Botanically speaking, tomatoes are a fruit; technically, they’re a berry, and legally, they’re a vegetable. No, I’m not making this up. In an 1893 ruling of the U.S. Supreme Court, the tomato became legally classified as a vegetable because it’s used as one.
Tomato-Eating Men Have Fewer Prostate Cancers
Cooked tomatoes, especially those cooked with oil, are a rich source of the carotenoid lycopene. There is promising research showing that lycopene is associated with significant reduction in prostate cancer. As far back as 1995, the Journal of the National Cancer Institute published the results of a study conducted by Harvard University researchers that looked at the eating habits of more than 47,000 men between the ages of forty and seventy-five. They found that the men eating ten servings or more a week of tomatoes, tomato sauce, tomato juice, and even pizza had 45 percent fewer prostate cancers than men who ate fewer than two servings a week. In another study done a few years later at the Karmanos Cancer Institute in Detroit, researchers gave lycopene supplements to thirty men who already had prostate cancer. Those given the lycopene supplements had smaller tumors and less spreading of the cancer. Best of all, the tumors in the participants who consumed lycopene supplements showed signs of regression and decreased malignancy.
And it’s not just prostate cancer that the lycopene in tomatoes protects against. Strong evidence indicates that lycopene protects against lung and stomach cancers as well, and preliminary research shows protection against pancreatic, colorectal, esophageal, oral, breast, and cervical cancers. Lycopene also protects the heart against oxidative damage, thereby reducing the risk of heart attacks. And one study published in American Heart Journal showed that treatment with antioxidant-rich tomato extract can reduce blood pressure in patients with grade 1 hypertension.
Get the Most Out of Your Tomatoes
The anticancer properties of lycopene are especially beneficial when consumed with fat-rich foods, such as avocado, olive oil, or nuts. Why? Because carotenoids are fat-soluble nutrients. To get maximum absorption of them, you need to eat them with a little fat!
Besides lycopene, tomatoes contain a variety of other powerful phytochemicals that fight disease. A trio of antioxidants—zera-carotene, phytoene, and phytofluene (often called “the three amigos”)—are found together in many fruits and vegetables, including tomatoes, and scientists believe that this triple-threat antioxidant team has strong disease-fighting potential. And if that isn’t enough, phenolic acids found in tomatoes have the potential to fight lung cancer with their ability to inhibit the formation of nitrosamines in the body.
Tomatoes also have a compound in them called lutein, which is great for your eyes. Lutein is really important for eye health—we have lutein in the retina of our eyes and we need it for healthy vision. The lutein in tomatoes may help prevent macular degeneration, a leading cause of blindness in older adults, and may help improve vision. Lutein may also help prevent or slow down the thickening of arteries that we know as atherosclerosis.
Not bad for a fruit—I mean a berry—I mean a vegetable—that up until about 100 years ago was thought to be poisonous!
The Benefits of Vine-Ripened Tomatoes
Tomatoes are an excellent source of vitamin C, though the vitamin C is most concentrated in the jellylike substance that surrounds the seeds. Tomatoes also contain vitamin A and B complex vitamins, potassium, and phosphorus. Note well: A tomato grown in a hothouse has half the vitamin C content as its vine-ripened cousin.
And speaking of vine-ripened: Tomatoes are one of those foods that people rarely appreciate because the commercial kind are picked when green and then artificially “ripened” with ethylene gas, leaving a food product that may look great, but has negligible taste. You’re really best off buying tomatoes from local farmers and getting vine ripened whenever possible. They taste a lot better.
Tomatoes are a member of the nightshade family. Green tomatoes contain a substance called solanine, which may be aggravating to those with arthritis. Many health professionals counsel people with arthritis to avoid nightshades altogether, though some say there is really no good research to support this. If you have pain from arthritis, cutting out nightshades is probably worth a try. Be aware, however, that some very respected health professionals believe that you need to do this for at least six weeks (maybe more) to really see results from the elimination of nightshades. Tomatoes are usually avoided by people with GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease) as well.
Whenever I think of turnips, I can’t help recalling that line in Tennessee Williams’s famous play Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, where Big Daddy calls the little kids “no-neck monsters”! Sure enough, turnips have no necks, and the fact that they grow just about anywhere, in the poorest soil, has made them kind of like the “catfish” of vegetables, endearing them to the poor and giving them pretty low status among snobbier folk who haven’t tasted them. But they’re anything but a poor country cousin when it comes to nutrition.
Turnips and rutabagas are among the most commonly grown and widely adapted root crops and are members of the Cruciferae family; they both belong to the genus Brassica (cabbage), members of which are so widely acclaimed for their cancer-fighting indoles and isothiocyanates and other health-giving phytochemicals. And, along with rutabagas, turnips are particularly high in anticarcinogenic glucosinolates.
