Tomato (Salanum lycopersicum)

There are more than 7500 varieties of this fruit which originally was yellow in color when it was grown first by the Aztec of Central America

     Tomatoes serve no end of purposes: they are essential for a bruschetta, add something wonderful to a gazpacho, bring a dash of color to your kitchen d├ęcor, can be grown almost anywhere, and make for an entertaining evening discussing what make a fruit (tomatoes are a fruit should you be wondering).

     Every year more than 130 million tons of tomatoes are produced around the world and it is regarded as being grown “worldwide”. There are more than 7500 varieties of this fruit which originally was yellow in color when it was grown first by the Aztecs of central America. Introduced into Spain in the 16th century, tomatoes were not eaten for a couple of hundred more years, because people thought they might be poisonous. They loved the look of them, though, and used them for decoration. Originally, they were small and yellow and called porno d’oro or apple of gold, and red tomatoes 'were not
discovered for some time.

     Tomatoes (Iike so many other foods) are supposed to be aphrodisiacs. At one stage tomatoes, because of their supposed powers, were Forbidden to women. On the strength of this, the French (of course) translated the Italian name for tomato pomo d'oro, or apple of gold, to porrrne d'aTiour. apple of love! Tomatoes are now almost universally loved as a food. Nutritionally they are very rich containing good amounts of vitamins C, A, and lycopene (a powerful antioxidant and cancer preventing substance). Although technically a fruit, their acidic taste means they are used mostly in savory dishes.

Your Healing Tomatoes
     Tomatoes when fully ripe are packed with nutrition. They contain lots of vitamin C, carotenes, and potassium. However, a fully ripe tomato contains up to four times more beta-carotene than green tomatoes. This is where growing your own tomatoes and eating them after they have ripened on the vine is such a big advantage.
     Lycopene is a carotenoid, related to beta-carotene. and found in high concentration in tomatoes. In recent times it is lycopene that has been gaining a lot of attention for its healing potential but it is by no means the end of the tomato's nutritional bonanza.
Tomatoes also provide fatty acid derivatives (including 9-oxo-octadecadienoic acid), vitamin A as well as bone- healthy vitamin K. They are also a source of vitamin B6, folate, and fiber. Understandably, tomatoes have a range of health benefits.

Prostate Protection
     Studies are showing that men who eat a lot of tomato products may be protected against developing prostate cancer. One study (J Nat Cancer Inst) has suggested that consuming tomato-based foods may reduce DNA damage in the prostate cells of men diagnosed with prostate cancer. The report found that those who consumed one daily pasta dish with a tomato-based sauce for three weeks had lower levels of DNA damage in prostate cells. The pasta eaters also had lower levels of prostate-specific antigen (PSA) a blood protein that is used to measure prostate cancer risk. The researchers in this case attributed their findings to lycopenewhich other studies have found to lower prostate cancer risk. Lycopene concentration in the prostate increased by nearly 300 per cent with a daily tomato sauce serving.
     However, the prostate protection of tomatoes goes further than lycopene.
Tomatoes contain alpha-tomatine. a saponin phytonutrient and it has shown the ability to alter metabolic activity in developing prostate cancer cells. It's also been shown to trigger programmed cell death (apoptosis) in prostate cancer cells that have already been fully formed.
Bone Health
     A study (Journal of Nutrition Health and Ageing) was designed in which tomato and other dietary sources of lycopene were removed from the diets of postmenopausal women for a period of four weeks, to see what effect lycopene restriction would have on bone health. At the end of four weeks, women in the study started to show increased signs of oxidative stress in their bones and unwanted changes in their bone tissue. The study investigators concluded that removal of lycopene-containing foods (including tomatoes) from the diet was likely to put women at increased risk of osteoporosis. They also argued for the importance of tomatoes and other lycopene-containing foods in the diet.

Stroke Protection
     Research has also shown that eating tomatoes on a regular basis will lower your risk of stroke. In a study done by researchers from the University of Eastern Finland(published in the journal Neurology) the aim was to find out what impact blood lycopene levels might have on risk of stroke. They gathered 1031 men aged 46-65 and tested them periodically over a 12-year time frame. Over the 12 years, 67 of the men suffered a stroke. Comparison of lycopene levels of lycopene were 59 per cent less likely to suffer an ischaemic stroke (due to a blood clot) than those with the lowest blood levels. That would suggest that somehow the antioxidant actions of lycopene are lowering chance of clotting and stroke.

