Tomatoes: a versatile and healthy food

Whether it is in a raw form or cooked form, this vegetable brings a vibrant taste to any meal.

One of the most colorful and versatile foods in our diet is the tomato. Tomatoes have found their way into many of America’s favorite foods, and we can feel great about eating them. Each bite of a tomato is packed with nutrients that are good for our heart and bone health and have anti-cancer benefits as well.

Tomatoes are grown and available year-round, but the best and sweetest are those in season in the late summer and early fall. They are popular and versatile with over a thousand varieties of different sizes, shapes and colors. Beefsteak tomatoes can be as large as a softball while other varieties are the size of grapes and cherries. They come in yellow, orange, red and even green. Yellow tomatoes tend to be sweeter, while the green varieties have not yet ripened and are popular in Latin cuisine.

TomatoesTomatoes can also be grown in home gardens or in an apartment patio pot. When picking tomatoes to purchase, select those that are bright and vibrant in color. Avoid tomatoes with wrinkled skin, cracks, bruises or soft spots. Ripe tomatoes will be slightly soft when gentled squeezed, but not mushy. Another way to select a ripe tomato is to smell it. Choose the ones that smell sweet.

Stored at room temperature and out of sunlight, tomatoes will last for about a week after bringing them home. You can ripen tomatoes by placing them in a brown paper bag or slow down their ripening and keep them from going bad too quickly by storing them in the door of the refrigerator for 1-2 days.

There are as many ways to eat tomatoes as there are varieties. They can be used for any meal or simply as a snack. Tomatoes are sold fresh in the produce area and in processed forms like canned tomatoes, pasta sauces, pizza sauces and tomato paste. Some foods, like salsa, can be made from fresh or canned tomatoes. Canned tomatoes are a good substitute if fresh tomatoes aren’t available or too expensive.

Eating a tomato is as simple as washing it in water and biting in as if it were an apple. Sliced tomatoes can be added to sandwiches, burgers or salads. Chopped tomatoes are a delicious addition to pasta along with cheeses and herbs or can be made into a zesty salsa with onion and jalapeno. Fresh tomatoes are also very easily canned. Be sure to acidify them as recommended in USDA approved recipes. You may can them whole, as tomato sauce or even as ketchup. Whole tomatoes, chopped tomatoes and tomato sauce can be frozen and are best when used in warm dishes like pastas rather than eaten raw as on salads.

So what is it that makes tomatoes so good for us? Tomatoes are packed with antioxidants like Vitamin C and lycopene. These types of antioxidants can help with bone health, cardiovascular health, men’s prostrate health and fight against some cancers.

To assist consumers in selecting, using and preserving many of the healthy produce choices available Michigan State University Extension has prepared several fact sheets that can be accessed on the Michigan Fresh website. The Michigan Fresh Tomato fact sheet provides suggestions on preserving, storing and important food safety reminders.

The USDA ChooseMyPlate campaign assists consumers with amounts needed and tips on making sure that half of the food plate is made up of a variety of fruits and vegetables. Additional tips on how to include a variety of vegetables on the food plate can be found on this USDA MyPlate tip sheet. The USDA Recipe Finder is also a very useful tool for locating recipes. Simply entering an ingredient will generate a list of recipes with their accompanying shopping list. It also provides the nutritional values and serving costs from each of the recipes.

One such recipe is the recipe copied below.

Cucumber Salad with Tomatoes

Yield: 4 servings

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups of diced cucumbers
  • 1 cup of diced tomato
  • ¼ cup of chopped sweet onion
  • 2 cups of cooked couscous or rice
  • 2 teaspoons of chopped (dried or fresh) dill weed
  • ½ cup of low fat Italian dressing

Instructions

  1. Wash hands.
  2. Toss together the cucumbers, tomatoes, onions, couscous (or rice), dill, and salad dressing.
  3. Chill for 1 hour.
  4. Serve.

Cost

Per recipe: $2.26
Per serving: $0.56

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