Medicinal Rich Tomatoes

The tomato plant (botanical name Solanum Lycopersicum) is a member of the nightshade family. Usually, plants of this species grow to a height of anything between one and three meters (3 to 10 feet) and have a very delicate stem that generally spread out over the ground as well as climbs like vines on other nearby plants. Tomato is a perennial plant in its place of origin but is generally cultivated outdoors as an annual plant in places having temperate climatic conditions.

It is thought that the existing kind of tomato has originated from a species whose fruits were roughly the size of marbles and this species actually grew several thousand years back. In effect, the tomato is indigenous to South America’s Andean region and there is evidence that this species was cultivated in Peru as early as the 16th century when the Spanish conquered the region. Prior to the end of the 16th century, people in England, as well as the Netherlands, were consuming as well as taking delight in tomato. While the English nicknamed the fruit as ‘love apple’, romances in England portrayed tomato in the form of a symbol of fondness or love. According to the cultivators as well as its usage, the tomato is considered to be a vegetable, while in terms of botany, the tomato is regarded as a fruit. However, going by botany, the tomato may be categorized as a berry, as it is yielding and encloses one or several seeds, which are not stones. Tomato is regarded to be an important fruit, which is a good source of citric acid and is classified in the same group that also includes oranges and grapefruit. In addition to citric acid, tomato also contains some amount of oxalic acid.

The utmost benefits of tomatoes can be obtained when they are mixed with proteins. You may use tomatoes in the form of fruits as well as in vegetable salads. When tomatoes are used in beverages, they provide a calming and rejuvenating feeling and are particularly wonderful in the form of flavoring for soups. In addition, tomatoes may be used in foods to provide color as well as to make green salads additionally tempting. It is advisable that you need to use tomato juice soon after it has been extracted from tomato or soon after the can containing the juice is opened. In case canned tomato juice is opened and allowed to remain in the same way, it will lose a great deal of its mineral worth since it oxidizes very rapidly.

Tomatoes should also be collected when they are ripe since the acids of the green tomatoes are extremely harmful to the body and have a negative reaction on the kidneys. Several varieties of tomatoes that are cultivated in the present times are grown in hothouses and are collected when they are still unripe and green. These unripe tomatoes eventually ripen while being transported to the markets or during the period when they are in cold storage plants, which are constructed for this purpose. When the seeds or the internal parts of the tomatoes remain green, while the exterior is red, it is a sign of the fact that the fruit has been picked prematurely.


Medicinal Components of Tomato:

A tomato basically does not form acid. Although it encloses sufficient amount of citric acid, it is actually alkaline forming when it gets into our bloodstream. Tomato enhances the alkalinity of the blood and, thereby, facilitates in removing toxins, particularly uric acid, from the system. Tomatoes are excellent in the form of a liver cleanser, particularly when they are used in conjugation with juices of green vegetables.

In several European clinics or sanatoriums, tomatoes are employed in the form of a poultice for treating several health conditions. Some people have a wrong belief that tomatoes are detrimental for people who have been enduring gout and rheumatism. In effect, individuals who are suffering from these two conditions ought to blend tomato juice with juices of other green vegetables with a view to averting any type of possible potent reaction. Every time when it is found that the blood is sluggish in any area of the body, applying a tomato poultice is an excellent treatment for easing the blood stagnation. Applying a tomato poultice works as a suspending agent or in the form of a solvent.

Tomatoes are extremely rich in vitamin content, tomatoes are excellent in the form of blood purifier and are very good in elimination diets. Nevertheless, they ought not to be employed regularly. It may be noted that tomato juice may also be employed in convalescent diets, in conjugation with juices of other raw vegetables, for instance, parsley, celery, carrot and beet juice.

Tomatoes contain a substance called lycopene, which belongs to the carotenoid family and is a pigment that is responsible for the red color of the vegetable/ fruit. In addition, lycopene is the main contributor to the tomatoes’ power to promote health. In effect, lycopene has shown a variety of exceptional as well as individual biological characteristics that have always fascinated scientists. A number of researchers have started believing that lycopene could be a very potent antioxidant, somewhat similar to beta-carotene. It has been proved that lycopene eliminates the free radical singlet oxygen, an especially toxic form of oxygen extremely proficiently. In addition, lycopene also has the capacity to scavenge a number of free radicals.

Findings of several types of research have begun to divulge that individuals who have consumed excessive amounts of tomatoes faced far little risks of death from all types of cancers in comparison to those who consumed very little or no tomatoes at all. Several other types of research have repeated the positive findings regarding the consequences of consuming tomatoes.

Lycopene found in tomatoes does not only help to alleviate cancer. In effect, this member of the carotenoid family is a crucial part of the antioxidant protection system in our skin. On its own as well as in conjunction with additional nutrients, dietary lycopene may increase the skin’s sun protection factor (SPF). Precisely speaking, when you consume tomatoes, you actually augment the ability of your skin to endure the battering from the harmful rays of the sun. Tomatoes work in a manner akin to an internal sunblock.

In addition, lycopene also has the ability to obliquely lower the risk for macular degeneration related to age by means of ‘releasing’ lutein oxidation to enable transportation of lutein to the macula in its un-oxidized and defensive form.

It may be noted that lycopene is rarely present in foods, and tomatoes are among just a few foods that enclose this potent antioxidant. In fact, the red watermelon is one more wonderful natural source of lycopene. According to some sources, lycopene is an extremely intense and bio-available source of the nutrient, which is present in more amounts in red watermelon compared to tomatoes. In fact, consuming watermelon certainly boosts the amount of lycopene in the blood more in comparison to tomatoes.

Although in recent times, lycopene has drawn plenty of attention, tomatoes enclose rich amounts of a range of nourishment’s that appear to work in synergy to support health as well as energy. The good thing about the tomato is that while it contains low-calorie content, it is high in fiber and potassium. In addition to having rich contents of lycopene, tomatoes are also an excellent natural resource of alpha-carotene, beta-carotene, phytoene/ phytofluene, lutein/ zeaxanthin as well as a variety of polyphenols. Tomatoes also enclose a few B vitamins, including vitamin B6, pantothenic acid, thiamine, and niacin. In addition, they contain some amount of vitamin E, folate, manganese, magnesium, and zinc.

Tomatoes and cancer: Many of the very thrilling researches undertaken on tomatoes have concentrated on the fruit/ vegetable’s competency to provide protection against cancer, particularly prostate cancer.

Tomatoes do not only protect us from prostate cancer. In effect, an increasing amount of evidence hint that to some extent, lycopene offers protection from other forms of cancers too – such as digestive tract, breast, bladder, cervix and lung cancer.

It appears that lycopene lowers the risk of cancer in various different manners. In the form of a potent antioxidant, lycopene assists in blocking the constant degenerative effects of the harmful free radicals inside the body. Lycopene is particularly effectual for this purpose when there is the presence of adequate vitamin E. In effect, lycopene also appears to obstruct the growth aspects that encourage the growth as well as the proliferation of cancer cells. And lastly, it also appears that lycopene also encourages the body to increase a further effectual immune protection against cancer.

Since lycopene is soluble in fat, it requires some amount of dietary fat to transport this potent antioxidant through the bloodstream. However, it needs to be mentioned that consuming a whole, fresh tomato out of your hand is not a very good source of this nourishment – lycopene. The most effective foods based on a tomato that appears to provide maximum protection against cancer are prepared with some amount of oil at all times. A salad prepared with tomato with added virgin olive oil is a food that genuinely promotes health. It may be noted that the greenish hue of olive oil signifies the existence of polyphenols. When these polyphenols contained by virgin olive oil are blended with the potent nourishment’s present in tomatoes, it gives spaghetti sauce a healthy flavor to treat on. It may also be used in soups based on tomatoes for the same purpose.

