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In the last week, I read two different books that talked at length about tomatoes. When looking to answer the question of whether tomato seeds are good or bad, one argued that tomatoes were among the main source of chronic disease in the modern world.
It went on to blame their danger on lectins (found in their seeds and skin). Short of learning how to remove lectins from tomatoes, the author claimed if you were to ever consider eating a tomato, it should be a Roma tomato with no skin or seeds.
The other book I read talked about how tomatoes were among the richest dietary source of lycopene. Diets which are high in this phytonutrient have shown to:
- Protect skin against sun damage
- Lower the risk of prostate cancer
- Reduce the risk of stroke
Key Insight: Since lycopene is primarily found in the skins and seeds of tomatoes, cherry tomatoes are your best source (because they have the most per serving).
Does that sound like sheer madness to you? I really wish I was creative enough to make this kind of stuff up.
Who’s Right On Tomatoes?
In truth, the answer won’t come from which book has sold the most or who has the biggest perceived authority. Instead, the answer comes from the evidence.
When it comes to lectins, the author argues that raw red kidney beans have a lectin that can cause symptoms that mimic food poisoning. Therefore, all foods with lectins must be able to do some kind of damage to the intestinal tract.
This might cause you to think of a whole host of questions: do Roma tomatoes have lectins, do canned tomatoes have lectins, does tomato juice have lectins? Heck, does ketchup contain lectins?
What kind of evidence do they cite to back up that claim? That would be a hypothesis. If you search for peer-reviewed published studies on lectins and human health, you will find thousands of papers (lectins are in scores of immune reactions).
However, what you will not find are studies on how food lectins affect people. In fact, you will be sadly disappointed as there really are none.
Food, Lectins, and Your Health
There is also a bit of a problem to this theory with lectins found in all foods (whether they are plants or animals). They are also normally found in the human body.
Key Insight: We can no more have a problem with lectins as a category then we could have with food as a category.
Implicating lectins as a health hazard is unfair. It is like suggesting that spinach is a bad good because of possible food poisoning when not handled correctly.
What About The Second Author?
You might be wondering, “well, the first author was obviously incorrect about lectins, but about the second book?”
That author cited several studies, one of the largest of which was a review of 7 others looking at over a hundred thousand people and their health risks extending over several decades.
When it comes to the level of evidence, this would be an observational cohort study. The results of which soundly trump a hypothesis, every time.
This information came from a really good book that has not gotten nearly the attention it deserves in the United States. I was recently told about it last week, from a reader, and listened to it immediately.
The name of the book is “How To Eat Better: How to Shop, Store and Cook to Make any Food a Superfood” by James Wong.
Who is James Wong?
James is an ethnobotanist who provides detailed information on how to maximize your intake of the best phytonutrients with everyday foods.
I especially love his book because he opened it with a discussion of levels of evidence. He broke things down in terms of evaluating competing claims (like those about tomatoes).
In the end, I have learned a lot of great tips from it already and I’m eager to finish the rest of it. If you have not had the chance to pick it up, please do. I heartily recommend it!
Can You Eat Tomatoes?
It truly bothers me that topic as important as eating has so much unnecessary controversy and conflicting opinions. The answers should exist, and one of my greatest passions is getting them to you in an easy way.
That said, and until next time, please be well and feel free to enjoy your tomatoes!
P.S. Whenever you are ready, here is how I can help you now:
1. Download and use my Favorite Recipes Cookbook Here
2. Check out my podcast Medical Myths, Legends, and Fairytales Here
Dr. Alan Glen Christianson (Dr. C) is a Naturopathic Endocrinologist and the author of The NY Times bestselling Adrenal Reset Diet and The Metabolism Reset Diet.
Dr. C’s gift for figuring out what really works has helped hundreds of thousands of people reverse thyroid disease, lose weight, diabetes, and regain energy. Learn more about the surprising story that started his quest.