March 02

Dirt Report: Tomato Products

By Sharon Palmer RD

tomato-tour-1-e1487955857435During the winter, with snow piled up in many cities across the country, it’s hard not to daydream about summer. And there certainly is a lot to love about summertime: hot days, warm nights, the easy-breezy lifestyle, and, of course, the in-season produce. Perfectly ripe tomatoes personify the sweetness of summertime. But, thankfully, there is a way to get the taste of summertime year-round, even when temperatures are sub-zero. All you have to do is simply open a can of tomatoes from your pantry.

Preserving the flavor and nutrition of tomatoes through canning makes this red vegetable an economical way to enjoy them all year long. Tomatoes that are harvested and used for tomato products (which makes up 75% of the entire tomato crop!) such as salsa, ketchup, tomato paste, and tomato sauce, are grown to their full nutrient and flavor potential. They’re picked at the peak of ripeness to ensure that all those good-for-you antioxidants make their way into your recipes, even in the midst of winter.


But, there’s an added bonus by opting for the canned varieties of tomatoes. When tomatoes are heated during processing or canning, the antioxidant, lycopene becomes more bioavailable to our bodies, offering potentially more cancer protection and anti-inflammatory benefits. That’s why you could be doing your body so much good by opting for canned varieties even during the hot days of summer, or tomato season. On top of lycopene, tomatoes contain a variety of other beneficial nutrients that may be responsible for tomatoes’ health preserving properties, including vitamins A and C, fiber, and potassium, as well as a variety of carotenoids, antioxidant compounds which give tomatoes their red, yellow, and orange colors.

Warm up with my Tortilla Soup recipe from Plant-Powered for Life below, and catch my video with Jane Velez-Mitchell on how to make this yummy, plant-based soup.

Top Eleven Reasons to Go Red!  Don’t underestimate the power of tomato products for health promotion. Scientific knowledge on tomato products’ benefits is growing to include many areas of health benefits.

  1. Discover a Nutritional Powerhouse. Tomato products are loaded with essential vitamins, minerals, and fiber—all in a neat low-fat, low-calorie package. One cup of canned tomatoes contains 41 calories, 0 grams fat, 2.4 grams fiber, 2 grams protein, 37% Daily Value (DV) vitamin C, 8% DV vitamin A, 9% DV vitamin K, 13% DV vitamin B6, 13% DV iron, 13% DV potassium, and 9% DV manganese (USDA).
  2. Dig into a Lycopene Mother Lode. Tomato products are rich in the powerful antioxidant group, carotenoids, which have been shown to inactivate free radicals, protect against cancer, and slow development of atherosclerosis. The most plentiful carotenoid is lycopene, followed by phytoene, phytofluene, zeta-carotene, gamma-carotene, beta-carotene, eurosporene, and lutein. Tomato products are responsible for more than 80% of the lycopene in the U.S. diet, and research suggests that lycopene may be a big factor behind the health-protective effects of tomato products. Lycopene in processed tomatoes is much better absorbed than that of fresh tomatoes. In addition, the lycopene in tomatoes appears to have synergistic effects with other nutrients in foods.
  3. Fight Inflammation. Tomato products may help cool down inflammation, which is becoming more widely understood as a root in many chronic diseases. Scientists discovered that in a group of 30 healthy adult women (ages 20-30), those that drank 280 milliliters of tomato juice for two months reduced waist circumference, serum cholesterol, and inflammatory adipokine levels, effects unrelated to body fat changes (Nutrition, 2015).
  4. Protect Against Oxidative Stress. Eating foods rich in antioxidant vitamins and carotenoids, such as tomato products, is linked with reducing oxidative stress markers. In a randomized controlled clinical trial of 64 overweight/obese women, those who drank 330 ml of tomato juice daily for 20 days reduced their oxidative stress, which may prevent obesity related diseases and promote health (Clinical Nutrition, 2015).
  5. Score Powerful Heart-health Benefits. Regular intake of tomato products has been consistently associated with lower rates of cardiovascular disease. So, it may not be surprising to hear that a recent study performed by Tufts researchers found individuals with the highest intakes of lycopene over an 11-year period had a 17% and 26% reduction in the incidence of cardiovascular disease and coronary heart disease, respectively (British Journal of Medicine, 2012).
  6. Improve Cholesterol Levels. One of tomato products’ heart health benefits is improved lipid profiles, according to some studies. In a study including 35 female participants, those who consumed a raw, ripe tomato before lunch for four weeks experienced a significant decrease in cholesterol and triglyceride levels, as well as body weight and fat percentage (International Journal of Food Sciences and Nutrition, 2014).
  7. Capitalize on Anti-Platelet Activity. Tomato products appear to have anti-platelet compounds that are concentrated in the yellow fluid around the seeds. These compounds inhibit platelet aggregation, further protecting against cardiovascular disease. Tomato extract significantly reduced platelet aggregation three hours after consumption in a randomized, double-blinded, placebo-controlled crossover trial with 90 healthy subjects (American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 2006).
  8. Control Blood Pressure. Low-sodium tomato products, which are becoming more widely available in supermarkets, have the perfect nutritional profile to fit into the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) Diet. Research is confirming that tomato products may aid in treating hypertension. Consuming gazpacho, a cold soup made of mostly tomatoes, was inversely associated with both systolic and diastolic blood pressure and the prevalence of hypertension among nearly 4,000 individuals (selected from the PREDIMED study) at high cardiovascular risk (Nutrition, Metabolism, Cardiovascular Diseases, 2013).
  9. Take on Prostate Cancer. Research supports that eating lycopene-rich food sources like tomato products may help reduce the risk of some forms of cancer, such as digestive tract and pancreatic cancers, but the bulk of the cancer-protective evidence is linked with prostate cancer. Ten or more servings of tomatoes per week cut prostate cancer risk by 18%, according to one study (Cancer Epidemiology Biomarkers Prevention, 2014). A new review further supports tomato products and lycopene in reducing the risk of prostate cancer progression and death (World Journal of Urology, 2016).
  10. Defend Against Sun Damage. Tomato products may offer natural protection from the sun’s damaging UV rays. In a randomized controlled study, 20 healthy women consumed 55 g of tomato paste (16 mg lycopene) in olive oil or olive oil alone for 12 weeks. After various degrees of sun exposure, UV radiation was significantly reduced in the tomato paste group, supporting lycopene’s protective role against acute and potentially longer-term effects of sun damage (British Journal of Dermatology, 2011).
  11. Maximize Bone Health. Laboratory research has shown that lycopene intake from tomato may protect bone health by increasing the antioxidant capacity of bones and decreasing oxidative stress, which may reduce risk of osteoporosis. In a study of 60 postmenopausal women who hadn’t ingested lycopene for one month, they consumed either 30, 70, or 0 mg of lycopene twice a day for four months in either regular tomato juice, lycopene-rich tomato juice, tomato lycopene capsules, or placebo capsules. Those who had juice or lycopene capsules, had significantly higher serum lycopene levels and significantly decreased oxidative stress markers compared with placebo (Osteoporosis International, 2011).