Tomatoes excellent for the heart: Besides being an effective food for protection against cancer, there is sufficient evidence that consuming tomatoes also has a crucial role in lowering the risk of cardiovascular ailments. Lycopene’s antioxidant function in conjugation with other potent antioxidants present in tomatoes, for instance, beta-carotene and vitamin C, work within the body to combat the harmful free radicals that might otherwise harm the cells as well as cell membranes. The protection of the cells, as well as their membranes, lowers the risks of inflammation and, hence, the advancement as well as acuteness of atherosclerosis. In fact, lycopene present in tomatoes has been found to be very effectual in providing protection against heart attacks.

Healthy skin: When the tomato plants are growing outdoors in the wild, they need to guard themselves against any possible attack. In fact, these plants are under continuous assault from the ultraviolet rays (UV rays), predators as well as environmental pollution. Hence, it is very important that these plants should have a first, strong line of protection. In the case of humans as well as other living things, the skin is the first line of defense. Be it the skin or peel of an apple, the covering of a grape or the outer layer of an orange, this portion of the fruit possesses wonderful antioxidant competence that allows it to endure the attacks of nature.

For instance, the exterior leaves of cabbage and spinach have the maximum concentrations of vitamin C, while the florets of broccoli have additional vitamin C compared to its stalks.

For example, 100 grams of fresh apple (peels included) enclose approximately 142 mg of flavonoids. On the other hand, an equal amount of apples without their skin or peel enclose just 97 mg of flavonoids. A very common flavonoid known as quercetin which has anti-inflammatory attributes is only present in the peel of the apples and not in the fruit’s flesh. In other words, the antioxidant actions of 100 grams of apples sans its skin or peel are about 55 per cent of the actions of 100 grams of apples having its skin. More precisely, apples without their peel are just about 50 percent as potent as those with their skin. Similarly, the paper-thin brown hued skins on peanuts as well as almonds are packed with a range of bioactive polyphenols.

It is advisable that you consume the right fruits and vegetables that have their skin/ peel or rind on. In fact, the skin is also the place where the detrimental pesticides and latently harmful bacteria may be found. Therefore, it is essential to meticulously wash the fruits and vegetables prior to eating them raw. At the same time, do not forget that while drinking juices of vegetables and fruits, it is important to choose the ones with sediments at the bottom. These sediments actually contain portions of the skin and pulp of the vegetables and fruits and they are all vital sources of antioxidants.


In The Raw: To Cook Or Not To Cook?

Imagine never again savoring the smell of baking cakes or charbroiled steak. Could you? Why would you? Yet some people worldwide are turning away not only from meat and processed food but also from cooking.
Fresh fruit and vegetables…why spoil them with cooking?

Welcome to the raw food diet.

As the Standard American Diet becomes more fat-laden, sugar-sated, and processed, the prevalence of metabolic disorders, obesity, type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular disease (CVD) are soaring.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), obesity now affects nearly 35 percent of the population of the United States, over 29 million people have been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, and heart disease is the number one killer.

High levels of LDL (bad) cholesterol and triglycerides and low HDL (good) cholesterol have all been linked to atherosclerosis, the main cause of cardiovascular disease (CVD).

Most scientists would agree that less saturated fats, lower sugar and salt intake, and more fresh fruit and vegetables go a long way to avoiding a range of “lifestyle diseases.”

National health guidelines recommend at least five portions, or 400 grams, of fruits and vegetables a day. Some studies suggest that one extra portion of fruit or vegetables daily could lower the risk of ischemic stroke by 6 percent.

Others go further. To be healthy, they say, a person should eat only raw food.

The principle of a raw food diet is that, just as the human body cannot tolerate temperatures above 40 degrees Celsius, or 104 degrees Fahrenheit, neither can food. Whatever we eat, say, advocates, should not be heated above 104 degrees Fahrenheit.

In the raw food diet, foods may be eaten fresh, dehydrated with low heat, or fermented.

This, say the raw food dieters, leaves the food “live,” and “live” food is full of life energy. Cooked food is “dead.” It has no life energy.

What types of raw food diet are there?

A person on a raw food diet eats between 70 percent and 100 percent of their food raw. Some raw food dieters eat some food cooked, but mainly food is eaten raw. A raw food diet is not “all or nothing.” It is about eating as much raw food as possible.

A raw food diet can be quite sophisticated, using blenders and smoothie makers to make green smoothies, or dehydrators that blow air through food at a temperature below 115 degrees Fahrenheit, to make it crispy.

In 2010, the U.S. already had over 100 raw food restaurants. High-profile personalities who follow the diet include Demi Moore and Gwyneth Paltrow. Mainstream magazines provide recipes. The message seems to be: You can fit more raw food into your life.

Elsewhere, people live simply in raw food communities or “eco-villages.” Members cultivate their own food, without chemicals. They allow “weeds” such as dandelions to grow for consumption, and they harvest wild food in the mountains. For some, making the raw food diet a total lifestyle choice is more satisfying.

Beetles, worms, insects, and wild bird’s eggs are considered “very tasty” by one writer, although he goes on to ask if it is really right to kill and eat animals. He notes that this question is “very disputed in the raw food scene,” and he calls on people to respect each others’ differences.

Some “fully raw” dieters eat only whole foods, without chopping or juicing, to maximize fiber and nutrients. Studies have shown that the body may metabolize juice differently from whole foods.

There are also recommendations about mixing foods, for example, not mixing sweet and acid fruits. Fasting is recommended in some circles.

A raw food diet does not have to be only fruit and vegetables. Raw vegans eat no animal produce, but a mixed raw food diet can include meat, fish, liver, and eggs. Clearly, these must be consumed fresh, to avoid disease.

Raw food dieters may be:

  • Mixed raw food dieters, consuming small amounts of meat and fish, mostly uncooked
  • Ovo-lacto-vegetarian raw food dieters, eating no meat or fish
  • Vegan raw food dieters, avoiding all animal products.

A raw food diet, then, is not a single entity.

What kind of food do raw food dieters eat?

Foods in their natural state are suitable. Popular foods include fruit, vegetables, nuts, water-soaked and sprouted seeds, beans, and grains. Some recommend fermented foods, such as kimchi and yogurt.

[dandelion salad]
Dandelion: Wild, healthy and free.

“Sprouts” provide protein. They are prepared by soaking and sprouting beans or seeds in large glass containers or “sprouters.”

Raw nuts provide oil, and dried fruits give energy.

Wild foods such as mushrooms, plantain, and dandelion can be harvested freely, but wild food harvesters are warned to learn what is safe and what to avoid.

Some say that water should come mostly from fruit and vegetables, but if extra is needed, it should be purified through distillation to eliminate additional chemicals.

In one study, a group of 201 “raw fooders” were found to eat 95 percent of their food raw. They consumed between 1,029 and 1,313 grams of fruit a day, and 411 to 457 grams of vegetables. Overall, 97 percent of food consumed was of plant origin, with minimal bread, cereals, rice, legumes, and dairy products, such as unpasteurized milk and raw yogurt.

Their diet was high in fiber and low in energy. Most of the energy was from carbohydrates.

Organic produce is preferable where possible, to avoid toxic pesticide residues. However, advocates concede that may nonorganic foods may be appropriate if limited availability would mean going without essential nutrients.

Foods should be locally produced to reduce transportation and storage time, as this will start to “kill” the food.

What are the benefits of a raw food diet?

Raw food dieters say that eating only raw food relieves the body of toxins, as toxins enter the body more slowly than they are eliminated. Web sites include testimonials of individuals whose chronic disease disappeared once they started the raw food diet.

One website claims that cooking removes electrons from the food, detracting from the energy it provides.

Expressions such as “light,” “energy” and “life force” may be used. Sprouts, for example, as the start of a plant, are said to contain all its “life force.” Eaten “live,” this goodness is supposed to be passed on to the consumer.

Adherents claim that reducing protein intake is beneficial because too much protein causes fermentation in the digestive system. Moreover, since the body naturally produces enzymes, some say, protein is not really needed.

On the other hand, say raw food experts, cooking kills the enzymes in food, so that the body is unable to benefit from them anyway.

