With warm weather nearly here, summer gardens aren’t far away. Tomatoes are a wonderful addition to the average backyard garden.

Tomatoes are easy to grow and taste great no matter how you prepare them. From sauces, to salads, to straight from the vine, tomatoes are a versatile fruit your entire family can enjoy.

And then there are the health benefits. Your heart, skin, and bones can get a boost from the nutrients in the humble tomato.

Nutritional benefits of eating tomatoes

The tomato is a nutritional powerhouse, boasting high levels of:

  • antioxidants
  • vitamins
  • minerals
  • phytonutrients

Together, they make this flavorful fruit a great addition to your diet.

In eating tomatoes, you specifically benefit from the following:

  • Lycopene. This carotenoid pigment has been linked to bone and heart health.
  • Vitamins A, B, C, D, and K. All of these vitamins are essential to various bodily functions like strengthening bones, neutralizing free radicals, reducing cholesterol, and keeping your eyes, skin, and hair strong.
  • Potassium, calcium, zinc, and iron. Essential minerals that the body uses for things like blood pressure control, cardiovascular disease prevention, blood coagulation, cell function, and tissue growth. 

Tomatoes join the list of foods that fight cancer, according to the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR). This is because of their nonstarchy composition and abundance of both vitamin C and carotenoids.

While current studies linking tomatoes with cancer prevention have been inconsistent, you’ll still enjoy the other health benefits when you eat tomatoes.

Ways to enjoy tomatoes

While the tomato is actually a fruit by virtue of its botanical composition, it’s missing the sweetness and dessert quality of other fruits like strawberries. In the United States, tomatoes are prepared like vegetables. According to the AICR, they’re also the second most popular vegetable in the nation.

The lycopene in a tomato gives it its red coloring. Enjoying red tomatoes, tomato sauces, and other tomato products provide this important antioxidant. Ketchup, for example, is a good source of lycopene and other tomato nutrients.

But that doesn’t mean red tomatoes are best. With so many wonderful and colorful varieties of tomatoes, the best rule of thumb is to choose those with vibrant colors. The ripe tomato will have a sweet scent. It should have no cracks, wrinkles, or bruises.

Tomato recipes

A fresh tomato sliced up and sprinkled with a lovely finishing salt is a summer staple. This fruit can be enjoyed in endless ways. Here are some recipes to try.

Caprese salad

This simple classic from The Pioneer Woman showcases the summery flavors of tomatoes and basil. The smooth creaminess of mozzarella and the tang of balsamic vinegar are a delightful contrast.

Ingredients

  • 2 cups balsamic vinegar
  • 3 cups whole ripe tomatoes, thickly sliced
  • 12 oz. mozzarella cheese, thickly sliced
  • fresh basil
  • olive oil
  • kosher salt
  • freshly ground black pepper

Bring balsamic vinegar to a boil over medium-low heat in a small saucepan. Cook 10-20 minutes, until vinegar reduces to a thick glaze. Remove from heat, transferring to a bowl. Allow to cool.

Before serving, arrange tomato and mozzarella slices on a platter or plate, tucking basil leaves between the slices. Drizzle with olive oil, then with balsamic reduction. Sprinkle with salt and black pepper.

Crispy parmesan tomato chips

This recipe from Sugar Free Mom cooks low and slowly, but these flavorful chips are worth the wait.

Ingredients 

  • 6 cups thickly sliced beefsteak tomatoes
  • 2 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 tbsp. sea salt
  • 1 tsp. garlic powder
  • 2 tbsp. fresh chopped parsley
  • 2 tbsp. grated Parmesan cheese

Drizzle tomato slices with olive oil, tossing gently to coat. Without overlapping, place slices on a baking pan or dehydrator shelves. If using an oven, preheat to 200°F. Whisk together remaining ingredients in a small bowl, then sprinkle evenly over the tomato slices. Dehydrate 12-24 hours, until crisp. If baking, check every 30 minutes until edges begin charring, roughly 4-5 hours. Note that the thicker the slices, the better.

Simple roasted tomato sauce

A good tomato sauce can be a foundation staple for tons of great recipes. Use it on pasta, certainly. Also try adding cream to make it a simple, tasty soup, or as a dipping sauce for flavorful breads. This recipe from Foodie Crush involves roasting the tomatoes first, which contributes to its fresh, sweet flavor.

Ingredients

  • 5-6 pounds medium or small tomatoes, stems removed
  • 1 medium head of garlic, peeled and split
  • 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 cup fresh basil leaves
  • kosher salt
  • freshly ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 250°F. Place tomatoes on large baking sheet with a raised lip. Add garlic cloves and drizzle with olive oil. Mix well to coat. Top with torn basil leaves and season with salt and pepper. Bake for four hours, until tomatoes are soft and bursting. Allow to cool, then transfer to blender in batches. Pulse 2-3 times, then blend for 1 minute or until desired chunkiness. Pour into quart jars or freezer bags to freeze flat. This recipe will keep in the fridge for one week, or up to four months in the freezer.

Baked tomato and egg cups

Tomatoes, eggs, and chives, 7 minutes or so in the oven, and you have a delicious, nutritious breakfast. Recipe courtesy of A Beautiful Bite.

Ingredients

  • 3 large Roma tomatoes, halved and seeded
  • 6 eggs
  • salt and pepper
  • fresh herbs
  • toasted bread

Preheat oven to 450°F. Place tomatoes on a baking sheet. If necessary, level tomatoes by cutting off a bit of the undersides so they lie flat. Crack eggs into the cavity of each tomato. Season with salt and pepper. Bake for 6-7 minutes for soft yolks, 8-10 minutes for soft set. Remove from oven and top with fresh herbs of your choice. Serve with toasted bread.

Next steps

Tomatoes do fall within the nightshade family, along with potatoes, eggplant, peppers, and many other plants. They contain alkaloids, a substance that may not be tolerated well by some people. Research is insufficient to draw definitive conclusions, but alkaloids may impact the nerves and joints of those with arthritis, osteoarthritis, and gout by promoting inflammation, bone calcium loss, and disrupting muscle and nerve function in sensitive individuals. Cooking does significantly reduce alkaloid content.

No matter how you enjoy them, tomatoes can be a healthy and flavorful addition to your diet. While their cancer-preventing qualities are still undetermined, there are many other health benefits that make tomatoes worth including in your meals.