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Preventive Maintenance: Fruit or vegetable?

"Is the tomato a fruit or vegetable?" This age-old question has been solved!...

Karen Bowen

Karen Bowen

“Is the tomato a fruit or vegetable?” This age-old question has been solved!

The answer? Both.

It just depends on your point of view.

Botanically speaking, the tomato is in the same family as the potato, pepper, eggplant, and petunia, but is actually a fruit because it is “the ripened ovary of a seed plant and its contents.”

However, most people call the tomato a vegetable, going along with the dictionary, which states that a vegetable is “an edible plant usually eaten with the principal part of a meal.”

So, how did “the tomato: a fruit” become “the tomato: a vegetable?” Government interference.

In 1893, the United States Supreme Court ruled that, legally speaking, the tomato was a vegetable.

Why? Since tomatoes are eaten with the main course of a meal. If they were a fruit, the dictionary said they would be served as dessert.

This worked out very well for the United States government since at that time only vegetables were taxed, and not fruit. Thus, today we have “the tomato: fruit/vegetable ” confusion.

The tomato is the world’s most popular fruit/vegetable. More than 60 million tons of tomatoes are produced per year, 16 million tons more than the second most popular fruit, the banana.

Apples are the third most popular (36 million tons), then oranges (34 million tons) and watermelons (22 million tons).

Delicious and naturally good for you, tomatoes are cholesterol free, packed with fibre and these important antioxidants: vitamins A and C, and lycopene (the chemical that gives tomatoes their red colouring), which research has shown to improve long-term health.

It could take a long time to try out all the varieties of tomatoes because there are over 10,000 kinds to enjoy. Right now the fields are full of ripening, red tomatoes just waiting to be added to your menu.

Tomatoes with salad, BLTs, beside eggs, diced on a burger or hotdog.

Sliced or diced, they taste great, and are good for you!

Yes, tomatoes are great fresh, but they’re even better cooked – better for you, that is. Your body absorbs more lycopene from cooked and processed tomatoes (sauce, paste, salsa, canned tomatoes) than from raw tomatoes.

In fact, your body gets two to 10 times as much available lycopene from processed tomato products as from fresh tomatoes.

As well, tomatoes are lipophilic. This means your body gets more nutrition from a tomato when it’s cooked in some fat.

So, add a little olive oil or cheese to your tomatoes and boost your body’s ability to absorb lycopene.

Pizza, with extra sauce, sounds pretty healthy right about now, doesn’t it?

Don’t forget spaghetti with tomato sauce, chili sauce, tomato ketchup on your hamburger, and tomato steak sauce for that sirloin.

Lucky for us, science has shown that if you eat processed tomatoes, you won’t likely get some cancers.

The strongest evidence is for protection against cancer of the prostate, lung and stomach, though there was evidence of benefit for the pancreas, colon, rectum, esophagus, oral cavity, breast and cervix.

As well, a recent Harvard study found that men who ate 10 or more servings per week of lycopene-rich foods, such as tomato sauce, canned tomatoes and ketchup had a one-third lower risk of developing prostate cancer than men who ate fewer than two servings a week.

Other studies show a link between lycopene and a delay in the growth of cancer cells in the breast, lung and uterus. Though new evidence suggests that it may inhibit or even reverse the growth of tumors.

Unfortunately, lycopene is not produced by the body. So, to get these health benefits, you have to eat foods with lycopene – like tomatoes.

Consider substituting tomatoes for some of the other healthy and not-so-healthy food choices you make in your day.

What about tomato juice instead of pop or coffee?

Tomato juices and tomato/vegetable cocktails are refreshing and are available in serving-sized containers to pack along for your trip.

Have you ever thought about occasionally starting your day with a glass of tomato juice instead of orange juice? It might be nice for a change. A four-ounce glass has about one-third of the daily RDA for vitamin C, plus a little beta carotene, potassium, folic acid and other B vitamins, iron and fiber as well all the nutrients I’ve previously mentioned.

Sliced, diced, stewed, juiced, crushed or processed, no matter how you look at it, tomatoes are a healthy addition to any meal.

– Karen Bowen is a professional health and nutrition consultant and she can be reached by e-mail at

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