Not all of these claims are supported by scientific research. Some, for example, regarding “life force,” are not verifiable by scientific means. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have previously questioned some of the health claims for bean sprouts on one website.

Does it make nutritional sense?

Fresh fruit and vegetables are undoubtedly healthy, but a raw food diet can lead to nutritional deficiencies if not followed with care.

Some raw food proponents urge individuals to make their own diet plan, to avoid nutritional problems. People who are prone to deficiencies may need to adjust their diet, eat some cooked food, or take supplements. Each raw food dieter should be sensitive to their own body and needs.

Let’s look at some of the issues.

Vitamin B12

Vitamin B12 is needed to keep red blood cells healthy, prevent anemia, and potentially protect against CVD. Animal produce is a good source of vitamin B12. One study found that 79 percent of raw food dieters had low or marginal levels of B12. Some successfully avoided this by using B12 supplements.

B12 deficiency was most likely in vegan raw food dieters, and least likely among mixed raw dieters, suggesting that B12 deficiency stems from the lack of animal produce rather than not cooking, although eating only raw food also implies eating less meat.

Triglycerides and cholesterol

A diet rich in fruit and vegetables is generally associated with low levels of triglycerides and cholesterol. In one study, 90 percent of raw food had healthy levels of LDL (bad) cholesterol and triglycerides.

However, 46 percent also had low concentrations of HDL (good) cholesterol, and the more raw food consumed, the lower the level of both types of cholesterol. HDL is seen as useful in reversing the effects of LDL, but since LDL levels were low anyway, this was not considered a major problem, especially as all the participants had a lower risk of CVD than the general population.


The intake of calcium, needed for healthy bones, can be low in a plant-based diet. Raw food dieters can get calcium from tofu, mustard and turnip greens, bok choy, and kale. Spinach is high in calcium, but it can oxalate, which inhibits absorption. Careful planning is needed to ensure sufficient calcium.

Carotenoids, and vitamin A

Dietary carotenoids and vitamin A are associated with a reduced risk of chronic diseases. Raw food diets are said to be healthy because they provide high levels of carotenoids, but there has been little research to confirm this.

In one study, where 95 percent of dietary intake was raw food, mostly fruits, 82 percent of participants had normal vitamin A levels, and 63 percent had concentrations of b-carotene that are linked with the prevention of chronic disease.

The team concluded that very high consumption of fruit and vegetables in a raw food diet can provide enough vitamin A to protect from disease, as long as it is consumed with fat in the same meal, as, for example, by eating fruits with nuts and seeds.

What about the benefits of cooking?

It is true that certain nutrients, notably vitamin C, are lost in cooking. The National Cancer Institute warn that charred food can produce carcinogenic substances.

[chick peas]
Bean and garbanzo sprouts provide protein but watch out for bacteria.

However, cooking can make food more suitable for human consumption.

Not only does heat kill bacteria, but it also breaks down fibers and substances that release more nutrients and help digestion. Root vegetables, for example, provide a range of nutrients, but they are hard to digest unless cooked.

Some scientists have found that cooking tomatoes make more lycopene available for the body to use. Lycopene may help to protect against cancer, although this has not been confirmed. One study has found that levels of lycopene were below the recommended levels in 77 percent of raw food dieters.

Some chemicals in food prevent the absorption of minerals such as zinc, iron, calcium, and magnesium, but heat reduces the levels of these substances. Cooking spinach, for example, makes more iron and calcium available.

Cooking also makes food safe. Not only meat, but also sprouts can carry salmonella, listeria, and E. coli. Food recommends not giving raw sprouts to children, the elderly, pregnant women, and people with a weakened immune system.

Claims that cooking damages or destroys “most” nutrients and leaves “mostly empty calories,” do not, perhaps, help the raw food cause, since people have been cooking, eating, and thriving for at least 200,000 years.

It’s a detox

“Detoxification” is a popular concept, but there is little scientific evidence that a raw food “detox” eliminates toxins from the body.

For one thing, a detox tends to focus on the gut and the liver, but toxins can collect anywhere in the body, not just these two places.

As the Mayo Clinic point out, “Detoxification (detox) diets are popular, but there is little evidence that they eliminate toxins from your body.”

In the British Medical Bulletin, Dr. E. Ernst notes that the benefits of “detox” are unproven. There is a lack of serious research, he says, and it could lead to malnutrition.

Dr. Ernst concludes that currently, “Alternative detox is biologically not plausible, and clinically unproven. We should warn our patients from using it.”


Raw food advocates often note that people did very well before the fire was invented. Animals do not cook, they say, so why should we? But the discovery of fire, up to 1 million years ago, radically transformed human life.

Eating raw means less damage to the environment from cooking fuels. But how much of the world’s population can be sustained on wild, raw food, straight from the source? And how much transportation and refrigeration would be needed if everyone were to require raw food?

As one skeptic notes, “In a natural setting, without electricity, anyone located outside of a narrow belt of land near the equators, which have year-round growth potential, would need to dedicate their entire day to growing, gathering, preserving, and storing food.”

Raw food in the balance

The raw food diet can be controversial. Few would disagree that more fresh food is good.

Dr. Simon Capewell, of Newcastle University in the United Kingdom, told MNT recently that, as a doctor, he would recommend “almost unlimited” fruit and vegetable consumption.

But not everyone finds the “raw” argument convincing.

As Cornell University researcher Rui Hai Liu points out, cooking makes vegetables taste good, and if they taste good, people are more likely to eat them.

One research team suggests abandoning terms like vegan and vegetarian and talking instead about eating healthy, whole, plant-based foods and minimizing the consumption of animal products.

Raw food specialists point out that a raw food diet is not healthful in itself. It must be used in the right way. People must be aware of their own body, how to avoid deficiencies, and how to keep healthy. A raw food diet needs planning, discipline, and a good understanding of what one is eating. It does not have to be extreme: People should just eat as much raw as they can.

Any radical dietary change should be discussed first with a doctor.

“Meenhard,” from a raw food community in Southern Spain, stresses that eating raw is not about dogma or ideology; it is about being healthy. Making raw food ideology damages relationships between people. That is not what eating raw is about.

Perhaps one-day scientific research will prove that raw food really is the healthiest option.

Then again, would we really turn away from the smell of freshly baked bread?

Food as Medicine: Rutabaga (Brassica napus subsp. rapifera, Brassicaceae)

Rutabaga (Brassica napus subsp. rapifera, Brassicaceae), also known as “swede” or “Swedish turnip,” is a natural hybrid between cabbage (B. oleracea) and turnip (B. rapa).1 It can also be found under the subspecies “napobrassica.” Considered a root vegetable, the rutabaga is actually the enlarged base of the stem of the plant.2 Most commonly, rutabagas have a pale yellow or white inner flesh and a darker yellow or purple exterior.

Rutabaga is a relative newcomer to the world of domesticated crops, with its first mention in botanical literature appearing in the 17th century.3 The nickname “swede” comes from the plant’s geographical origin, as it became a fixture in Swedish agriculture before spreading around the world.4 It was introduced in North America in the early 19th century.

A biennial plant that stores well, rutabaga thrives in cooler climates where the summer season is not excessively hot.5 Rutabagas are considered a root crop and lend themselves to longer post-harvest storage when placed in a root cellar or similar environment that is damp and cool, lasting up to six months in storage.6,7 To prevent loss of moisture during storage or transit, the green tops are removed and the bulbs are waxed.5

Phytochemicals and Constituents

Rutabagas are rich in carbohydrates and fiber and contain little fat or protein.8 They contain about half of the calorie content of potatoes and are relatively high in vitamin C and potassium.

