The Fascinating Truth Behind Tomatoes and Gut Health
Whether they’re adding a delicious pop of color to summer salads, or making your savory sauces sing, tomatoes are one of the most well-loved prebiotic foods around. Although technically a fruit, tomatoes are typically classified as vegetables—and they belong to the infamous nightshade family, which also includes eggplants, peppers, and potatoes.
Not so long ago, nightshade vegetables were thought to be unhealthy, but thankfully we now know so much better! Not only are tomatoes recognized for their far-reaching lycopene benefits; the latest research indicates that they’re also a yummy way to support a healthy, balanced gut.
Discover the many health benefits of tomatoes—and how adding them to your diet can put some extra zing into your every step.
Tomatoes and Your Gut
It’s no secret that tomatoes rank high on the list of gut-healthy foods. As an excellent source of prebiotic fiber, tomatoes provide your microbial good guys with the perfect nutrition they need to thrive and encourage every system in your body to function at full capacity.
The prebiotic effect of tomatoes is surprisingly powerful—not only does raw and cooked tomato fiber nourish friendly bacterial species like Lactobacillus rhamnosus and Bifidobacterium bifidum, it also helps these and other strains of probiotics attach themselves to intestinal epithelial cells.1
Even when a diet is less than optimal, tomatoes still seem to have a positive, protective effect on gut balance, potentially compensating for otherwise poor food choices. In one study, a group of rats eating a diet heavy in unhealthy fats for five weeks was also given tomato juice. At the end of the trial, this group of rats was able to significantly increase their Lactobacillus numbers (which normally decline on this type of diet).2
But scientists are learning that the positive effects of tomatoes are actually more holistic—with antioxidants and prebiotics working synergistically with the microbiome itself to benefit the entire gut.
An exciting new study from Spain put tomatoes to the test to explore how they might interact with beneficial gut bacteria. Tomatoes are naturally rich in lycopene, an antioxidant pigment that’s getting lots of attention these days due to its ability to protect cells from damage. For this study, researchers worked with raw and cooked pear tomatoes—a variety with a particularly high lycopene content—in order to see how this pigment affected the microbiome.3 While the effects on the digestive tract proved complex, tomatoes were ultimately found to boost probiotic activity in the gut.4 Here are some of the highlights of this study:
• The process of digestion of both raw and cooked tomatoes causes a loss of some of their antioxidants.
• Probiotic L. reuteri bacteria (one of the major supporters of a healthy microbiome), seem to prevent some of the antioxidants in tomatoes from getting absorbed into the bloodstream.
• At the same time though, antioxidants in tomato sauce (cooked tomatoes) boost the helpful effects of L. reuteri, resulting in the overall positive effect on gut health. In other words, the increase in probiotic activity outweighs the decrease in antioxidant absorption in terms of supporting our health.
• While both raw and cooked tomatoes are gut-healthy foods, cooked tomatoes seem to have more of a beneficial impact on the gut. This may be because the process of cooking helps lycopene maintain its integrity during digestion, so more of it gets absorbed.
More Health Benefits of Tomatoes
It’s great news that tomatoes are such a gut healthy food! But the benefits of this tasty vegetable actually extend much further, enhancing wellness in your entire body. For starters, each juicy bite (or flavorful spoonful) is loaded with nutrition—making tomatoes a good source of vitamin A, vitamin B6, vitamin K, folate, lutein, lycopene, beta carotene, zeaxanthin, magnesium, manganese, potassium, and prebiotic fiber.
