When they’re fresh from the Farmer’s Market, a quality produce store or best yet, your garden there is nothing in the world like a tomato. While it’s still a tad cool to have some grown in my garden, there are some exceptional ways to prepare the fat-free, ultra flavorful vegetable (or fruit, depending on who you believe).
According to the California Tomato Board and other medical experts, new research suggests that the consumption of lycopene, the stuff that makes tomatoes red, may prevent cancer. Omer Kucuk, M.D., oncologist at the Barbara Ann Karmanos Cancer Institute in Detroit, has produced the first scientific evidence to indicate that a lycopene supplement containing tomato extract may protect against prostate cancer. The study was presented at the 90th Annual Meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research in Philadelphia.
A review of two studies in Finland indicates that when diets are lacking in tomato products, the resulting low levels of blood lycopene significantly increases the risk for heart attacks and stroke and early atherosclerosis among middle aged men. These studies support the contention that increased lycopene intake in men may play a protective role in cardiovascular disease.
“Lycopene co-exists with other carotenoids in tomato products, and the naturally occurring mixture may be superior in preventive effects to purified chemical lycopene,” explains David Heber, MD, Ph.D., Director of the UCLA Center for Human Nutrition in www.ctga.org, the site of the California Tomato Growers Association. “Based on the research, I would recommend that men and women interested in reducing their risk of cancer eat at least five (5) servings of tomato-based foods per week. As little as eight ounces of tomato-based vegetable juice, an eight-ounce serving of tomato soup or a half-cup of tomato sauce have been shown to help elevate blood levels of lycopene in only two weeks.”
That information is good enough to celebrate all things tomato, especially those grown locally. Here’s a favorite selection from recipes that makes the tomato a shining star for health and wellness.
Fresh Tomato Soup
1 onion, finely chopped
2 stalks celery, finely sliced
1 Tbsp olive oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup diced zucchini
2 ears fresh corn
6 cups low-salt chicken or vegetable stock
1-1/2 cups small dry pasta shells
4 cups diced fresh tomatoes
1/2 tsp each, dried basil, oregano and thyme leaves
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
1/2 tsp sugar
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese (if desired)
In a large stock pot, over medium high heat, sauté onions and celery in oil until tender, about 5 minutes. Add garlic, zucchini and corn; sauté 2 minutes. Add stock, bring to a simmer. Add pasta, tomatoes, and seasonings. Simmer until pasta is tender, about 10 minutes. Ladle soup into bowls. Top each with 1 Tbsp Parmesan cheese if desired.
Tomato Garbanzo Salad
3 cups (about 1 1/2 lbs.) diced, fresh California tomatoes
1 cup chopped red onion
1/4 cup chopped parsley
1 1/2 Tbsp. lemon juice
1 tsp. finely chopped garlic
1/2 tsp. dill
1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes
1 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. pepper
1/3 cup olive oil
3 cups (two 15 1/4 oz. cans) garbanzo beans, drained
2 hard cooked eggs, finely chopped
Combine tomatoes and the next 8 ingredients. Stir in olive oil. Fold in beans and hard cooked eggs.
Tomato Cajun Chicken Salad
1 1/2 Tbsp. lemon juice
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 tsp. thyme
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. pepper
1/8 tsp. cayenne pepper
1/2 cup non-fat plain yogurt
3 cups cubed, cooked chicken
1 cup thinly sliced green onion
1/2 cup diced green bell pepper
1/2 cup diced celery
3 cups (about 1 1/2 lbs.) seeded and diced fresh tomatoes
Combine lemon juice and next five ingredients. Beat in yogurt. Gently fold chicken and next 3 ingredients into dressing. Chill. Just before serving, fold in tomatoes.
Be adventurous and try some of the yellow or pear shaped tomatoes, too. With antioxidants, beta-carotine, vitamin C, lots of flavor, zero fats and a measure of fiber, tomatoes are smart eating as you stay fit for life.
Sheila Cluff, fitness expert, television celebrity and owner of The Oaks at Ojai, is the author of Take 5: How You Can Benefit from Just Five Minutes of Daily Exercise and The Ultimate Recipe for Fitness by Sheila and Eleanor Brown. Visit Sheila’s Spa on the Internet and see all that’s happening at the resort: The Oaks at Ojai www.oaksspa.com.
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