Heart Protection
     As mentioned, in recent years tomatoes have received a lot of attention for their ingredient lycopene. However, in a study from the journal Molecular Nutrition and Food Research researchers have found that tomatoes contain a substance dubbed 9-oxo- octadecadienoic acid (9-oxo-ODA). The researchers have found that this substance can treat conditions that feature abnormal blood fats (dyslipidaemia) such as cholesterol and triglycerides. The research showed that 9-oxo-ODA suppressed the accumulation of triglycerides in the liver. Additionally, it increased the expression of genes involved in fatty acid oxidation.

The Organic Difference
     Some commercial tomatoes, not organic ones, are picked when green and are then ripened using a gas called ethylene. Ethylene is produced by many Fruits as a catalyst for the ripening process. When the gas is artificially applied to tomatoes however, the Fruit lacks taste and has a more floury consistency. Non-vine or tree-ripened Fruits can also lack the nutrients of their counterparts and properly ripened tomatoes, as mentioned, are vastly superior nutritionally to immature Fruits.
     The nutritional superiority of organic tomatoes was highlighted in a study published in 2012 in the journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry. The research was done by researchers From the University of Barcelona who analyzed the chemical structure of the “Daniela" variety of
tomato. They detected 34 different beneficial compounds in both the organic and conventional versions. However, they found that overall the organic tomatoes contained higher levels of the antioxidant polyphenols. The researchers believe that this difference between organic and conventional tomatoes can be explained by the manure used to grow them. Their explanation was that since organic Farming does not use nitrogenous Fertilizers as a result, plants respond by activating their own defence mechanisms, increasing the levels of all antioxidants. The more stress plants suffer, the more polyphenols they produce. So organic growing is a bit more stressful for the tomato making it healthier, and of course tastier, for you.

Tomato Color
     Although ripe tomatoes are richer in nutrients that does necessarily mean that they have to be deep red to be good for you. This might seem counterintuitive since lycopene is the pigment that gives tomatoes their red colour so wouldn't redder tomatoes have more lycopene? Apparently not, according to a recent study.
     The study was published in the International Journal of Food Science and Nutrition and was conducted on healthy men and women to see how lycopene is absorbed in the human body. Like most naturally occurring chemicals lycopene can come in different shapes, or isomers. Previous studies have suggested that some cis-lycopene isomers are more bioavailable than the trans-lycopene isomer. These researchers theorised that orange tomatoes, which predominantly contain the tetra-cis isomer, should be a good source of well absorbed lycopene. So they fed lunches, containing 300 grams of tomato sauce made from either orange or red tomatoes, to healthy adults in a double-blind crossover design experiment. Before and after lunch they collected blood samples and measured tetra-cis, other cis, and trans lycopene levels.
     The results showed that both colors of tomato produced sauces that increased lycopene concentrations in blood, but the orange tomatoes caused a greater increase of total and tetra-cis-lycopene. While more research needs to be done in this area, these early results suggest that you shouldn't panic if your crop is not as deeply red as you were hoping it might be, at least as far as your lycopene intake goes.
     What you want from your tomato is that its color is vibrant and that its skin is smooth with no wrinkles, cracks, bruises, or soft spots.

The Nightshades
     Tomato is, of course, a member of the Nightshade family of plants (Solanaceae) along with eggplant, potatoes and capsicum. Some people have an allergy to these plants and. if you suffer from arthritis, that allergic response can serve to aggravate your arthritis. Accordingly, if you have arthritis, and if you have a Nightshade allergy, it would probably be best for you to avoid even organic tomatoes.

Grow Your Tomatoes

When to plant: Sow into the ground when soil temperatures are above 15°C so in cooler zones in spring and summer. But in warmer climates grow pretty much all year. Temperatures over 30°C might causes blossoms to drop.

Climate: Suits all areas of Australia, but is frost sensitive.

Aspect/placement: Likes sunny well-drained position with good air circulation. Need some wind to pollinate flowers, but strong winds can cause heavy plants to blow over.

Specific needs: If transplanting, plant deeply — up to the first leaves about 50cm apart. Before planting, add plenty of well-rotted compost and organic matter. Tomatoes need high levels of phosphorus, potassium and calcium; give them some liquid seaweed fertilizer once a month. Keep well watered, especially during fruiting. Lack of water and low calcium levels can cause blossom end rot. Taller growing varieties need staking, or support such as a wire frame, although some of the smaller growing bush varieties manage without. Mulch with pea straw or lucerne to help ensure fruit docs not contact the soil. Tomatoes grow in large pots. Rotate your tomato plants each year to prevent build up of disease.

Companion planting: Basil, marigolds, chives.

Harvesting:  Harvest when the fruit is mature (fully colored and soft) for best taste. But tomatoes with a
tinge of color will ripen inside.

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