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Believe it or not, the health benefits of tomatoes for fighting cancer are pretty legendary—and fully backed by science too! Read on about how research is setting the record straight regarding the health benefits of tomatoes, including their cancer-protective properties.
Health Benefits of Tomatoes
Let’s take a look at the long list of the health benefits of tomatoes first, and then we will discuss how researchers have traced these benefits to particular substances. According to recent studies, tomatoes can have substantial benefits for:
- Heart health
- Blood pressure regulation
- Younger looking skin and hair
- Bone health
- Lowering homocysteine levels
- Lifting mood and curbing depression
- Protecting against the damaging UV rays of the sun
- Assisting with weight loss and fat absorption
- Smoking cessation support
- Preventing DNA damage
- Preventing and possibility helping to heal cancers such as prostate, pancreatic, lung, endometrium, breast, and stomach
What Makes Tomatoes So Healthy?
The key to all of these health benefits has to do with the fruit’s rich phytonutrient content, as well as its vitamin and mineral content. Side note: yes, a tomato is technically a fruit since it contains a flower and seeds, although some experts call it a vegetable.
Whether they are red, yellow or purple, tomatoes are a rich source of many nutrients such as vitamin C, vitamin E, vitamin K, potassium, copper, manganese, folate, and fiber.
It is a particular kind of carotenoid called lycopene that gives tomatoes their cancer-fighting edge, however. A 2005 Canadian study found that “a diet rich in tomatoes and tomato-based products with high lycopene content may help reduce pancreatic cancer risk.”
Other antioxidants such as alpha-lipoic acid, choline, beta-carotene, and lutein provide even more nutrition and protection against disease. Finally, tomatoes only have about 32 calories per cup, making them a good choice for those who want a healthy way to reduce calories.
What About Nightshades and Cancer?
Tomatoes belong to a group of plants called “nightshades.” The nightshade family is also known as Solanaceae; all plants in this category produce an alkaloid compound called solanine. Solanine is a natural insect repellent.
Some people avoid nightshades because they are thought to increase inflammation. Many professionals, on the other hand, recommend them as part of an anti-inflammatory diet.
So what gives?
The truth is that most nightshades don’t contain enough solanine to cause any significant harm for the majority of people. For most people, the dozens of other healthy phytonutrients in nightshades help to actually lower inflammation and prevent disease.
That being said, a small percentage of individuals are extra sensitive to solanine. For those individuals, ingesting any amount of nightshades would cause inflammation.
In addition, it is important for everybody to avoid certain sources of high solanine, such as the leaves and stems of nightshade plants and “potato eyes” (i.e. the sprouts that form on potatoes if you leave them in the bag too long).
What Are the Best Ways to Eat a Tomato?
Unlike many antioxidant-rich foods, tomatoes are still beneficial when they’ve been processed. Canned tomato products, tomato juice and even ketchup can still have a high lycopene content. In a report for the Food Science & Nutrition Journal in 2019, Japanese researchers found that unsalted tomato juice improved blood pressure in local residents who were at risk of cardiovascular system conditions.
That being said, some tomato-based products like pasta sauce and ketchup are notorious for being very high in sugar, especially high fructose corn syrup. Be sure to check the sugar and additive content in these products especially. In addition, make sure that your canned tomatoes are stored in a BPA-free container. The high acid content in tomatoes makes leaching of toxins in cans more of a concern.
Finally, while canned, jarred, sauced, juiced and even jellied tomatoes can all be good for you, the most benefits are going to come when tomatoes are picked fresh right off the vine, when they are organic and, ideally, when they are of an heirloom variety.
In 2015, scientists at the Kew Gardens in London found that certain “natural defenses” which had been “bred out” of commercial varieties were present in heirloom varieties. They also found higher levels of the super antioxidant lycopene (mentioned earlier).
Tomatoes grown at Kew had a much higher level of complexity of chemicals than supermarket tomatoes, which are picked early and not matured on a vine,” commented Professor Monique Simmonds, Deputy Director of Science at Kew. “…The complexity of chemistry suggests that they are likely to be healthier.”
Eat Your Way to a Cancer-Free Life…With Tomatoes!
Your diet is a crucial aspect of total body wellness. Choose wisely, shop responsibly, eat cleanly, and reap the benefits for decades to come. Organic tomatoes are one item from your local produce department, farmer’s market or your own backyard that you can eat every day for good health!
Easy, Healthy Tomato Recipes
#1. The Only Cancer-Fighting Salsa You’ll Ever Need!
- 2 cups tomatoes, washed and diced (2-3 medium tomatoes)
- 1 (28-ounce) can organic crushed tomatoes, undrained
- 1 full garlic bulb, peeled and chopped
- 1 small pepper (pick your favorite variety), finely chopped
- 1 bunch green onions, chopped fine
- ½ cup fresh cilantro, chopped
- 1 tablespoon fresh oregano, chopped
- 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
- 1 teaspoon lime juice
- Salt and pepper to taste (optional)
- Combine all ingredients in a glass dish.
- Stir until well blended.
- Chill for one hour.
- Serve with pita crisps or homemade tortilla chips
Note: Consider adding sweet corn kernels or drained black beans for chunkier salsa!
#2. Artichoke and Roasted Tomato Flatbread
Instead of ordering pizza packed with junk that causes cancer, drives up your blood sugar, and clogs your arteries, how about making your own pizza at home?
- 2 cups tomatoes, washed and diced (2-3 medium tomatoes)
- ½ garlic bulb, peeled and chopped
- 1 (13-ounce) can artichoke hearts, drained and diced
- 2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 2 rectangular flatbreads or no-bread option such as sliced eggplant or Portobello caps
- ¼ cup finely grated or shredded Parmesan cheese
- 2 cups arugula
- 1/4 cup shaved Parmesan cheese
- Oregano, salt and pepper to taste
- Preheat broiler of your oven.
- Toss tomatoes, garlic, and artichokes with 1 teaspoon oil, and arrange in a shallow baking pan.
- Broil, stirring occasionally, for 4 minutes.
- Lower oven temperature to 450° Fahrenheit.
- Top each flatbread with half the tomato mixture.
- Sprinkle with fresh parmesan and preferred spices.
- Bake on bottom rack of oven for 10 minutes.
- While the pizza is baking, toss arugula with remaining parmesan, lemon juice, remaining olive oil.
- Serve pizza in wedges with light arugula salad on the side.
Note: Consider adding finely diced plain sardines, grilled chicken, or organic sausage for added protein or if you want a meat variety.
Editor’s Note: This article was initially published in January 2020 and was updated in February 2021.