A basic idea on which all nutritional scientists can agree is that the increased consumption of diets rich in a variety of fruit and vegetables will improve the health of almost any human population. This diet (of which the Mediterranean diet is the best example) is known to be beneficial for health, especially with regard to the development of chronic degenerative diseases.1,2 Tomato is one of the most used of the fruits and vegetables in the Mediterranean diet. Therefore, tomatoes appear to be especially important in terms of public health as they are consumed in large quantities and are rich in several compounds believed to provide protection from or reduce the risk of contracting chronic degenerative diseases.
Vegetable products, including tomatoes, contain many substances which may have beneficial effects on health, providing protection from certain pathologies correlated to oxidative processes. These substances have differing functions, such as free radical scavengers, singlet oxygen quenchers, metal chelants and inhibitors of enzymes involved in the formation of the active species of oxygen.3 Epidemiological studies have demonstrated that tomato consumption provides a protective effect against some types of cancers and ischaemic heart diseases. This protective effect has mainly been ascribed to the antioxidant activity of some tomato components.
Carotenoids are among the first compounds to have attracted the attention of scientists to the effect on health of fruit and vegetables, and tomato is especially rich in one of them: lycopene. Tomato is the main dietary source of lycopene, the typically red-coloured carotenoid. Othercarotenoids,such as b-, g-and Z-carotene, lutein, phytoene and phytofluene, are also present, though in much lower concentrations, with vitamin C, andvitaminEintheseeds.4 Moreover, there is a growing interest in other compoundspresentintomatoes,likefolates and phenolics, though not enough humanstudiesareavailableto estimateprop-erly the effect of phenolics particularly onhumanhealth. Tomatoisanimportant source of ascorbic acid which exerts a well-known antioxidant and nutritional effect. Like other vegetables, the tomato containsanumberof polyphenoliccom-pounds which can exert antioxidant activity.5 Finally,tocopherolsarealsofound in tomatoes, though in low concentrations.6 Theantioxidantcompositionofthe tomato is complex and rich, and optimisation criteria of processing and storage technologies should take into account thepreservationofthe wholeantioxidant pool and its functionalproperties.
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