The tomato is the victim of an identity crisis: it originated in the New World, not Italy, as we would expect; it’s a fruit, not a vegetable; and unlike many other fruits and veggies, it’s even better for you when it’s cooked. Tomatoes are high in many nutrients that support heart health, helping reduce inflammation and the risk of atherosclerosis while promoting a robust circulatory system.
1. The lycopene in tomatoes licks heart attacks. Tomatoes provide higher concentrations of heart-healthy lycopene than almost any other food. Lycopene, the compound that gives tomatoes their brilliant red color, is a powerful antioxidant that fights dangerous free radical molecules in the quest for health. In a study published in 2004 in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, researchers at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School found that women with the highest levels of lycopene in their blood reduced their risk of heart disease by a whopping 50%.
2. Red tomatoes look hot but cool the flames. Inflammation is the primary cause of atherosclerosis: inflamed, irritated blood vessels develop tiny cracks and holes, which the body tries to heal by accumulating blood fats into a scab-like mass called plaques. When those plaques build up, they narrow the artery and reduce blood flow, creating high blood pressure. When they break off, they can form a blood clot that can travel to the heart, the lungs or the brain. And when they harden, the arteries become stiff and hard, eventually choking off the blood supply. That’s atherosclerosis, and it puts you in the danger zone. In a 2009 Korean study published in the journal Atherosclerosis, women with higher levels of lycopene had lower levels of C-reactive protein (CRP), a marker used to measure inflammation, a precursor to heart disease. The women with high lycopene levels also had the lowest levels of oxidized LDL (bad) cholesterol, which contributes to hardening of the arteries.
3. Tomatoes naturally improve circulation. Whether eaten raw, sautéed with vegetables, cooked into sauce or eaten as ketchup or salsa, tomatoes are also excellent sources of heart-healthy vitamin C. According to Harvard and Boston University experts, vitamin C not only improves circulation but also reduces the risk of heart-damaging blood clots and helps repair arterial damage that contributes to heart disease. Vitamin C also lowers inflammation in individuals with a high CRP level.