Raw or cooked? The best way to eat tomatoes

Raw or cooked? Tomatoes are eaten in various forms. Some like to eat them raw as part of a salad. To others especially the Kenyan community, tomatoes are a basic ingredient in our stews. Some prefer to cook using ripe tomatoes while others prefer to use tomato paste. So which is the best way to eat tomatoes?

Health benefits of tomatoes

Tomatoes have very unique components which are important for our health. They contain seven different antioxidants. These are substances that prevent or delay the damaging of our body cells. They, therefore, protect our bodies from harmful substances.

Tomatoes are rich in Potassium. This helps in lowering blood pressure, thus, canceling out the effect of excess sodium intake. Potassium also reduces the risk of developing kidney stones and loss of bone in older people.

Tomatoes are also a good source of fiber which is important in promoting bowel movements.

Lycopene in raw vs. cooked tomato

Lycopene is a powerful antioxidant. It is found in tomatoes, watermelon, red pepper, pink guava, apricots, and pink grapefruit. However,tomato and tomato products are the richest source of lycopene.  They account for up to 85% of lycopene consumed from food.

Lycopene in raw tomatoes has a chemical structure that is difficult for the body to absorb. The structure of a lycopene molecule has branches that stick out on opposite sides. However, when you cook or heat-process your tomato, the structure changes so that all branches move to the same side of the molecule. As a result, the body can absorb lycopene more easily. In addition, the new structure is more soluble hence is easily transported within the body.

Lycopene sourceLycopene content (mg) per ½ cup
Raw tomato2.32
Stewed tomato5.21
Tomato puree13.60
Tomato sauce17.12
Tomato paste37.68
Pink grapefruit1.75
Adapted from the USDA National Nutrient Database

Lycopene and Cancer

Because of its structure, the antioxidant activity of lycopene is twice as powerful as that of β-carotene. It is, thus, more effective in suppressing the effect of substances that cause cancer. It also prevents damage of cells from uncontrolled cell division before it happens.

The best way to have enough amounts of lycopene in your body is to eat tomato products frequently. This builds up the antioxidant defense in your body. Preventing cancer as a result.

Should I eat tomato skin?

Yes, of course! Tomato skin contains higher levels of lycopene than the pulp and seeds. Therefore, removing the skin lowers lycopene content by 65% to 80% depending on the tomato variety. Removing the skin also reduces other antioxidants like β-carotene and vitamin C. About 80% of the fiber content in tomato is also in the peel. Therefore, you should not remove the tomato skin.

The best way to eat tomatoes

Pureed tomato

Raw fruit vegetables are usually thought to be much healthier than cooked or processed foods. But not tomatoes! Tomatoes have to be cooked or processed in order to change the structure of lycopene and make it available to our bodies.

Our bodies do not make lycopene. We, therefore, need to get it from the food we eat. The best way to eat tomatoes is therefore by:

  • Consuming tomatoes with their skins for maximum benefit! If tomato skins in food put you off, you could opt to blend your tomato before cooking.
  • Consuming cooked or processed tomato products for increased lycopene intake.
  • Consuming tomatoes with a meal containing oil. Oil increases the availability of lycopene.