We are in tomato season, so now is the perfect time to enjoy fresh, organic, ripe tomatoes, but so many people don’t know this and often opt for canned and not fresh tomatoes. Before we get into the differences between the two, let’s briefly touch on the health benefits of tomatoes because there are many. They are outstanding antioxidants, are great for the heart and cardiovascular system, help with bone health, have anti-cancer benefits, and have been known to reduce the risk of some neurological diseases.
They do a lot, especially when it comes to their antioxidant value. According to an article on The World’s Healthiest Foods, “In terms of conventional antioxidants, tomatoes provide and excellent amount of vitamin C and beta-carotene, a very good amount of the mineral manganese, and a good amount of vitamin E.” And these antioxidants have been known to reduce lipid peroxidation (oxygen damage to fats in cell membranes or in the bloodstream), to give better antioxidant enzyme function, and to give specific antioxidant protection to the bones, liver, kidneys, and bloodstream.
Now, when it comes to eating fresh tomatoes or canned tomatoes, I’m a proponent of fresh because I choose raw food more than 80% of the time. As a chef though (and through my travels), I have studied the flavors and benefits of tomatoes in numerous ways. For instance, a good tomato sauce has to have a depth of flavors—something I learned from a good friend and chef in Italy. And for me, the best tomato sauce I’ve ever eaten was made from sun dried tomatoes, roasted tomatoes, and fresh tomatoes.
Plus, when you opt for canned tomatoes instead of fresh, you’ve got to be careful because they contain (at least in the US) Bisphenol A (BPA), which is a nasty estrogen-mimicking chemical that is a risk factor for heart disease, obesity and diabetes, and has been linked to breast, prostate, and testicular cancers. Because tomatoes are acidic, they will react with the metal in the cans, so to prevent this, the cans are coated with a substance that contains BPA. One alternative to this is Tetra Pak. These are BPA-free containers and are recyclable, and according to a post on Body Earth, “the cartons are comprised of paper, polyethylene and aluminum foil, [but] while the inside of the container is shiny, the aluminum does not come in contact with the tomatoes [because] there are two layers of see-through polyethylene between the aluminum and the food.”
One important thing to note is that most tomato and prostate cancer research focuses on lycopene—the red pigment of tomatoes. Research conducted by the Harvard Medical School revealed that, “one slice of raw tomato contains approximately 515 micrograms lycopene, while 2 tablespoons of tomato paste contains 13,800 micrograms of lycopene. That means tomato paste contains many times more lycopene than raw tomatoes. Because most research attributes the anticancer properties of tomatoes to lycopene, tomato paste appears to be the better source.” But because tomato paste is always in aluminum or BPA cans, I personally choose sun dried tomatoes and fresh heirloom tomatoes—and they have great health benefits too because they: lower blood pressure, prevent iron-deficiency anemia, and reduce the risk of heart disease. And they have so many uses—you can add them to salads, use them on pizza, use them to make bruschetta, or add them to hummus or pasta.
One warning: Tomatoes are a night shade food and can aggravate certain skin disorders and inflammatory condition.