Turnip Greens Promote Bone Health
Turnips are another of those “high-volume” foods that fill you up without costing you a lot of calories. A cup of cooked turnips (without the greens) has all of about 35 calories, with 3 g of fiber, more than 250 mg of potassium, 18 mg of vitamin C, and 51 mg of calcium. Add the nutritious bone-building greens to the mix and your calcium nearly triples to 148 mg, plus you get a whopping 14,000 IUs of vitamin A, more than 8,000 IUs of beta-carotene, and an incredible 676 mcg of bone-friendly vitamin K. In the bargain, you also get more than 15,000 mcg of lutein and zeaxanthin, two members of the carotenoid family that are receiving significant research attention for their demonstrated ability to protect the eyes from vision problems like macular degeneration. Turnip greens are sometimes available by themselves, usually next to other greens like kale and collards, but sometimes at a farmers’ market you’ll be able to find the turnips with the tops attached. Buy them!
According to whole-food expert Rebecca Wood, raw grated turnips serve as a digestive aid similar to radish and daikon, and are good for general detoxification.
Irish monks used to refer to the watercress plant as “pure food for sages.” And with good reason. This pungent, stimulating herb, frequently found in salads that bear its name, truly deserves the name “superfood.”
Watercress Contains Four Times the Calcium of Milk
If you were to compare an equal number of calories of watercress with an equal number of calories of 2 percent milk, the watercress would give you four times the calcium and six times the magnesium. Gram for gram, this little plant contains as much vitamin C as oranges and more iron than spinach. It’s also as close to a calorie-free food as you’re likely to find. A full cup of the stuff contains only 4 calories, and for those 4 calories you get an amazing 1,500 IUs of immune system–building vitamin A (including 950 mcg as beta-carotene), 85 mcg of bone-building vitamin K, 14 mg of vitamin C, and, as a bonus, more than 1,900 mcg of the new superstars of eye nutrition, lutein and zeaxan-thin. Both lutein and zeaxanthin are members of the carotenoid family and are being extensively researched for their demonstrated ability to prevent or reduce macular degeneration, the number-one cause of adult blindness.
Watercress Neutralizes Carcinogens
The health benefits of watercress have been known since ancient times. Watercress is a member of the family of vegetable superstars, the brassica family of cruciferous vegetables, which counts among its members such vegetable royalty as broccoli, cabbage, kale, kohlrabi, and Swiss chard. These vegetables are now known to be excellent sources of a family of anticancer phytochemicals called isothiocyanates. Isothiocyanates literally fight cancer by neutralizing carcinogens—the “bad guys” of the cancer battle. They do this by reducing their poisonous effects and stimulating the release of “carcinogen killers,” speeding up their removal from the body. Studies have shown that isothiocyanates help prevent lung and esophageal cancer and can lower the risk of other cancers, including gastrointestinal cancer.
Watercress is unique among the cruciferous vegetables in that it contains high concentrations of one particularly potent isothiocyanate, PEITC (phenylethyl isothiocyanate). It also contains another group of compounds with anticancer potential belonging to the sulforaphane family (also found in broccoli). Research published in two separate cancer journals—Cancer Research and Carcinogenesis—concluded that the potent combination of PEITC and sulforaphanes had a “triple whammy” effect: zapping cancer cells by inducing their death (apoptosis), stopping potential carcinogens from becoming active, and stimulating cell defenses against assaults from carcinogens.
Watercress can be eaten raw and most frequently is, but it can also be cooked. According to Rebecca Wood, cooking eliminates its bite and leaves a vegetable that is pretty sweet. Remember that when you cook it, its volume is reduced by three-fourths. The raw version probably contains more enzymes and live energy.
The unassuming-looking but amazingly flavored parsnip has been revered since ancient times, when the first-century Roman emperor Tiberius had them specially imported and served them gently cooked in honeyed wine. A parsnip looks like a lot like a carrot that doesn’t get out much—pale and almost white. But there’s a world of difference in the taste.
USE PARSNIPS IN PLACE OF MASHED POTATOES
Parsnips are really sweet. Personally, I think they’re a great replacement for white potatoes—they’re nutty and flavorful, and unlike white potatoes, have a lot of nutrition. Plus they lend themselves to mashing really well, making them the ideal substitute for mashed potatoes. Put on a little organic creamy butter, some lemon pepper, and maybe some sea salt, and you’re good to go!
Parsnips are a member of the umbelliferous vegetable group, which the National Cancer Institute has identified as possessing cancer-protective properties. Parsnips contain phthalides, a group of phytochemicals that provide health benefits by stimulating beneficial enzymes and inhibiting inflammatory ones. Phthalides are most associated with celery, but parsnips have them too; in addition, parsnips have polyacetylenes, plant compounds that help protect against carcinogens.
