Although a single tomato is not exceptionally high in any particular nutrient, we eat such a substantial quantity, about 80 pounds per person annually, that they provide a larger percentage of dietary nutrients than any other fruit or vegetable.
A tomato is made up mostly of water; its nutrients include vitamin A, a substantial amount of vitamin C (about 32 percent of the Recommended Dietary Allowance), trace amounts of several other vitamins, a bit of iron and other minerals, a little fiber, and a very small amount of protein. Like all fruits and vegetables, the tomato contains a smidgen of fat but, of course, no cholesterol, and delivers a mere five calories per ounce, or about thirty calories in an average slicer.
Since the tomato provides vitamin A, it also contains one of its precursors, beta-carotene. It is now suspected that it is not only beta-carotene that offers cancer protection but also its cousins, the carotenoids. Among these relatives is one called lycopene, and the tomato, fresh or as tomato sauce, juice, or paste, contains more of it than any other produce (almost twice as much as second-ranking watermelon). The tomato surpasses all other vegetables and fruits in total carotenoids. This is not to encourage you to think of the tomato as medicine, a mistake common in our culture, but to offer you yet another reason to freely indulge, should you need one. When you consider how much taste is packed into a single good tomato, it is a real nutritional bargain.
Copyright 1996 by Michele Anna Jordan, author of The Good Cook's Book of Tomatoes. All Rights Reserved. Reprinted with permission.
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