When I was young, I didn’t like tomatoes.
If I had a pound for every time my mother assured me that tomatoes were good for me and that I should eat them, I would be a wealthy man today. But I disliked the taste and the consistency and flatly refused to comply with my parent’s wishes. But, at the age of eighteen and living in a university residence, hunger … in association with a lack of the financial means to purchase food other than that provided by the residence’s catering staff … drove me to eat everything in the salads, including the tomatoes. And, though I still didn’t like them, at least I learned that they didn’t do me any actual harm, though I still doubted the alleged benefits of eating these fruits … for they are properly fruits and not vegetables.
In the long years since my student days I have actually learned to enjoy tomatoes, particularly if their flavour is enhanced by the addition of a sprinkling of salt; and I have also learned that tomatoes are sometimes referred as a ‘functional food’, meaning that they are not only nutritious but are also rich in a variety of substances which are good for our physical and mental well-being. They are rich in vitamins A and C and folic acid, as well as being a valuable source of fibre, potassium, and a chemical called choline, among other beneficial constituents.
Taking the last-named first, choline … of which I had never heard until recently … helps us to sleep, helps our learning processes and, by helping with the transmission of the nerve impulses which control our muscles, assists with muscular control. Moving one place back into the list, potassium reduces the risk of strokes, helps to maintain bone density and helps to protect against the formation of kidney stones. There is also evidence which suggests that potassium helps to lower blood pressure and reduce the risk of heart disease.
One further place back in the list brings us to fibre which, as is well known, helps to prevent constipation and to maintain regularity in … well, you know what I mean! Fibre also helps to lower blood glucose levels in sufferers from type 1 diabetes and to raise insulin levels in people with type 2 diabetes, which is becoming an ever-increasing problem in the United Kingdom. And, continuing to make our way backwards through the list of beneficial ingredients of tomatoes brings us to folic acid, which is thought, believe it or not, to help combat depression. What happens is that folic acid prevents our bodies from creating too much of a chemical which discourages us from producing the feel-good hormones that create good moods. And vitamin C, the next up the list, helps our bodies fight the causes of cancer, with some authorities convinced that it is particularly helpful in combating the onset of prostate cancer, the cause of the death of a close friend quite recently and an affliction which has now beset two further friends of a similar age to myself.
Of course, everyone must surely be aware of the government’s ‘five-a-day’ campaign to encourage all of us to eat more fruit and vegetables; and I think that everyone will know that, as consumption of fruit and vegetables goes up, the risk of heart disease, diabetes and cancer goes down. It is also true that eating five portions … or more … of fruit and vegetables reduces a person’s risk of becoming obese which, in turn, increases one’s chances of living to a healthy old age. Tomatoes form one of the most valuable of the many plant foodstuffs which we can eat; and it turns out that, although I don’t think she knew the actual reasons, mother really was right about tomatoes … and I didn’t believe her at the time.