Superfoods: The Tomato a Fruit or Vegetable?


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By definition a fruit is the edible part of the plant structure of a maturing ovary of a flowering plant. Botanist believes that a fruit is any fleshy material that covers as seed or seeds. Therefore, Botanists believe that tomatoes are fruit. However, Horticulturists believe that tomatoes are vegetables. According to them, fruit grows on trees bearing fruit for many years, while vegetables grow on plants that survive for only one growing season. In the 1800s to avoid taxation, the tomato was classified as a fruit. However, on May 10, 1893, the United States Supreme Court ruled that the tomato was a vegetable and should be taxed accordingly. So, are you a botanist or a horticulturist? Let’s just agree that tomatoes are a great super food that tastes good and are good for you! Tomatoes are native to the Americas. The Aztecs and Incas first cultivated tomatoes, calling them “Tomatl.” It is believed that European explorers transported tomatoes back to Europe after leaving the Americas. Because tomatoes are related to the Nightshade family of plants, they were thought to be deadly and/or poisonous. However, their appearance was admired by many and the royal and wealthy would showcase them on their mantels. In addition to a sign of status, placing a tomato on a mantel was believed to ward off evil spirits and bring prosperity to the family. When tomatoes were not available, a red cloth filled with sand or sawdust was made to resemble the tomato. This also became a great place to store pins. Consumption did not occur until the Italians eventually overcame their fear calling the tomatl- pomi d’oro (golden apple). Today, they are called pomodoro tomatoes. In the early 1800s, tomatoes were widely used in America, especially by the chefs of New Orleans. The flavors eventually found their way to New England in the 1830s. By the 1840s they were regarded as nutritious and a medicinal staple of the American diet. Today the U.S. produces over 12 million tons of tomatoes per year. Tomatoes are the richest sources of Lycopene, a powerful antioxidant that unlike other nutrients is in its highest concentration after cooking and processing. Using the whole tomato (not peeled) maximizes the Lycopene, Carotenoids and Betacarotene. 75% more Lycopene and 41% more Beta Carotene are derived from using the peel in processing. Another nutrient found in tomatoes, is the flavinoid Zea-xanthin, which helps in the prevention and protection of Macular degeneration of the eyes that primarily occurs with older persons. The benefit to enjoying and adding tomatoes to your diet is the low calorie, low fat, high nutrient content. Tomato calories are a mere 18 per 3.5oz or 100 grams. It is one of the lowest calorie vegetables with a low fat content and no cholesterol. Be sure to add this Super food into your program design for nutrition. See the table below for in depth analysis of nutrients:

Tomato (Lycopersicon esculentum), raw, Nutrition value per 100 g. (Source: USDA National Nutrient data base)
Principle Nutrient Value Percentage of RDA
Energy 18 Kcal 1%
Carbohydrates 3.9 g 3%
Protein 0.9 g 1.6%
Total Fat 0.2 g 0.7%
Cholesterol 0 mg 0%
Dietary Fiber 1.2 g 3%
Folates 15 µg 4%
Niacin 0.594 mg 4%
Pyridoxine 0.080 mg 6%
Thiamin 0.037 mg 3%
Vitamin A 833 IU 28%
Vitamin C 13 mg 21.5%
Vitamin E 0.54 mg 4%
Vitamin K 7.9 µg 6.5%
Sodium 5 mg >1%
Potassium 237 mg 5%
Calcium 10 mg 1%
Iron 0.3 mg 4%
Magnesium 11 mg 3%
Manganese 0.15 mg 6.5%
Phosphorus 24 mg 3%
Zinc 0.17 mg 1.5%
Carotene-ß 449 µg
Carotene-α 101 µg
Lutein-zeaxanthin 123 µg
Lycopene 2573 µg

There are approximately 7500 varieties of tomatoes. The tomato is used for many purposes and is the most widely grown vegetable in the United States. Tomatoes are either classified determinate or indeterminate. Determinates, also known as Bush Tomatoes, are mostly used by commercial producers. These tomatoes grow to a specific height and their growth cycle is specific to the same time for harvesting purposes. Most of these varieties are picked green to prolong the “shelf life” if being sold to the Produce Departments of grocers and markets. Indeterminate varieties grow into vines and continue to grow and bear produce as long as they are healthy or until killed by frost. Indeterminate varieties are preferred by home growers and your local farmers due to the availability of ripe tomatoes from the vine throughout the whole season. To get the most bang for your buck in terms of nutrition analysis, select the most red, vine ripened tomatoes available, rather than green picked that turns red with time. You will attain nearly twice as much Vitamin C and Beta Carotene in the vine ripened than the green picked counterpart. Tomatoes with the most distinct brilliant red color will also have the most Lycopene. Best regards, Athena Bell, Exec VP IFPA

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