When you’re scouring the supermarket for healthy fruits and vegetables, you usually start in the produce section. Sure enough, it’s the best place to find healthy, whole fruits and vegetables, packed with vitamins, minerals, fiber and phytochemicals, plant compounds packed with health protective compounds. But it’s not the only place to find nutritious, delicious vegetables—don’t forget to check out the canned food aisle for canned tomato products, such as canned tomatoes, tomato sauce, and tomato paste. These vegetables are every bit as nutritious—and maybe even more so—than their fresh brethren.
Unlike fresh tomatoes, which are often picked before they’re ripe and shipped for long distances, preserved tomatoes are harvested ripe and delicious, and canned within hours of picking. That’s why they are so good in some of your favorite American dishes, such as spaghetti, lasagna, tacos, chili, and tomato soup. Canned tomato products are so easy; just open the can and pour—no chopping required. And that’s not all. Lycopene, the powerful antioxidant found in tomatoes, is even more bioavailable to your body in cooked tomato products, such as in canned tomatoes. Canned tomatoes provide 11.8 milligram of lycopene per half cup, compared with 3.7 milligrams found in one medium fresh tomato.
Preserved tomato products are also a great bargain. A recent study presented at the Experimental Biology 2012 annual meeting put the common misconception that canned products are often inferior to their fresh counterparts to rest. Researchers examined the nutrient properties of canned and fresh varieties of common foods, and the findings were very interesting, especially in regards to tomatoes. When it comes to getting your dietary fiber, it’s 60% more expensive to get the same amount from fresh tomatoes as opposed to canned.
Nearly 650 studies have been conducted on the health benefits of consuming more tomato products. Here are some of the main reasons you should include these in your diet at least a few times per week.
- A Nutritional Powerhouse. Tomato products are loaded with essential vitamins, minerals, and fiber—all in a neat low-fat, low-calorie package. One cup of canned tomatoes contains 41 calories, 0 grams fat, 2.4 grams fiber, 2 grams protein, 37% Daily Value (DV) vitamin C, 8% DV vitamin A, 9% DV vitamin K, 13% DV vitamin B6, 13% DV iron, 13% DV potassium, and 9% DV manganese.
- Lycopene Bonus. Tomato products are rich in the powerful antioxidant group, carotenoids (including lycopene), which have been shown to inactivate free radicals, protect against cancer, and slow development of atherosclerosis. Tomato products are responsible for more than 80% of the lycopene in the U.S. diet, and research suggests that lycopene may be a big factor behind the health-protective effects of tomato products.
- Fighting Inflammation. Tomato products may help cool down inflammation, which is becoming more widely understood as a root in many chronic diseases. In two studies funded by TPWC, scientists discovered that people who eat a high-tomato diet have lower levels of inflammatory markers.
- Protect Against Oxidative Stress. Eating foods rich in antioxidant vitamins and carotenoids, such as tomato products, is linked with reducing oxidative stress—key in the development of cardiovascular disease.
- Prostate Cancer Defense. Growing evidence links consumption of tomato products with protection against prostate cancer. The NIH recently funded a groundbreaking study to trace how tomato lycopene works in the human body to protect against this disease.
- Heart-health Benefits. Regular intake of tomato products has been consistently associated with lower rates of cardiovascular disease. In a study of nearly 40,000 middle-aged and older women, scientists discovered that higher levels of tomato-based products in the diet were linked with lower rates of cardiovascular disease.
Slow and Easy Ratatouille
This classic vegetable stew is very forgiving and can be consumed hot, cold or at room temperature. Enjoy it as a meal with hearty whole grain bread or as a side dish to pasta, brown rice, or couscous. The options are endless!
Prep time: 15 minutes
Cook time: 3 to 6 hours
2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 large onion, coarsely chopped
3 cloves minced garlic
2 medium zucchini, halved and sliced
1 eggplant (about 1 1/4 lbs.), peeled and cut into 1-inch chunks
1 medium fennel bulb, quartered and thinly sliced (white base only)
1 small red pepper, seeded and diced
1 small yellow pepper, seeded and diced
1 (29-oz.) can crushed tomatoes
1 (6-oz.) can tomato paste
1 tsp each: dried basil, rosemary and thyme
1 tsp sea salt or to taste
Ground or smoked pepper to taste
Snipped fresh basil and grated Parmesan cheese (optional)
- Heat oil in a large skillet. Add onion; cook and stir over medium high heat for 5 minutes.
- Add zucchini, eggplant and garlic; cook for 5 more minutes.
- Transfer to a slow cooker with all remaining ingredients except fresh basil and Parmesan. Cover and cook on HIGH for 3 hours or on LOW for 6 hours.
- Serve hot or at room temperature topped with fresh basil and Parmesan.
Makes 8 servings.
Quick Stovetop Variation: Prepare as directed above, cooking in a large pot instead of a slow cooker. Bring to a boil; reduce heat and simmer, covered, for 30 to 45 minutes or until vegetables are cooked to your liking.
Nutritional analysis per serving: Calories: 130, Fat: 4g, Saturated Fat: 0.5g, Trans Fat: 0g, Cholesterol: 0mg, Sodium: 610mg, Potassium: 926mg, Carbohydrates: 22g, Fiber: 7g, Sugar: 7g, Protein: 5g, Vitamin A: 30%, Vitamin C: 120%, Calcium
Sharon Palmer, RD is a nutrition expert for the Tomato Products Wellness Council. The Tomato Products Wellness Council offers a wonderful resource for information on the health benefits of tomato products. Please visit Tomato Wellness for nutrition information, articles, cooking tips, blogs, and recipes on eating more delicious tomato products.