It’s Almost Summer and Time to Go Red for Tomatoes


The red color of fruits and vegetables come from natural plant pigments. These red-colored pigments are called phytonutrients and are associated with many health benefits. One phytonutrient in the red family is lycopene.

Lycopene is a phytonutrient from the carotenoid family. It is a powerful antioxidant found in red and pink produce such as tomatoes, watermelon, papaya and pink grapefruit. Research indicates that lycopene may be protective against certain types of cancer such as prostate, breast, stomach, colorectal and lung.

Lycopene may also decrease risk of cardiovascular disease by decreasing LDL (bad cholesterol) and triglyceride – another fat in the bloodstream. Additionally, there is evidence that lycopene may be beneficial for healthy skin, strong bones and preserved brain function.

Tomatoes and tomato-based prepared foods are the most popular source of lycopene in the American diet and up to 80 percent of lycopene consumed is from tomatoes or tomato-based products. Interestingly, the bioavailability of lycopene increases with cooking so cooked tomatoes have more lycopene than raw. Also, a small amount of oil in cooking can help you better absorb the lycopene.

However, please be aware that unless you make it yourself, processed tomato products such as canned tomatoes, tomato sauce, tomato juice and salsa can be high in sodium. Check food labels and look for low salt or boxed tomato products with no added salt. Tomatoes are low in calories and also contain fiber, potassium and vitamins C and E.

Here are some easy ways to increase lycopene in your diet:

  • Add tomato sauce to your meals – whole wheat pasta with marinara, or homemade pizza with tomato sauce. And don’t forget that Southern favorite, stewed tomatoes with okra, fresh corn and butterbeans.
  • Add sundried tomatoes to cold salads and pastas, and chop and add to sides such as brown rice and quinoa.
  • Add salsa to a bean burrito.
  • Reach for low salt tomato juice to quench your thirst.
  • Top a burger with low sugar ketchup or salsa.
  • Make a quick bruschetta by toasting baguette slices and lightly brushing with olive oil and toast lightly under the broiler. Top with canned, diced tomatoes and fresh basil or oregano.
  • If you don’t like or can’t eat tomatoes, make sure to include other lycopene foods. Summer is a great time for watermelon, too.

Summer in South Carolina means having lots of tomatoes around. If you have a surplus or enjoy making your own, consider increasing your lycopene intake by cooking up some fresh tomato sauce.

Fresh Tomato Sauce
Yield – 32 oz. sauce

4 – 6 lbs. of ripe tomatoes (these can be sad-looking tomatoes – they definitely don’t have to be perfect)
2 Tbsp. lemon juice or red wine vinegar
½ teaspoon salt (optional)
1 Tbsp. olive oil (optional)


  1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil over high heat. Fill a mixing bowl with ice and water and place close to the stove. Also, have a mixing bowl ready. Tomatoes will go from boiling water to ice bath in the mixing bowl to blanch and remove the skin.
  2. Core out the stems from the tomatoes and cut a shallow “X” on the bottom of each tomato.
  3. Drop several tomatoes into the boiling water. Cook until you see the skin starting to wrinkle and split – for about a minute. Next move tomatoes from boiling water to the ice bath. When cooled, move to the mixing bowl. When all are done empty the boiling water (you’ll use this for the sauce.) Then, use your hands or a paring knife to strip the skins from the tomatoes.
  4. If you like a smooth sauce, pulse tomatoes in a food processor in batches to the consistency you like and transfer to a large stock pot. If you like a chunkier sauce skip processing, and roughly chop and place tomatoes in the stock pot. Bring the tomato sauce to a simmer over medium heat. Continue simmering for 30 to 90 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the sauce reaches the taste and consistency you like. When finished cooking, stir in lemon juice or vinegar oil and salt. Add more lemon juice or vinegar to taste.

This recipe freezes well.

You can also be creative and add pepper and fresh garlic or herbs such as oregano, basil, parsley, etc., when you are finished cooking.