Yields 10 servings

Save Recipe


Tortilla Strips
    • Three 6-inch (15 cm) corn tortillas
    • 2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil
    • ½ teaspoon chili powder
  • 4 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 1 medium garlic clove, minced
  • 1 medium green bell pepper, diced
  • 1 small jalapeño pepper, finely diced
  • 1 small zucchini, diced
  • 1 cup (164 g) frozen corn
  • ¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper
  • 2 teaspoons cumin
  • 4 cups (948 ml) water
  • 1 tablespoon reduced sodium vegetable broth base
  • Two 14.5-ounce (411 g) cans diced tomatoes, with liquid
  • One 15-ounce (425 g) can black beans, with liquid (or 1¾ cups cooked, with ½ cup water)
  • 2/3 cup (37 g) plant-based cheese, optional
  • 2/3 cup (60 g) chopped green onions, white and green parts


  1. Preheat the oven to 400°F (205°C).
  2. Slice the tortillas into thin strips. Place them on a baking sheet and drizzle with 2 teaspoons of olive oil, then sprinkle the chili powder on top. Bake for about 5 to 8 minutes, until brown and crisp. Remove from oven and set aside. Turn off the oven.
  3. Meanwhile, prepare the soup by heating the remaining 2 teaspoons of olive oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add the onion and sauté for 5 minutes.
  4. Add the garlic, bell pepper, jalapeño, zucchini, corn, crushed red pepper, and cumin and sauté for an additional 5 minutes.
  5. Add the water, broth base, tomatoes, and black beans. Stir well and cover. Simmer over medium heat for 25 to 30 minutes, until vegetables are tender.
  6. Ladle about 1 cup of soup into soup bowls, and garnish with a few tortilla strips, 1 tablespoon of plant-based cheese, and 1 tablespoon green onions. Serve immediately.
  7. Store leftover soup (without garnishes) in the refrigerator for up to three days. Reheat the soup and garnish with the tortilla strips, cheese, and green onions.


Variation: Substitute cooked or canned white beans, pinto beans, garbanzo beans, or kidney beans for black beans, or use a combination.

Per Serving: 148 calories, 5 g protein, 21 g carbohydrate, 5 g fat, 1 g saturated fat, 5 g fiber, 5 g sugar, 263 mg sodium

Star Nutrients: vitamin C (40% DV), folate (12% DV), calcium (14% DV), manganese (11% DV), molybdenum (44% DV), phosphorus (10% DV), potassium (10% DV)