A diet high in fiber has many benefits, primarily for the gastrointestinal tract.9 Insoluble fiber, which cannot be absorbed and digested, promotes healthy bowel movements and lowers the risk of developing disorders such as acid reflux, ulcers, constipation, hemorrhoids, and diverticulosis, a condition in which small, bulging pouches develop along the digestive tract. These pouches can become inflamed, which is known as diverticulitis, causing abdominal pain and fever and requiring treatment. The fiber content of rutabagas consists mostly of insoluble fiber, which, in addition to maintaining bowel health, may also lower the risk of cardiovascular disease, hypertension, diabetes, stroke, and obesity.10

Potassium is an essential mineral for the body. It functions as an electrolyte, conducting electricity through the body, ensuring the proper function of cells, tissues, and organs.11 Other important electrolytes include sodium, chloride, calcium, and magnesium. Maintaining healthy potassium levels is vital for maintaining bone health, especially for the aging population, and people with diets high in potassium are at lower risk for stroke and heart disease. Additionally, potassium levels depend on an inverse relationship with salt intake: those who consume too much sodium in proportion to potassium will have less potassium available for absorption by the body.12

Other bioactive components in rutabagas include glucosinolates and phenols, similar to other plants in the Brassicaceae family, such as broccoli (Brassica oleracea)13. Glucosinolates are precursors to isothiocyanates, which may reduce the risk of certain cancers.14 In the plant, glucosinolates are converted to isothiocyanates by an enzyme called myrosinase. However, the enzyme is deactivated with excessive heat so cooking rutabaga will impact the conversion of glucosinolates to isothiocyanates. Gut bacteria also have this ability to convert glucosinolates to isothiocyanates. Phenols act as antioxidants, which reduce free radicals in the body.

Historical and Commercial Uses

The cultivation of rutabagas began in the 1600s in Bohemia (which now makes up the western Czech Republic) before they made their way to Scandinavia, where the cold-weather crop was embraced as both foods for humans and livestock.6 By the 18th century, rutabaga consumption had spread to France and England.2 Rutabagas were introduced in the United States in the early 19th century, where they were primarily grown as livestock fodder. Because the plant is so hardy and grows well in bad weather conditions, rutabagas became associated with times of scarcity, which impacted their popularity as a food product. Even in modern times in the United States, they are not as widely consumed as other, more familiar root vegetables. However, the rutabaga has had some interesting cultural impacts.

Jack o’ lanterns are a Halloween tradition with roots in Irish culture. The origin myth tells the story of a trickster named Jack, who thwarted the devil’s plan to take his soul and found his way out of hell with the aid of a burning ember and a hollowed-out rutabaga (or “turnip”).15 Though the rutabaga’s colloquial name of “turnip” in the British Isles has resulted in the erroneous belief that Brassica rapa was used, it is accepted by the standard lore that rutabagas were, in fact, the first jack o’ lanterns. When the practice migrated to the United States, where pumpkins (Cucurbita pepo, Cucurbitaceae) were readily available and already involved in many fall celebrations, the pumpkin replaced the rutabaga.

Many towns with a prominent Scandinavian population have events to celebrate the rutabaga and its place in cultural traditions. One of the more tongue-in-cheek celebrations is the International Rutabaga Curl competition, which has been a tradition in Ithaca, New York, since 1996.16 Notably, in 2016, the town of Cumberland, Wisconsin, held its 84th Annual Rutabaga Festival Parade.
Modern Research

In a recent study, rutabaga methanol extracts killed human liver cancer cells in vitro and also decreased the rate of cancer cell proliferation.17 The normal, non-cancerous cells were not affected. Compared to root or seed extracts, rutabaga sprout extracts were more effective at battling liver cancer cells. This was due to the significantly higher levels of flavonoids found in the rutabaga sprout, which correlated to stronger antioxidant activity.

Rutabaga is a variety of the rapeseed plant (Brassica napus, Brassicaceae).Brassica napus contain plant sterols that, in isolation, have shown effects against prostate cancer cells.18 The sterol called brassinolide induced apoptosis (normal, pre-programmed cell death) in these prostate cancer cells during in vitro trials. Researchers concluded that brassinolide “might, therefore, be a promising candidate for the treatment of prostate cancer.”

The bioactive compounds present in cruciferous vegetables, including rutabagas, have been studied for many different conditions. A randomized, crossover, controlled study showed that intestinal bacteria were changed within two weeks of eating a diet rich in cruciferous vegetables, although the bacterial colonization was different with each study participant.19 A hospital-based, case-control study showed that consumption of raw, rather than cooked, cruciferous vegetables decreased the risk of bladder cancer.20Additionally, growth conditions can impact the glucosinolate content in cruciferous vegetables.21Supplementing the soil with selenium, nitrogen, or sulfur was correlated with an increase in glucosinolate content, but when applied in excess had an inhibiting effect.

Rutabaga’s status as a nutritious food has often been overlooked in the United States. Combined with its ease of preparation and possible health benefits, this less glamorous cousin of cabbage and turnips deserves a popularity renaissance.

Nutrient Profile8

Macronutrient Profile: (Per 1 cup raw rutabaga cubes [approx. 140 g])

52 calories
1.5 g protein
12.07 g carbohydrate
0.22 g fat

Secondary Metabolites: (Per 1 cup raw rutabaga cubes [approx. 140 g])

Excellent source of:
Vitamin C: 35 mg (58.3% DV)

Very good source of:
Potassium: 427 mg (12.2% DV)
Dietary Fiber: 3.2 g (12.8% DV)

Good source of:
Manganese: 0.18 mg (9.2% DV)
Thiamin: 0.13 mg (8.7% DV)
Phosphorus: 74 mg (7.4% DV)
Folate: 29 mcg (7.3%DV)
Magnesium: 28 mg (7.0% DV)
Vitamin B6: 0.14 mg (7.0% DV)
Calcium: 60 mg (6.0% DV)

Also provides:
Niacin: 0.98 mg (4.9% DV)
Riboflavin: 0.06 mg (3.5% DV)
Iron: 0.62 mg (3.4% DV)
Vitamin E: 0.42 mg (1.4% DV)

DV = Daily Value as established by the US Food and Drug Administration, based on a 2,000-calorie diet.

Recipe: Honey-Lemon Glazed Rutabagas and Carrots

Adapted from: Bon Appétit22


  • 1 1/4 pounds rutabaga, peeled and sliced into matchstick-sized strips
  • 1 pound carrots, peeled and sliced into matchstick-sized strips
  • 1/4 cup unsalted butter
  • 1/4 cup freshly-squeezed lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
  • 3 tablespoons honey
  • 1/2 cup fresh chives, minced
  • Salt and pepper to taste


  1. In a large saucepan, bring lightly salted water to boil. Add rutabagas and cook for 2 minutes. Add carrots and cook until vegetables are tender about 3 minutes. Drain.

  2. Melt butter in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add lemon juice, zest, and honey. Bring to a boil.

  3. Add the vegetables and cook until glazed, stirring occasionally about 6 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

