From a botanical point of view, the tomato is a fruit (a berry in fact) since it comes from the fertilization of a flower. But from the point of view of horticulture, it is rather considered a vegetable, both in its cultivation and in its use. Originally from Peru, it was nevertheless the Aztecs of Central America who began the cultivation of what they called tomalt, the “plump fruit” that they already used with peppers to prepare what is undoubtedly the ancestor of the current salsa.
Discovered by the Spaniards during the conquest of Mexico at the beginning of the 16th century, the tomato made its appearance in Spain and Italy at this time but, curiously, the inhabitants of these countries were reluctant for a long time to include it in their diet. This distrust was due to the great resemblance of tomato plants to belladonna and mandrake, two plants with very powerful psychotropic effects and which can cause death. Fortunately, human curiosity prevailed over these beliefs and the tomato gradually established itself as a staple food in several culinary traditions. A meteoric rise because in barely two centuries, the tomato has become one of the main sources of vitamins and minerals in our diet.
Molecules that protect the eyes from AMD and cataracts
The characteristic red color of tomatoes is due to lycopene, a pigment from the large family of carotenoids. This family of molecules plays several important roles in the maintenance of good health. For example, certain carotenoids, such as beta-carotene and beta-cryptoxanthin, are precursors to vitamin A, an essential vitamin for growth.
Other members of this family, such as lutein and zeaxanthin, absorb the blue component of light very effectively and could therefore protect the eye. Moreover, many studies suggest that the abundant consumption of foods rich in lutein and zeaxanthin (green vegetables, in particular) was associated with a marked reduction in the risk of age-related macular degeneration as well as the formation of cataracts. . Since the human body is unable to manufacture carotenoids, these molecules must absolutely be obtained from plants in the diet: another excellent reason to consume our 5-10 daily servings of fruits and vegetables
Lycopene: the protector of the prostate
Lycopene, on the other hand, is without a doubt the one that has the greatest impact on the prevention of cancer, in particular that of the prostate. Indeed, several studies suggest that individuals who consume large amounts of lycopene from tomato products have a reduced risk (about 30%) of developing this cancer, particularly the most aggressive forms of this disease.
The mechanisms by which lycopene manages to reduce the development of prostate cancer are still unknown. Lycopene has exceptional antioxidant activity and it is very likely that these properties contribute to its anti-cancer effect by reducing the occurrence of genetic mutations that can degenerate into cancer. Since absorbed lycopene preferentially accumulates in the prostate, the molecule would therefore be ideally located to prevent any excess growth of cancer cells.
The best preparations to make the most of the virtues of tomatoes
To be able to take advantage of the positive impacts of lycopene, it is important to choose products made from cooked tomatoes, because the breaking of the vegetable’s cells by heat allows better extraction of the molecule and makes it more assimilable by the body.
It is also important to know that fats increase the availability of lycopene and cooking tomatoes in olive oil therefore maximizes the amount of lycopene that can be absorbed by our body. Tomatoes should not only be considered as a source of lycopene but as a tasty vegetable, ideal for cooling off during the summer season.
A very nice way to enjoy beautiful seasonal tomatoes is to drizzle olive oil over sliced tomatoes, garnished with a few drops of balsamic vinegar, oregano, pepper, salt and crumbled feta cheese.