Parsnips are high in folate, calcium, potassium, and especially fiber. One little cup of cooked parsnips has 5½ g of fiber, 58 mg of calcium, 45 mg of magnesium, 90 mcg of folate, and a whopping 573 mg of potassium. And it weighs in at just over 100 calories. Here’s a secret from my personal kitchen—I juice them. Their nutty flavor adds a lot of richness to a standard apple-carrot-spinach-ginger mix. And as most cooks know, parsnips are absolutely amazing in soups. They have a strong dominating flavor, though, so use with discretion.
A rutabaga is a strange-looking root vegetable that looks like a cross between a turnip and a wild cabbage. They’re an important part of Scandinavian cuisine and are sometimes referred to as “Swedes.” They can be steamed, boiled, or mashed; baked, roasted, or sautéed; and they’re really good in soups. They also make a great puree.
Rutabagas are an amazing source of potassium: One cup of the cooked vegetable has 782 mg, along with 115 mg of calcium, 55 mg of magnesium, 45 mg of vitamin C, and a little more than 4 g of fiber. Not too shabby for a mere 94 calories a cup. In Asian medicine, root vegetables are considered “warming” foods that strengthen the digestion and help detoxify the liver.
Here’s a bachelor-friendly dish that’ll make you fall in love with them: Cut them into cubes, boil them till tender, and toss them with chopped walnuts, raisins, and a little cold-pressed organic honey. You’ll never miss chocolate cake again. Well, okay, I lied, but that dish will knock your socks off.
The French name for this tender legume is mangetout, meaning “eat it all.” Unlike the pod in sugar snap peas, the pod in snow peas tastes as good as the seeds it contains. Almost anyone who has eaten Chinese food has eaten snow peas—they’re flat green pods containing five to seven seeds, and although most Americans know them from Chinese takeout, they’ve been around for centuries—the tender-crisp, jade snow pea was first mentioned in 1597, though pea seeds were found in archaeological digs in Turkey as far back as 5700 B.C.E.
One cup of cooked (frozen) snow peas has 5 g of fiber, almost half of the amount most Americans are getting on a daily basis (remember, that’s too little—I recommend 25 to 35 g a day!). They contain lutein and zeaxanthin, two carotenoids that have been shown to be extremely protective of the eyes. They also have 94 mg of calcium and 347 mg of heart-healthy potassium, plus a little vitamin C (35 mg), folate (56 mcg), and a very respectable 2,098 IUs of vitamin A, including 1,216 of beta-carotene. Snow peas are also a good source of bone-building vitamin K: One cup of the cooked peas contains 48 mg. All this for about 80 calories. That’s a nutritional bargain if I’ve ever seen one.
Snow peas can be found in the produce section of most health food stores and specialty markets. They’re even beginning to make their way into your general-purpose supermarket, especially in the frozen vegetable section. Look for brightly colored, crisp pods that have fresh-looking leaflets and small seeds. Use as soon as possible or store in the fridge for up to three days.
NOTE: When you stir-fry them, be sure not to overcook. They taste best—and are most nutritious—when they are bright green. And by the way, they’re very tasty raw, in salads.
EXPERTS’ TOP TEN
1. Ground flaxseed: Flaxseeds provide 800 times more cancer-fighting lignans than any other food, which protect against breast and prostate cancer. Delicious in salads, smoothies, and as a topping on veggies.
2. Unsweetened cranberry juice: Rich source of phytonutrients such as phenol-based antioxidants that are so helpful in supporting cardiovascular health and preventing urinary tract infections. Mix in a 1:2 ratio with water!
3. Lemons: High in limonene, they’re an old-time remedy for thinning the bile and enhancing digestion.
4. Whey: Undenatured, unheated whey protein provides the aminos from which the body makes glutathione, the body’s premier antioxidant.
5. Grass-fed beef: High in the healthy, fat-burning fat CLA (conjugated linolenic acid) plus omega-3s; grass-fed beef is also antibiotic and hormone free and a great source of zinc and vitamin B12.
6. Spaghetti squash: My personal favorite substitute for pasta, especially for the gluten or carb intolerant. Delicious as spaghetti squash and meatballs!
7. Jicama: Crunchy, juicy, and low calorie, jicama is delightful in salads and as a veggie for dips. Naturally sweet to satisfy the most sophisticated sweet tooth!
8. Peanut butter: Preferably organic, peanut butter is a quick snack that satiates the appetite. High in stress-busting pantothenic acid (vitamin B5).
9. Blueberries: One of the least pesticide-ridden fruits, blueberries are exceptionally high in proanthocyanidins, so helpful in preventing degenerative disease.
10. Organic cream: Organic cream from grass-fed cows is not only a treat but a terrific source of fat-burning CLA! It nourishes the nerves and is a wonderful accompaniment for all sorts of berries.