  4. Remove from heat and stir in chives.


  1. Van Wyk BE. Food Plants of the World. Portland, OR: Timber Press; 2006.
  2. Davidson A. The Oxford Companion to Food. New York, NY: Oxford University Press; 1999.
  3. Undersander DJ, Kaminski AR, Oelke AE, Doll JD, Schulte EE, Oplinger ES. Rutabaga. Alternative Field Crops Manual. St. Paul, MN: University of Minnesota; Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin; January 1992. Available at:
  4. Shields, DS, Spratt S. Rutabaga. American Heritage Vegetable website. Columbia, SC: University of South Carolina. Available at:
  5. Onstad D. Whole Foods Companion. White River Junction, VT: Chelsea Green Publishing Company; 2004.
  6. Ensminger AH, Ensminger ME, Konlande JE, Robson JRK. The Concise Encyclopedia of Food and Nutrition. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press; 1995.
  7. Yepsen R. A Celebration of Heirloom Vegetables. New York, NY: Artisan; 1998.
  8. Full Report (All Nutrients): 11435, Rutabagas, raw. USDA Agricultural Research Service website. Available at: Accessed July 25, 2016.
  9. Mayo Clinic Staff. Dietary fiber: Essential for a healthy diet. Mayo Clinic website. September 22, 2015. Available at: Accessed July 21, 2016.
  10. Anderson JW, Baird P, Davis RH Jr., et al. Health benefits of dietary fiber. Nutrition Reviews. 2009;67(4):188-205.
  11. Ehrlich SD. Potassium. University of Maryland Medical Center. August 5, 2015. Available at: Accessed July 25, 2016.
  12. Mateljan G. The World’s Healthiest Foods. Seattle, WA: George Mateljan Foundation; 2015.
  13. Bauman H. Food as medicine: broccoli (Brassica oleracea, Brassicaceae). HerbalEGram. March 2016;13:3. Available at: Accessed July 25, 2016.
  14. Li H, Tsao R, Deng Z. Factors affecting the antioxidant potential and health benefits of plant foods.Can J Plant Sci. 2012;92:1101-1111.
  15. History of the Jack o’ Lantern. Heritage and History website. October 25, 2011. Available at: Accessed July 25, 2016.
  16. Game History. The International Rutabaga Curl website. Available at: Accessed July 25, 2016.
  17. Pasko P, Bukowska-Strakova K, Gdula-Argasinska J, Tyszka-Czochara M. Rutabaga (Brassica napus L. var. Napo brassica) seeds, roots, and sprouts: A novel kind of food with antioxidant properties and proapoptotic potential in Hep G2 hepatoma cell line. J Med Food. 2013;16(8):749–759.
  18. Wu YD, Lou YJ. Brassinolide, a plant sterol from the pollen of Brassica napus L., induces apoptosis in human prostate cancer PC-3 cells. Pharmazie. May 2007;62(5):392-395.
  19. Li F, Hullar MAJ, Schwarz Y, Lampe JW. Human gut bacterial communities are altered by the addition of cruciferous vegetables to a controlled fruit and vegetable-free diet. J Nutr. 2009;139:1685-1691.
  20. Tang L, Zirpoli GR, Guru K, et al. Consumption of raw cruciferous vegetables is inversely associated with bladder cancer risk. Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev. 2008;17:938-944.
  21. Sarikamis G. Glucosinolates in crucifers and their potential effects against cancer: Review. Can J Plant Sci. 2009;89:953-959.
  22. Kelley JT. Carrots and Rutabagas with [sic] Lemon and Honey. Bon Appétit. November 1, 2001. Available at: Accessed August 3, 2016.

Food as Medicine: Tomato (Solanum Lycopersicum, Solanaceae)

History and Traditional Use

Range and Habitat

Tomato (Solanum Lycopersicum, Solanaceae) is, botanically, a fruit. Nevertheless, in the 1893 Nix v. Hedden decision, the United States Supreme Court classified tomatoes as a vegetable, which created an economic advantage for US producers, because taxes were levied on vegetables, but not fruits, imported into the US.1 The Supreme Court decided that “in the common language of the people, whether sellers or consumers of provisions, all these are vegetables … are usually served at dinner … and not, like fruits generally, as dessert.”2 The tomato is a common ingredient in cuisines around the world, and is cultivated as an annual food crop, although technically it is classified as a short-lived perennial.3

A member of the nightshade family, the tomato is related to the potato (Solanum tuberosum), eggplant (S. melongena), bell pepper (Capsicum annuum), and chili pepper (C. frutescens). Tomatoes are colorful, with various tomato cultivars producing fruit that is generally red, orange, and yellow in different sizes and shapes. Tomato plants grow 3-10 feet in height and have a sprawling growth habit, with hairy stems, bright green compound leaves, and small yellow flowers.4,5 The tomato plant produces a fleshy fruit with seeds embedded in a watery matrix that requires delicate care during transport.6

Tomatoes grew wild as a weed in South and Central America, and the size of the original tomato was more comparable to the cherry tomato than the larger varieties.6,7 Aztecs and Incas were among the first to cultivate the tomato due to its resemblance to the green tomatillo (Physalis philadelphica and P. ixocarpa, Solanaceae), one of their cuisine staples.4,6 After arriving in Mexico, Spanish conquistadors were intrigued by the tomato and took seeds to Europe. The tomato spread throughout Europe and made its way into Mediterranean cuisine during the 16th century. Today, the tomato and potato dominate the US vegetable market in dietary intake and economic value.1

Phytochemicals and Constituents

Tomatoes are a good source of vitamin C, vitamin A, folate, potassium, carotenoids, and flavonoids.5 The tomato skin contains 98% of the tomato’s total flavonol content, which includes quercetin and kaempferol. Studies have shown that potassium and vitamin C in the diet lower blood pressure, which is good because high blood pressure is a risk factor for cardiovascular disease (CVD).8 Tomatoes also contain minerals including phosphorus, magnesium, molybdenum, and calcium.5 Tomato-based products, including tomato paste, contain these same nutrients in varying concentrations depending on how the tomatoes were processed.9

The fruit is dense in lycopene and several other carotenoids, including phytoene, phytofluene, zeta-carotene, beta-carotene, gamma-carotene, and neurosporene.5 Carotenoids give tomatoes their varying colors.10 Tomatoes and tomato products are the richest sources of lycopene in the American diet, representing more than 85% of all dietary sources of lycopene.

Because of its chemical structure, lycopene is one of the most potent antioxidants.11 Lycopene provides many health benefits, including reducing the risk of cellular oxidative damage, inflammation, and modulation of cellular signaling pathways. There is a strong correlation between lycopene/tomato product intake and the reduction of CVD and cancer incidence.5,8 In vitro studies demonstrate that lycopene reduces cellular proliferation induced by insulin-like growth factors in various cancer cell lines, and protects important cellular biomolecules, including lipids, proteins, and DNA.11 Additionally, lycopene can suppress carcinogen-induced phosphorylation of regulatory proteins and stop cell division in cancer cell lines, providing a mechanism to explain putative cancer preventive effects.

Historical and Commercial Uses

The tomato was not a popular food when introduced to Europe and was originally grown as an ornamental plant. The Solanaceae family famously contains some plants that are poisonous, such as deadly nightshade (Atropa belladonna) and black henbane (Hyoscyamus niger), which made many people suspicious of the bright red fruit.4,6 Europeans overcame their fear of the tomato by the late 18th century, but conflicting information persists in modern times regarding tomato leaves.6,12 The leaves were believed to be as poisonous as the fruit — once thought to be toxic as well — but scientific literature remains undecided on the leaves’ actual toxicity to humans and animals.12 Some chefs and home cooks have reported no adverse effects while cooking with and consuming tomato leaves, but evidence remains largely anecdotal on both sides.

Though little research exists on tomato’s efficacy for skin conditions, such as acne or sunburn, folk remedies recommend preparations of tomato mixed with other ingredients, such as avocado (Persea Americana, Lauraceae), honey, yogurt, or lime (Citrus x latifolia, Rutaceae) juice, applied to the face or other afflicted areas.13

As tomato consumption spread throughout Europe, it gained more acceptance as a versatile food, which inspired Italians to begin mass-producing and canning tomatoes (known as pomodoro, or “golden apple” in Italian) by the early 19th century. The US soon followed, and by the 1830s, ketchup (catsup) became the “national condiment.”4 Currently, the tomato has a wide variety of uses and is one of the most popular vegetables worldwide. In the US, the tomato is the most commonly consumed vegetable.1 The average American consumes nearly 18 pounds of fresh tomatoes and almost 69 pounds of processed tomato products every year.10The Economic Research Service of the US Department of Agriculture estimates that of total raw tomato processing, 35% is processed into sauces, 18% into tomato paste, 17% into canned tomatoes, 15% into juices, and 15% into ketchup. The tomato was the first genetically-engineered food, modified to maintain the firmness of the fruit for longer periods of time during transport.7

Modern Research

The tomato and tomato products have gained greater attention because of the increasing research surrounding their antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.9

Tomatoes have a variety of nutrients and compounds that may contribute to the prevention of CVD and certain cancers by decreasing inflammation. Recent studies have identified lycopene as a beneficial compound that reduces inflammation and oxidation. Oxidative stress at the cellular level leads to the damage of cell membranes and eventually causes inflammation. The chemical transfer of electrons of ascorbic acid (vitamin C) and alpha-tocopherol (vitamin E) prevents damage to fat cells, therefore indirectly preventing inflammation.