This healthful mix of nutrients helps tomatoes support your well-being in all these wonderful ways:
Lycopene-rich foods like tomatoes appear to be protective against the negative effects of UV rays. A number of studies revealed that eating tomato paste was associated with healthier skin after UV exposure than when not consuming tomato products.5,6,7
The antioxidants in tomatoes may help protect your cells so that they can work effectively as a team to keep you well. Research shows that eating tomatoes and other foods high in lycopene supports cellular health across the body in areas including the lungs, prostate, breasts, and stomach.8,9,10,11
As an excellent source of lycopene, lutein, beta-carotene, and zeaxanthin, tomatoes are an ideal eye-health elixir, protecting against UV exposure and helping to preserve your precious vision well into your golden years.12,13 One study even found that lutein and zeaxanthin could reduce the risk of age-associated eye issues by as much as 35%.14
Cooked tomatoes seem to encourage positive heart and blood vessel function. In recent trials, healthy adults consuming tomato juice and tomato sauce for only one week experienced normalized cholesterol levels—and eating tomato paste increased the ability of blood vessels to relax.15,16 Tomatoes also appear to help blood flow more smoothly through all the body’s veins and arteries.17
A more comfortable change of life
Tomatoes may even help you sail through menopause more easily. A small trial involving women between the ages of 40 and 60 found that those who drank unsalted tomato juice twice daily for eight weeks felt less anxious, and also experienced improved heart rates and energy expenditure.18
Best Ways to Enjoy Tomatoes
To get the most from the tomatoes you eat, try to get a nice mix of cooked varieties (such as sauce, paste, and unsalted juice) as well as lots of yummy raw slices in salads and sandwiches. It’s important to buy organic and local when you can because chemical pesticides are so destructive to the microbiome that they can counteract many of the benefits of this healthy fruit.19,20
Even with the best diet it’s often difficult to get enough prebiotic fiber—and our modern lifestyle can be tough on the microbiome no matter how many healthy habits you embrace. For this reason, it’s wise to also supplement with an organic prebiotic powder, and a high quality, time-released probiotic like PRO-15.
No matter how you slice them, tomatoes are a terrific addition to your gut-healthy lifestyle. This sunny orange vegetable is sure to bring smiles right away—as it helps you achieve a joyful state of wellness that lasts a lifetime.
1. Koh, J. H., Kim, N., Hwang, D., & Lim, Y. (2013). Effect of water-soluble fraction of cherry tomatoes on the adhesion of probiotics and Salmonellato intestinal epithelial cells. Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture, 93(15), 3897-3900. doi:10.1002/jsfa.6255
2. García-Alonso, F. J., González-Barrio, R., Martín-Pozuelo, G., Hidalgo, N., Navarro-González, I., Masuero, D., … Periago, M. J. (2017). A study of the prebiotic-like effects of tomato juice consumption in rats with diet-induced non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD). Food & Function, 8(10), 3542-3552. doi:10.1039/c7fo00393e
3. Ku, H., Doganlar, S., Chen, K., & Tanksley, S. D. (1999). The genetic basis of pear-shaped tomato fruit. TAG Theoretical and Applied Genetics, 99(5), 844-850. doi:10.1007/s001220051304
4. García-Hernández, J., Hernández-Pérez, M., Peinado, I., Andrés, A., & Heredia, A. (2018). Tomato-antioxidants enhance viability of L. reuteri under gastrointestinal conditions while the probiotic negatively affects bioaccessibility of lycopene and phenols. Journal of Functional Foods, 43, 1-7. doi:10.1016/j.jff.2017.12.052
5. Stahl, W., Heinrich, U., Aust, O., Tronnier, H., & Sies, H. (2006). Lycopene-rich products and dietary photoprotection. Photochemical and Photobiological Sciences, 5(2), 238-242. doi:10.1039/b505312a
6. Aust, O., Stahl, W., Sies, H., Tronnier, H., & Heinrich, U. (2005). Supplementation with Tomato-Based Products Increases Lycopene, Phytofluene, and Phytoene Levels in Human Serum and Protects Against UV-light-induced Erythema. International Journal for Vitamin and Nutrition Research, 75(1), 54-60. doi:10.1024/0300-98184.108.40.206
