Tomatoes: The Mediterranean Diet’s Perfect Companion

Sharon PalmerBy Sharon Palmer, RD

The Mediterranean diet is getting a lot of press these days.  For many nutrition professionals, foodies, and health conscious individuals, it may not be news that the traditional Mediterranean Diet – rich in olive oil, nuts, beans, fish, fruits, vegetables, and even wine – is linked to a plethora of health benefits. In fact, hundreds of studies over the past few decades have linked the Mediterranean diet to increased longevity, improved brain function, maintenance of a healthy weight, and even reduced risk of diabetes. But, the latest research from The New England Journal of Medicine linked the Mediterranean diet to such profound heart health benefits, it deserves a little extra attention.

The study, which followed about 7,500 participants over approximately a five-year period, looked at the rates of heart attacks, stroke, and death among different dietary groups. The findings were so transparent that the intervention was halted five years early because it was considered unethical to continue.

For the study, scientists assigned individuals at high risk for cardiovascular disease such as those that were overweight, smoked, or had diabetes to follow the Mediterranean diet or a low-fat diet. Those assigned to the Mediterranean diet were asked to supplement their intake with either mixed nuts or olive oil, and were counseled to eat primarily whole plant foods such as fruits, vegetables, beans, peas and lentils, as well as healthy fats, fish, and yes…wine! The results? Individuals following a Mediterranean diet had about a 30 percent reduced risk for heart disease.

Not only that, scientists also saw a much better adherence among the Mediterranean diet participants than those following the low-fat diet. Many speculate this is because eating whole plant foods, such as tomatoes, complemented by healthy fats, simply tastes delicious and is easy to do!  Many foods that fit into the Mediterranean diet are naturally full of flavor and leave you feeling satisfied. An added perk is that they are packed with nutritional benefits. For that reason, tomatoes fit perfectly into a Mediterranean-style diet. Whether you slice them fresh into salads and top with a little olive oil or stir canned tomatoes into pasta dishes and top with herbs, seasonings, and freshly grated cheese, tomatoes fit perfectly in numerous Mediterranean style dishes.

Try this recipe for Slow and Easy Ratatouille and you’ll understand why adhering to the Mediterranean diet is a delicious way to maintain or improve your health. This recipe is also available on our website, 




Slow and Easy Ratatouille

This classic vegetable stew is very forgiving and can be consumed hot, cold or at room temperature. Enjoy it as a meal with hearty whole grain bread or as a side dish to pasta, brown rice, or couscous. The options are endless!

Prep time: 15 minutes

Cook time: 3 to 6 hours








2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil

1 large onion, coarsely chopped

3 cloves minced garlic

2 medium zucchini, halved and sliced

1 eggplant (about 1 1/4 lbs.), peeled and cut into 1-inch chunks

1 medium fennel bulb, quartered and thinly sliced (white base only)

1 small red pepper, seeded and diced

1 small yellow pepper, seeded and diced

1 (29-oz.) can crushed tomatoes

1 (6-oz.) can tomato paste

1 tsp each: dried basil, rosemary and thyme

1 tsp sea salt or to taste

Ground or smoked pepper to taste

Snipped fresh basil and grated Parmesan cheese (optional)


  1. Heat oil in a large skillet. Add onion; cook and stir over medium high heat for 5 minutes.
  2. Add zucchini, eggplant and garlic; cook for 5 more minutes.
  3. Transfer to a slow cooker with all remaining ingredients except fresh basil and Parmesan. Cover and cook on HIGH for 3 hours or on LOW for 6 hours.
  4. Serve hot or at room temperature topped with fresh basil and Parmesan.

Makes 8 servings.

Quick Stovetop Variation: Prepare as directed above, cooking in a large pot instead of a slow cooker. Bring to a boil; reduce heat and simmer, covered, for 30 to 45 minutes or until vegetables are cooked to your liking.

Nutritional analysis per serving: Calories: 130, Fat: 4g, Saturated Fat: 0.5g, Trans Fat: 0g, Cholesterol: 0mg, Sodium: 610mg, Potassium: 926mg, Carbohydrates: 22g, Fiber: 7g, Sugar: 7g, Protein: 5g, Vitamin A: 30%, Vitamin C: 120%, Calcium