Lycopene and Inflammation

Vitamin C and vitamin E may work in combination with lycopene to increase beneficial effects. Researchers observed a greater production of anti-inflammatory cytokines with the combination of the three compounds (lycopene, ascorbic acid, and alpha-tocopherol) compared to the individual compounds or a combination of two.14 (Cytokines are chemical messengers produced by immune cells to communicate with damaged cells and initiate an immune response.) This indicates that consuming tomato provides greater health benefits versus isolated single compounds.

Tomato products may also benefit overweight or obese individuals.15 After 20 days of consuming 330 mL of tomato juice daily while otherwise maintaining their normal diet, overweight and obese women had a decrease in the concentration of certain inflammatory factors compared to baseline and compared to the control group, possibly decreasing the risk of inflammatory conditions such as CVD, diabetes, and other chronic diseases.


Chronic inflammation is associated with an increased risk of degenerative diseases like cancer. In healthy human subjects, dietary supplementation with lycopene for just one week increased serum lycopene levels and reduced oxidation of lipids, proteins, lipoproteins, and DNA, whereas subjects with diets free of lycopene supplementation or tomato products showed low blood levels of lycopene and increased lipid oxidation.11 Blood and tissue levels of lycopene were inversely associated with risks of breast cancer and prostate cancer. Several epidemiological studies have found that high intake of tomatoes/tomato products was linked to lower incidences of gastrointestinal (GI) cancer and a 50% reduction in cancer death rates in an elderly US population.16 In a review of 72 epidemiological studies, 57 (79%) confirmed an inverse association between tomato intake and risk of several different types of cancer, measured by serum lycopene levels and predisposition to cancer.

Increased lycopene intake from various tomato products has been shown to correlate with a reduced risk of developing prostate cancer.11 Lycopene’s prostate cancer-prevention benefits are thought to stem from mechanisms of inhibiting proliferation, anti-androgen and antigrowth factor effects, and decreasing levels of oxidative damage to DNA and T-cells.9 In fact, consumption of 10 or more servings per week showed a 35% reduction in risk of even the most aggressive types of prostate cancer. Epidemiological evidence confirms the relationship between tomato/lycopene consumption and prostate cancer risks. A survey of 51,529 male health professionals between 40 and 75 years old found that consuming more than two servings a week of tomato products resulted in a dose-dependent risk reduction in the incidence of prostate cancer. Greater risk reduction is associated with tomato sauce consumption than with lycopene supplementation alone.9

Cardiovascular Health

More than 70 million Americans have some form of CVD, which accounts for 38% of all deaths in the US.9 Higher concentrations of lycopene in fat tissue were noted to be protective against CVD. When tomatoes/tomato products are removed from the diet, the antioxidant capacity of plasma decreases and then increases when they are added back. Consuming tomato products daily for two-four weeks increases antioxidant enzyme defenses and has been shown to reduce plasma lipid peroxides and the susceptibility of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) to oxidation.17 In 2004, researchers reported an inverse association for women consuming more than seven servings per week of tomato-based products and CVD. This association was not observed with lycopene supplementation alone.

Different tomato products contain various concentrations of lycopene and other nutrients. Tomato paste is one of the most lycopene-rich tomato products. A 2012 study examined the effect of tomato paste in the endothelial function of 19 young, healthy individuals.9 After consuming 70 g of tomato paste daily for 15 days, researchers reported that subjects experienced a significant increase in flow-mediated dilation and a significant decrease in total oxidative stress (TOS) compared to baseline. This may indicate that the decrease of TOS increases endothelial function, therefore decreasing the risk of future CVD.


The bioavailability of a compound refers to the amount that is absorbed and used by the body. Thus, increased bioavailability means increased activity and possible benefits from that compound. Tomatoes are one of the few fruits or vegetables whose nutrients are absorbed more readily when cooked. When tomatoes are processed, lycopene becomes more bioavailable, especially when heat is used, which softens cell walls in tomato tissues, and other dietary lipids are present during processing.11,17

The popular combination of tomatoes with olive oil may be as healthy as it is delicious. Researchers observed subjects who consumed tomatoes in conjunction with olive oil and those who consumed tomatoes alone.18 The results found significantly increased plasma concentrations of lycopene in the olive oil group. The dietary sources that deliver the most concentrated sources of lycopene are processed tomato products including tomato juice, ketchup, paste, sauce, and soup.19 Consuming lycopene from whole food products, including tomatoes, instead of in supplement form, confers the benefits from the interaction with and enhancement from different constituents.17

Nutrient Profile20

Macronutrient Profile: (Per 1 large tomato [approx. 182 g])

33 calories
1.6 g protein
7.08 g carbohydrate
0.36 g fat

Secondary Metabolites: (Per 1 large tomato [approx. 182 g])

Excellent source of:
Vitamin C: 24.9 mg (41.5% DV)
Vitamin A: 1,516 IU (30.3% DV)

Very good source of:
Vitamin K: 14.4 mcg (18.0% DV)
Potassium: 431 mg (12.3% DV)
Molybdenum: 9 mcg (12.0% DV)
Manganese: 0.21 mg (10.5% DV)

Good source of:
Dietary Fiber: 2.2 g (8.8% DV)
Vitamin B6: 0.15 mg (7.5% DV)
Folate: 27 mcg (6.8% DV)
Niacin: 1.08 mg (5.4% DV)

Also provides:
Magnesium: 20 mg (5.0% DV)
Vitamin E: 0.98 mg (4.9% DV)
Thiamin: 0.07 mg (4.7% DV)
Phosphorus: 44 mg (4.4% DV)
Iron: 0.5 mg (2.8% DV)
Riboflavin: 0.04 mg (2.4% DV)
Zinc: 0.31 mg (2.1% DV)
Calcium: 18 mg (1.8% DV)

DV = Daily Value as established by the US Food and Drug Administration, based on a 2,000-calorie diet.

Recipe: Gazpacho Salad

Adapted from The New Spanish Table21


  • 2 1/2 cups day-old dense country bread diced into 1-inch cubes
  • 2 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon cumin seeds
  • 3 tablespoons sherry vinegar or red wine vinegar
  • 1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 2/3 pounds fresh tomatoes, cored and diced into 3/4-inch cubes
  • 1/2 cup cucumber, seeded and diced
  • 1/2 cup white onion, finely diced
  • 1/2 cup seedless green grapes, cut in half
  • 1/2 cup slivered fresh mint or basil (or combination)


  1. Heat the oven to 350°F.

  2. Arrange the bread cubes in a single layer on a large rimmed baking sheet and bake until they are lightly browned, 8 to 10 minutes, stirring once. Let the bread cubes cool to room temperature.

  3. Using a mortar and pestle, mash the garlic, salt, and cumin seeds into a paste. Add vinegar and olive oil and whisk to combine.

  4. Add toasted bread, tomatoes, cucumber, onion, grapes, and herbs in a large bowl and toss to combine. Add the dressing and toss to coat. Let the salad stand for 5 to 10 minutes before serving to allow the bread to soak up the dressing and vegetable juices.