7. Stahl, W., Heinrich, U., Wiseman, S., Eichler, O., Sies, H., & Tronnier, H. (2001). Dietary Tomato Paste Protects against Ultraviolet Light–Induced Erythema in Humans. The Journal of Nutrition, 131(5), 1449-1451. doi:10.1093/jn/131.5.1449
8. Basu, A., & Imrhan, V. (2006). Tomatoes versus lycopene in oxidative stress and carcinogenesis: conclusions from clinical trials. European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 61(3), 295-303. doi:10.1038/sj.ejcn.1602510
9. Giovannucci, E. (1999). Tomatoes, Tomato-Based Products, Lycopene, and Cancer: Review of the Epidemiologic Literature. JNCI Journal of the National Cancer Institute, 91(4), 317-331. doi:10.1093/jnci/91.4.317
10. Aune, D., Chan, D. S., Vieira, A. R., Navarro Rosenblatt, D. A., Vieira, R., Greenwood, D. C., & Norat, T. (2012). Dietary compared with blood concentrations of carotenoids and breast cancer risk: a systematic review and meta-analysis of prospective studies. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 96(2), 356-373. doi:10.3945/ajcn.112.034165
11. Giovannucci, E. (2002). A Review of Epidemiologic Studies of Tomatoes, Lycopene, and Prostate Cancer. Experimental Biology and Medicine, 227(10), 852-859. doi:10.1177/153537020222701003
12. Abdel-Aal, E., Akhtar, H., Zaheer, K., & Ali, R. (2013). Dietary Sources of Lutein and Zeaxanthin Carotenoids and Their Role in Eye Health. Nutrients, 5(4), 1169-1185. doi:10.3390/nu5041169
13. Wu, J., Cho, E., Willett, W. C., Sastry, S. M., & Schaumberg, D. A. (2015). Intakes of Lutein, Zeaxanthin, and Other Carotenoids and Age-Related Macular Degeneration During 2 Decades of Prospective Follow-up. JAMA Ophthalmology, 133(12), 1415–1424. http://doi.org/10.1001/jamaophthalmol.2015.3590
14. The Age-Related Eye Disease Study 2 (AREDS2) Research Group, Chew, E. Y., Clemons, T. E., SanGiovanni, J. P., Danis, R. P., Ferris, F. L., … Sperduto, R. (2014). Secondary Analyses of the Effects of Lutein/Zeaxanthin on Age-Related Macular Degeneration Progression AREDS2 Report No.3. JAMA Ophthalmology, 132(2), 142–149. http://doi.org/10.1001/jamaophthalmol.2013.7376
15. Rao, A. V. (2002). Lycopene, Tomatoes, and the Prevention of Coronary Heart Disease. Experimental Biology and Medicine, 227(10), 908-913. doi:10.1177/153537020222701011
16. Xaplanteris, P., Vlachopoulos, C., Pietri, P., Terentes-Printzios, D., Kardara, D., Alexopoulos, N., … Stefanadis, C. (2012). Tomato paste supplementation improves endothelial dynamics and reduces plasma total oxidative status in healthy subjects. Nutrition Research, 32(5), 390-394. doi:10.1016/j.nutres.2012.03.011
17. Palomo, I., Fuentes, E., Padro, T., & Badimon, L. (2012). Platelets and atherogenesis: Platelet anti-aggregation activity and endothelial protection from tomatoes (Solanum lycopersicum L.). Experimental and Therapeutic Medicine, 3(4), 577-584. doi:10.3892/etm.2012.477
18. Hirose, A., Terauchi, M., Tamura, M., Akiyoshi, M., Owa, Y., Kato, K., & Kubota, T. (2015). Tomato juice intake increases resting energy expenditure and improves hypertriglyceridemia in middle-aged women: an open-label, single-arm study. Nutrition Journal, 14(1). doi:10.1186/s12937-015-0021-4
19. Reygner, J., Joly Condette, C., Bruneau, A., Delanaud, S., Rhazi, L., Depeint, F., … Khorsi-Cauet, H. (2016). Changes in Composition and Function of Human Intestinal Microbiota Exposed to Chlorpyrifos in Oil as Assessed by the SHIME® Model. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 13(11), 1088. doi:10.3390/ijerph13111088
20. Lozano, V. L., Defarge, N., Rocque, L., Mesnage, R., Hennequin, D., Cassier, R., … Amiel, C. (2018). Sex-dependent impact of Roundup on the rat gut microbiome. Toxicology Reports, 5, 96-107. doi:10.1016/j.toxrep.2017.12.005
Roberta Pescow is a writer at Hyperbiotics and proud mom of two amazing and unique young men. Natural wellness is a subject she’s passionate about, so she loves sharing information that helps others discover all the ways probiotics support glowing health and well-being. To learn more about how a healthy microbiome can enrich your life, subscribe to our newsletter.