers at the USDA Agricultural Research Service found that dark red, organic tomato products had the highest amounts of lycopene. One organic ketchup contained 183 micrograms of lycopene per gram of ketchup. A popular ketchup found at fast food restaurants contained only 60 micrograms per gram. Not only do organic tomato products contain the most nutrients, but they’re also free of pesticides and high-fructose corn syrup.
Using Roma Tomatoes
Buy Roma tomatoes when they’re in season or grow your own. Roma tomatoes are determinate, meaning they stay fairly compact and produce a predictable volume of tomatoes within a few short weeks. Many Roma tomato varieties are disease resistant, making them among the simplest tomatoes to grow.
Roma tomatoes are easy to cook with. Toss clean tomatoes in a pot of boiling water for a few seconds. Their skins will slip off easily. Then dice them and place them in a bowl or pitcher. Refrigerate them overnight. The juice will rise to the top and you can drain it off for a meatier product. Puree tomatoes and cook with peppers, onions and chiles to make zesty salsas or combine them with garlic and basil for marinara sauce. Toss peeled, chopped Roma tomatoes in a slow cooker and cook for up to 8 hours. The tomatoes will cook down to a rich paste. If you’ve got a bumper crop of Roma tomatoes, preserve them for year-round use. Freeze Roma tomato products in plastic bags or can them in a water bath canner.
Although Roma tomatoes are most often used cooked, you can eat Roma tomatoes fresh in salsas, salads or sandwiches. Toss them with basil, fresh mozzarella cheese and olive oil and serve over crusty bread or with pasta. Add them to a broccoli salad with pine nuts or eat them plain with a drizzle of oil and black pepper.
You can also freshen up canned products by adding some Roma tomatoes — add chopped tomatoes to soups, sloppy joes and stews. Just a few spoonfuls of tomato paste gives a rich, savory taste to many cooked dishes. For good taste and good health, add more Roma tomatoes to your diet.
For Further Reading:
- Tomatoes: One of the World’s Healthiest Foods by Tomato Wellness
- Roma Tomato [PDF] from the University of Arizona
Julie Christensen learned about gardening on her grandfather’s farm and mother’s vegetable garden in southern Idaho. Today, she lives and gardens on the high plains of Colorado. When she’s not digging in the dirt, Julie writes about food, education, parenting and gardening.