  1. Food Consumption and Demand: Tomatoes. USDA Economic Research Service website. February 3, 2016. Available at: Accessed June 23, 2016.
  2. Nix v. Hedden. No. 137 (United States Supreme Court 1893).
  3. Van Wyk B-E. Food Plants of the World. Portland, OR: Timber Press; 2006.
  4. The National Geographic Society. Edible: An Illustrated Guide to the World’s Food Plants. Lane Cove, Australia: Global Book Publishing; 2008.
  5. Perveen R, Suleria HA, Anjum FM, Butt MS, Pasha I, Ahmad S. Tomato (Solanum Lycopersicum) carotenoids and lycopene chemistry; metabolism, absorption, nutrition, and allied health claims: A comprehensive review. Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr. 2015;55(7):919-929.
  6. Murray M, Pizzorno J, Pizzorno L. The Encyclopedia of Healing Foods. New York, NY: Atria Books; 2005.
  7. Green A. Field Guide to Produce. Philadelphia, PA: Quirk Books; 2004.
  8. Willcox JK, Catignani GL, Sheryl. L. Tomatoes and cardiovascular health. Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr.2010;1(43):1-18.
  9. Xaplanteris P, Vlachopoulos C, Pietri P, et al. Tomato paste supplementation improves endothelial dynamics and reduces plasma total oxidative status in healthy subjects. Nutr Res. 2012;32(5):390-394.
  10. Canene-Adams K, Campbell JK, Zaripheh S, Jeffery EH, Erdman JW. The tomato as a functional food.J Nutr. 2005;135(5):1226-1230.
  11. Agarwal S, Rao AV. Tomato lycopene and its role in human health and chronic diseases. CMAJ.2000;163(6):739-744.
  12. McGee H. Accused, Yes, but Probably Not a Killer. The New York Times. July 28, 2009. Available at: Accessed June 20, 2016.
  13. Khan B. Tomato for Clear Skin. The Times of India. April 21, 2013. Available at: Accessed June 20, 2016.
  14. Hazewindus M, Haenen GR, Weseler A, Aalt. B. The anti-inflammatory effect of lycopene complements the antioxidant action of ascorbic acid and a-tocopherol. Food Chem. 2012;132(2):954-958.
  15. Ghavipour M, Saedisomeolia A, Djalali M, et al. Tomato juice consumption reduces systemic inflammation in overweight and obese females. Br J Nutr. 2013;109(11):2031-2035.
  16. Giovannucci E. Tomatoes, tomato-based products, lycopene, and cancer: a review of the epidemiologic literature. J Natl Cancer Inst. 1999;91:317-31.
  17. Burton-Freeman B, Reimers K. Tomato consumption, and health: emerging benefits. Am J Lifestyle Med. 2010;5(2):182-191.
  18. Fielding JM, Rowley KG, Cooper P, O’Dea K. Increases in plasma lycopene concentration after consumption of tomatoes cooked with olive oil. Asia Pac J Clin Nutr. 2005;14(2):131-136.
  19. Burton-Freeman B, Sesso HD. Whole food versus supplement: comparing the clinical evidence of tomato intake and lycopene supplementation on cardiovascular risk factors. Adv Nutr.2014;5(5):457-485.
  20. Basic Report: 11529, Tomatoes, red, ripe, raw, year round average. USDA Agricultural Research Service website. Available at: Accessed June 22, 2016.
  21. Von Bremzen A. The New Spanish Table. New York, NY: Workman Publishing Company; 2005.

Food as Medicine: Pumpkin (Cucurbita pepo, Cucurbitaceae)

History and Traditional Use

Range and Habitat

Cucurbita pepo is a species in the gourd family which includes many varieties of winter squash and summer squash. Any round and orange fruit yielded by any variety or cultivar (there are many cultivars) of the species is usually called a pumpkin, even though the word has no real botanical meaning.1,2 The species is characterized by sprawling, coarse vines and climbing tendrils that are flexible, hollow, and prickly to the touch with large, oval-shaped leaves.3 Cucurbita pepo flowers are bright yellow or orange with rounded lobes that angle outwards.

The species can produce a wide variety of fruits of different shapes, sizes, and colors, but pumpkins are spherical in shape, covered with a firm, ribbed, thick layer of orange or yellow skin. Inside the skin, the fleshy part of the pumpkin is mildly sweet and grainy. Each fruit contains a lot of seeds, which are flat and ovate-elliptical shaped, dark green in color and enclosed in a creamy white husk. The seed has a fibrous texture with a subtle sweetness and nuttiness. Pumpkins range in size from less than a pound to over 1,000 pounds, but average 7-10 pounds.4 Cucurbita pepo is native to Central America, and evidence of cultivation and use dates back to 5500 BCE.5 The United States is the top producer of pumpkins, followed by Mexico, India, and China, respectively.6

Phytochemicals and Constituents

Several bioactive constituents in pumpkin exhibit medicinal properties, such as anti-diabetic, anti-fungal, antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, hypotensive, and antioxidant actions.3,7 The pumpkin fruit is low in fat and has protein-rich seeds, which make it a nutrient-dense food. Specific peptides and proteins found in pumpkin seeds have demonstrated broad-spectrum antimicrobial activity.7 For example, two of these proteins, alpha-moschin, and beta-moschin have exhibited inhibitory activity against fungal infections caused by Botrytis cinerea, Fusarium oxysporum, and Mycosphaerella arachidicola. Additionally, pumpkin proteins display a synergistic effect with antibiotics for the inhibition of the fungus Candida albicans, which can cause mucous membrane infections, such as thrush, in humans.

Some of the bioactive compounds in pumpkin fruit flesh that offer beneficial health effects are polysaccharides, para-aminobenzoic acid, oils, phytosterols (beta-sitosterol, sitostanol, and avenasterol), proteins, peptides, and lignans.3 Anti-diabetic effects are due to protein-bound polysaccharides (PBPP), which have been shown to increase levels of insulin, decrease blood glucose levels, and enhance glucose tolerance.7 Researchers theorize that this happens due to antioxidant activities which are thought to prevent destruction of pancreatic beta-cells, which produce insulin.6 Therefore, PBPP present in pumpkin may play a role in preventing the development and progression of diabetes.7,8

Additionally, the polyamine content of pumpkins may also play a role in optimizing the function of the pancreas.7 Pumpkin seeds are rich in phytoestrogen content (265 mg per 100g), specifically sec iso lariciresinol.9 Secoisolariciresinol has been shown to exhibit cholesterol-lowering activity, and produce cardioprotective effects through the formation of new blood vessels and decreased apoptosis (programmed cell death). These effects are thought to be the result of antioxidant properties, which inhibit cell membrane damage and scavenge “free radicals.” Pumpkin seeds also contain beneficial compounds such as linoleic acid, essential amino acids, and vital micro nutrients. Linoleic and linolenic acids exhibit oxidative mechanisms to reduce the production of inflammatory products, while oleic fatty acid is known to enhance signaling pathways of vasodilation (expanding blood vessels), promote a reduction in blood pressure levels, and reduce effects of vasoconstriction (narrower diameter of blood vessels). Pumpkin seeds are also a good source of trace minerals including magnesium, zinc, copper, and selenium.3

The bright orange color of pumpkin indicates elevated levels of beta-carotene, a vital antioxidant, and a precursor to vitamin A, which maintains vision and the health and function of bones, skin, and mucous membranes.4,10 Additionally, the fruit contains gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA; a neurotransmitter that has inhibitory effects on the nervous system) and modest levels of carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals.3

Historical and Commercial Uses

The name “pumpkin” originates from the Greek word pepon, which means “large melon.”4 The French modified this name to pompon and the British changed it to pumpion, which was later changed by the American colonists to pumpkin.6

Pumpkin has a traditional history as a food and medicine. Some Native American tribes dried the skins of pumpkins into strips and wove them together into mats.4 The modern pumpkin pie has its origins in colonial New England, where colonists cut off the top of the pumpkin, removed the seeds, filled the fruit with milk, spices, and honey, and baked the fruit over hot ashes.4,5 Pumpkins are highly valued in Chiapas, Mexico, where they are combined with honey for the preparation of the dessert palanquetas.3

Though native to Central America, the pumpkin was one of the first foods from the “New World” to be brought back to Europe, and cultivation spread quickly thereafter.5 Pumpkins have been used as a medicine in several countries. For example, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Argentina, India, Brazil, and Mexico have traditionally used pumpkins as a treatment for diabetes.11 In addition,7 pumpkin seed oil from a particular variety known as the Styrian pumpkin (C. pepo subsp. pepo var. styriaca) produced in southern Austria and Slovenia is a European Union Protected Designation of Origin product. Nicknamed “green gold,” the dark green oil has culinary and medicinal applications and is an integral part of the local culture throughout Eastern Europe.12 The seeds of pumpkins have also been used as a vermifuge for intestinal parasites and worms.

