You may have heard that tomatoes are very healthy. That’s because, among other things, they are a great source of antioxidants: vitamin C, beta-carotene (which turns to vitamin A in the body), lycopene, chlorogenic acid, and naringenin.
The lesser-known chlorogenic acid may help with elevated blood pressure, while naringenin, like all antioxidants, helps fight free radicals and oxidative stress and prevent inflammation. In addition, naringenin helps reduce existing inflammation. It also has antiviral properties.
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And lycopene, well, this one is wonderful. Studies have shown that it helps prevent certain cancers, including prostate and lung cancer, and can even stop them in their tracks once they develop. In addition to this, it reduces LDL (bad) cholesterol, while improving the levels of HDL (good) cholesterol, which fights atherosclerosis and helps us keep healthy blood vessels and a healthy heart. And if you’re looking to keep your skin young, lycopene can help with that too, contributing to the formation of collagen. It has other health benefits as well, including helping with fertility in men.
Besides these antioxidants, tomatoes also contain folate (vitamin B9), potassium, among other nutrients, along with fiber.
But this article is mostly about their lycopene content and the added benefits of cooking tomatoes in olive oil, which helps with the absorption of this phytonutrient (which, along with beta-carotene, makes tomatoes red—well, some of them).
While it’s often advised to eat many vegetables raw, if you can, you benefit more from the lycopene in tomatoes by cooking them. Here’s why: fresh tomatoes contain cis-lycopene, which is harder for the body to assimilate than the trans-lycopene in cooked tomatoes. And then this latter form of lycopene becomes even more readily available is you use olive oil. Lycopene is fat-soluble, so technically you just need a source of fat, but tomatoes and olive oil are a match made in heaven. If you don’t believe me, try toasted bread slathered with diced tomatoes that were previously mixed with pressed garlic and cooked in a little olive oil.
Of course, there are good reasons to eat fresh tomatoes too, starting with their vitamin C content, which diminishes with cooking. I personally don’t like tomatoes much in salads, but I do make one with cherry tomatoes, cheese (I use telemea cheese, but it works well with feta cheese as well), olive oil, and balsamic vinegar.
I hope I’ve convinced you to make healthier pasta sauces and other cooked food combos of tomatoes and olive oil. Remember that you can make super healthy pasta with gluten-free fusilli or rigatoni, made of peas and lentils, for instance. I absolutely love my healthy pasta! It’s obviously not as indulgent as real pasta (especially as I use no cheese at all when I make it), but knowing that it’s great for me makes me enjoy it quite a lot, and my taste buds have changed in time to appreciate it more too.
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If you don’t want to make tomato sauce from scratch (which sometimes is advisable if you don’t have tasty tomatoes or if the tastier ones are expensive), I recommend using a pasta sauce that not only tastes good but that you know is made with the best of ingredients. If you’re not using cheese or meat and your pasta has to rely on the sauce for flavor, then it’s worth it to get pasta sauce that’s healthy, tasty, and not watery.
Here’s to a healthier, happier you!
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