What are the health benefits of tomatoes? These Mediterranean staples are an important part of the well-documented health benefits provided by the traditional Mediterranean diet. Some pretty weird and wonderful claims have been made for them. All these aside, I do believe they are a real healthy staple.

Heart & circulation

Tomatoes are packed with two important antioxidant nutrients: vitamin C and lycopene. Lycopene is a carotenoid compound responsible for much of the red colour pigment in tomatoes. These two antioxidant compounds are important to heart health because they reduce lipid peroxidation, a naturally occurring damage to fats that are in our circulation, that can cause damage to the blood vessel walls when oxidised, which then sets the stage for heart disease, as the damage escalates and the body tries to repair it. When cholesterol and triglycerides oxidise, they cause small pockets of inflammatory damage to the endothelium. This is the inner skin that lines the inside of our blood vessels. When this becomes damaged, the body goes about setting in to action a normal repair mechanism in response to the damage. During this repair response, the body lays down mesh like substances called fibrin. Cholesterol that is minding its own business, travelling through the circulatory system gets caught up in this mesh, and the force of circulation starts to drive it in to the damaged vessel wall. When this happens, the immune system responds and before long a plaque forms.

Prostate health

There has been a great deal of research on the link between lycopene and prostate health, and the evidence is mixed. There is, however, some evidence to suggest that populations that consume high levels of lycopene have fewer prostate-related health problems. It is theorised that lycopene may be able to reduce inflammation within the central lobe of the prostate, and continued consumption can reduce prostatic hyperplasia. These anti-inflammatory actions have certainly been demonstrated in vitro, but have yet to be adequately tested in Human studies. Most information comes from Epidemiology at present. It is worth noting that correlational studies such as this do not in any way clearly show cause and effect. However, there is at least biological plausibility.