Tomatoes for a healthy heart

It’s hard to imagine a world without tomatoes they’re in everything! From the much loved BLT, to pizza through to an array of salads and sauces, they have become such an integral part of our daily diet, not bad for a fruit that was once considered to cause hallucinations!

As a member of the Solanum family which has deadly nightshade as a member, you can see how it got this reputation. Originating from Peru where they had held no such concerns and have been cultivating them since 700 AD.

Apart from tasting great, tomatoes are full of healthy goodies, vitamins A, C and E, rich in fiber, potassium, and antioxidants. But there is one important compound that makes this fruit stand out– Lycopene. It is this compound that is attributed to improving heart function.

Constriction of blood vessels around the heart reduces blood flow and is a factor in the cause of heart attacks and strokes. Research is now showing that lycopene can improve the function of these blood vessels by increasing their width.

Whereas a lot of fruit and vegetables contain this compound the beauty of the tomatoes is that the lycopene is not reduced by cooking. Rather it increases its concentration and becomes more readily available for the body to use.

But if you think you finally have a good reason to cover everything in bottled tomato sauce – think again. You still need to be aware of salt and preservative content of prepared food. Making your own is a great way to use an abundant harvest and control other added ingredients.

Tomatoes are best left on the vine to ripen, fully coloured and firm to the touch, so the maximum level of lycopene is achieved. If you have to pick the fruit early then mimic this by ripening them out of the fridge. Use the same technique if you buy unripe tomatoes. Refrigerate tomatoes if you need to extend their life and only when fully ripened, you will taste the difference. If the whole bush needs removing and there is still a lot of un-ripened fruit on the bush, pull the whole plant up and hang upside down in a warm dry place. Pick when they are ready and then discard the bush.