Featured Ingredient

Tomatoes: Adding a Pop of Color to Cuisines

By Susan Marquez, MS, RD, CSSD

Whether they’re adding a pop of color to a salad, playing a starring role in a spaghetti dish, or mixed into a fragrant stir fry, tomatoes can be found in cuisines around the world. Although tomatoes are technically a fruit, their nutrient values are quite similar to vegetables. Tomatoes contain less sugar and fewer calories than most fruits. In fact, tomatoes were even classified as a vegetable by the government in the 1890s for trade purposes.

salad with tomato-1280x1024Tomatoes are an excellent source of vitamin A, vitamin C, and potassium. They also contain carotenoids, or plant pigments, including alpha- and beta-carotene, lutein, and lycopene. Lycopene is an antioxidant found in some red foods. It is fat soluble, which means it is better absorbed by the body when paired with a healthy fat source. This may be why you often find tomatoes cooked in olive oil or served alongside avocados!

Lutein is also a nutrient that acts as an antioxidant and creates yellow pigmentation in fruits and vegetables. It is often referred to as the “eye vitamin” because it helps protect eyes from damaging blue light. However, new research has shown that lutein may also play a beneficial role in brain development and function at all stages of life. Some research focusing on the relationship between lutein and cognition has found that greater lutein concentrations in the brain are associated with better cognitive performance in adults. Lutein supplementation in mothers may increase lutein content in breast milk. This,  in turn, may also increase lutein concentration in the brains of infants who are breastfed.

Tomatoes are in season from June to September and are most flavorful when fresh off the vine, compared to those offered in the off-season. When storing tomatoes, it is best to keep them at room temperature or between 55 to 65°F, and to avoid layering or stacking them to prevent bruising.

There are countless varieties of tomatoes available and numerous ways to incorporate them into a healthy diet. Here are just a few ways you can add more tomatoes to your diet.

  • - Create homemade pasta or pizza sauce using Roma or San Marzano tomatoes.
  • - Let tomatoes shine in a simple salad of mozzarella cheese, basil, olive oil, and cubed, vine-ripened tomatoes.
  • - Make your own fresh salsa with fresh diced tomato, onion, cilantro, and jalapeño.
  • - Top vegetable or grain salads with your favorite bite-sized tomatoes, such as cherry, grape, or yellow pear.
  • - Incorporate tomatoes in jams or reduction sauces for lower sugar options.