In addition to the many health benefits offered by pumpkin, it also is used as an ornamental decoration during the US holidays Halloween and Thanksgiving and has recently become a crop of interest in agritourism (defined broadly, agritourism is the act of visiting any agricultural operation or business in order to be educated or entertained).13 Currently, pumpkin farms in California are considered to be one of the most popular and lucrative agritourism attractions, commonly offered in conjunction with pony rides and corn mazes.

Modern Research

Current research on the medicinal possibilities of C. pepo focuses heavily on pumpkin seeds and pumpkin seed oil (PSO). Studies show that pumpkin seeds have therapeutic potential for a variety of conditions, including benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH), urinary tract infections associated with BPH, hypertension, diabetes, and microbial infections.

Researchers theorize that the phytosterol content of pumpkin seeds can prevent testosterone-induced BPHby inhibiting the conversion of testosterone to dihydrotestosterone.14 Male rats with testosterone-induced BPH given a daily dose of pumpkin seed oil were found to have reduced levels of hyperplasia. This further indicates that PSO may be directly involved in prostate health.

Pumpkin seeds have been shown to be an effective alternative treatment for lower urinary tract symptoms (LUTS) secondary to BPH.13 BPH is characterized by an enlargement of the prostate gland, which commonly results in the constriction of the lower urinary tract in men.15,16 Fifty percent of men over the age of 60 reports having BPH, with 15%-30% of these men also having LUTS.16 A 12-month study of men diagnosed with BPH/LUTS was conducted to analyze the health effects of pumpkin seeds.16 Doses of purified pumpkin seed, pumpkin seed extract, or placebo were administered twice daily. Both treatment modalities exhibited statistically significant improvements as measured by the International Prostate Symptom Score screening tool (I-PSS) and quality of life (QoL) scores. Additionally, the pumpkin seed group revealed greater improvements in IPSS-related QoL scores than the placebo group. QoL scores were enhanced 36% for pumpkin seed, 33.4% for pumpkin seed extract, and 29.2% for the placebo treatment group.

Another 12-month study revealed similar results, with I-PSS scores significantly enhanced after administration of 320 mg of PSO twice daily.17 This study also showed a decrease in prostate volume and a significant increase in maximal urinary flow rate. The intervention resulted in an average increase from 14 mL/second at baseline to 17 mL/second after taking PSO for an improvement of 14.9% in urinary flow rate.

Pumpkin seed oil enhances cardiovascular health through its antihypertensive and atheroprotective characteristics.6 Hypertensive rats fed either 40 mg/kg/day or 50 mg/kg/day of PSO for six weeks exhibited cardioprotective effects.18 The study showed that use of PSO resulted in a significant reduction of high systolic blood pressure and proved to be as effective as a common antihypertensive medication (amlodipine) in reducing high blood pressure by producing close to normal levels of nitric oxide.6,18 This mechanism may be a result of the linoleic, linolenic fatty acid and/or oleic fatty acid content of pumpkin seeds.18 PSO also exhibited antioxidant effects by increasing low levels of nitric oxide metabolites back to normal and significantly reduced indicators of oxidative stress known as malondialdehydes (MDAs).

A study of post-menopausal women found that consumption of pumpkin seeds increased levels of high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol by 16% and decreased diastolic blood pressure by 7%.6,9 These effects may be attributed to the high content of the phytoestrogen sec iso lariciresinol, which has been shown to exhibit cardioprotective properties through its antioxidant content.9 Subjects also experienced a decrease in severity of hot flashes, decreased the occurrence of headaches, and reduced joint pain. These findings provide supporting evidence of PSO supplementation for improved cardiovascular health.

Pumpkin seeds traditionally have been used for their anti-diabetic properties and are a promising area of research in diabetes treatment. Due to the hypoglycemic activities observed in animal and human studies, PSO may eventually be considered as an alternative modality of treatment. Hypoglycemic effects are due to bioactive constituents such as polysaccharides, para-aminobenzoic acid, oils, sterols, proteins, peptides, and macromolecules such as trigonelline, nicotinic acid, and D-chiro-inositol. D-chiro-inositol is classified as an insulin sensitizer and plays a vital role in the anti-diabetic properties of pumpkin.3 A study done on diabetic rats with orally administered polysaccharides isolated from pumpkin fruits revealed improvements in insulin regulation and glucose levels.7 These animal studies offer intriguing evidence of pumpkin’s anti-diabetic properties, though additional research and human clinical trials are needed to support the implementation of pumpkin as a medicinal alternative for glycemic control.11

Pumpkin seed oil has exhibited broad spectrum antimicrobial effects in cell culture studies with the following organisms: Acinetobacter baumannii, Aeromonas veronii bio group sobria, Candida albicans,Enterococcus faecalis, Escherichia coli, Klebsiella pneumoniae, Pseudomonas aeruginosa, Salmonella enterica subsp. enterica serotype typhimurium, Serratia marcescens, and Staphylococcus aureus.3,7 These findings hold a twofold benefit for developed and developing countries: as antibiotic-resistant bacteria grow more prevalent, scientists are working to identify plant-based compounds with antimicrobial actions; additionally, pumpkin consumption in countries with insufficient health care infrastructures may serve as a protection against harmful organisms that result in infectious diseases.3 Pumpkin and PSO should be further researched to validate these possible uses.

Nutrient Profile19

Macronutrient Profile:
(Per 1 cup raw 1” cubes [approx. 116 g])

30 calories
1.16 g protein
7.54 g carbohydrates
0.10 g fat

Secondary Metabolites: (Per 1 cup raw 1” cubes [approx. 116 g])

Excellent source of:
Vitamin A: 9,875 IU (197.5% DV)

Very good source of:
Vitamin C: 10.4 mg (17.3% DV)
Potassium: 394 mg (11.26% DV)

Good source of:
Iron: 0.93 mg (5.2% DV)
Phosphorus: 51 mg (5.1% DV)

Also provides:
Folate: 19 mcg (4.75% DV)
Vitamin E: 1.23 mg (4.6% DV)
Thiamin: 0.06 mg (4% DV)
Magnesium: 14 mg (3.5% DV)
Niacin: 0.7 mg (3.5% DV)
Vitamin B6: 0.07 mg (3.5% DV)
Calcium: 24 mg (2.4% DV)
Dietary Fiber: 0.6 g (2.4% DV)
Vitamin K: 1.3 mcg (1.6% DV)

DV = Daily Value as established by the US Food and Drug Administration, based on a 2,000 calorie diet.

Recipe: Pumpkin-Shiitake Risotto


  • 4-5 cups vegetable stock
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 medium yellow onion, finely chopped
  • 2 cups shiitake mushroom caps, sliced
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 cup uncooked Arborio or other short-grain rice
  • ½ cup dry white wine
  • ½ teaspoon koshers salt
  • 1 cup fresh or canned unflavored pumpkin puree
  • 2 tablespoons fresh chives, chopped


  1. In a medium saucepan, heat the broth until simmering. Reduce heat to low and keep warm.

  2. In a large nonstick pan, heat the oil over medium heat until shimmering. Add the onions, mushrooms, and garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 6-7 minutes.

  3. Add the rice to the pan and cook, stirring constantly, until the rice is lightly toasted and coated in oil, about 1 minute. Add the wine and reduce until nearly evaporated.

  4. Ladle 1 cup of the warm broth into the rice and stir constantly until the rice absorbs most of the liquid. Reduce heat, if necessary, to maintain a simmer.

  5. Continue adding the broth in 1-cup increments, each time waiting for the rice to absorb most of the liquid, approximately 20-30 minutes. The rice will slowly become creamy and cooked, with tender grains and a loose sauce.

  6. Reduce heat to low. Stir in the salt and pumpkin puree and heat through. Garnish with chives and serve immediately.


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