Tomatoes - A Menopause Powerhouse Food
Tomatoes are one of the most popular and widely consumed plants in the United States. They're perhaps best known for topping a burger, being the base of chunky salsa, or adding thick juiciness to a salad. Tomatoes are affordable to buy and easy to grow in your own backyard, but what about their health benefits? It turns out that tomatoes are especially beneficial to your health during midlife and menopause.
Health Benefits of Tomatoes
To first clear the air, according to the encyclopedia, tomatoes are indeed considered both a fruit and a vegetable. They do have seeds and grow botanically like a fruit, but they also have a less sweet flavor, which is why many of us think of them as vegetables.
Whatever your stance is, there's no question that tomatoes are good for you unless you are sensitive to nightshades. Tomatoes are packed with disease-fighting antioxidants like lycopene, vitamins, and minerals. Research has shown that tomatoes have benefits for your eyes, digestive system, skin, and organs, mainly due to its high vitamin A, C, lycopene, fiber, and lutein content.
One average tomato contains 40% of your daily requirements for vitamin C, an antioxidant known to fight free radicals and decrease the risk of age-related chronic diseases. In particular, lycopene has been studied for its protective properties when it comes to several types of cancer like prostate, ovarian, breast, and kidney. More recently, lycopene has been evaluated for its ability to alleviate symptoms of menopause and improve bone health.
How Do Tomatoes Help During Midlife?
A 2015 study published in the Nutrition Journal looked at the impacts of drinking tomato juice on various health factors among menopausal women. In the study, 93 women aged 40-60 years old, with at least one menopausal symptom, went on a tomato-free diet for two weeks before the intervention.
They were then instructed to drink 200ml (just under a cup) of unsalted tomato juice twice per day for 8 weeks. Their menopausal symptoms, as well as other parameters including blood pressure, heart rate, blood lipids, blood sugar, resting energy expenditure, and body composition, were measured before, in the middle, and after the 8-week intervention.
Researchers found that drinking tomato juice had several positive impacts on the women. It reduced anxiety, increased heart rate and resting energy expenditure, and lowered high triglyceride levels among women whose levels were at least 150 mg/dl before the trial. High triglyceride levels increase your risk of heart disease and stroke.
Another 2011 study published in Osteoporosis International of 60 postmenopausal women found that drinking tomato juice or taking lycopene capsules reduced oxidative stress and helped protect their bones. Similarly, the women went on a tomato- and lycopene-free diet for one month before the intervention. They were then either given regular tomato juice, lycopene-rich tomato juice, tomato Lyc-O-Mato lycopene capsules, or placebo capsules, twice daily. Their daily lycopene intakes were respectively 30, 70, 30, or 0 mg for 4 months. The authors concluded that regular lycopene intake among postmenopausal women may help reduce their risk of osteoporosis, a common problem among aging women.
10 Easy Ways to Add Tomatoes to Your Diet
You may already enjoy tomatoes in several ways, but here are a few less traditional ideas:
Roast Italian Plum tomatoes whole or sliced in half in the oven with a little olive oil, salt and pepper, and Italian herbs like oregano. Spread on crostini, toss with pasta, or add to gazpacho. We place 3-6 in snack size bags, freeze, and use them year-round as flavor bombs in soups and tomato sauces.
Grill them on kabobs alongside other fresh vegetables. Sturdy cherry tomatoes or small Early Girls work best.
Make a sweet and spicy homemade tomato jam. Tomato jam is a healthy substitute for store-bought ketchup, which is loaded with sugar and preservatives, ingredients we should avoid in midlife.
Dice them and add them to soups and stir-fries.
Slice them into a Caprese salad alongside basil and mozzarella. For a Greek twist, substitute the mozzarella with feta and add a few sliced kalamata olives. Any variation is a quick, easy and elegant dish for a summer party.
Chop them and mix into pasta dishes. If you are carb or gluten sensitive, try one of the new alternative pastas made from quinoa, chickpeas, or cauliflower.
Core, stuff them with a whole grain and seasoning and bake them. Stuffed tomatoes make a great vegan main dish.
Slice them thinly and layer them on a homemade pizza alongside other fresh vegetables.
Add them to scrambled eggs or tofu for a hearty morning breakfast. If you are adventurous, try making shakshuka.
In late summer during peak tomato season, slice the tomatoes and enjoy their sweet delicious flavor on their own. You can also sprinkle them with a little salt and pepper, maybe add a drizzle of olive oil and balsamic vinegar and top with fresh basil.
Heirloom tomatoes found at farmer’s markets and increasingly in your local supermarket sometimes under the name “ugly tomatoes” are the most flavorful and at their peak in late summer. If you are a DIY-er, try canning Early Girl or Italian Plum tomatoes to use year-round. Tomato canning is easy and fun to do with a group of women. You can usually arrange to buy tomatoes in bulk from a vendor at the farmer’s market. We always follow the Ball canning directions for reliable results and food safety.
Want more tomato inspiration? Check out our favorite recipes!
For more information about how to boost your health through good nutrition during midlife, check out the Lisa Health community.
Lauren Panoff, MPH, RD, is a registered dietitian, freelance writer, and speaker who helps families transition to plant-based lifestyles. She can be found at laurenpanoff.com or on Instagram @chronicplanet.