I know many of us don’t like the end of summer, what with cold weather around the corner, yet one thing to look forward to this time of year is the abundance of garden tomatoes. Sure, you can get tomatoes year-round from the supermarket, but there is nothing like homegrown, vine-ripened tomatoes.

I know many of us don’t like the end of summer, what with cold weather around the corner, yet one thing to look forward to this time of year is the abundance of garden tomatoes. Sure, you can get tomatoes year-round from the supermarket, but there is nothing like homegrown, vine-ripened tomatoes.

And, yes, tomatoes are fruit — although for culinary purposes they are referred to as vegetables. No matter how we classify them, the bottom line is they are very healthy for us.

Legend has it tomatoes in the United States were considered unsafe to eat. According to myth, Col. Robert Gibbon Johnson announced in 1820 he would eat a basketful of tomatoes — to prove they weren’t poisonous — in front of a New Jersey courthouse, and thousands of onlookers gathered to see if Johnson would live. Johnson ate them and never even felt sick.

Another theory involves people such as Thomas Jefferson, who ate tomatoes in Paris and sent some seeds home, knowing the tomato was edible.

Regardless of how they became known as suitable for eating, I feel lucky to have this wonderful fruit growing in my garden.

In recent years, the nutritional values of tomatoes have become very widely known. The rich red color that makes tomatoes so valuable to a healthy diet is caused by an antioxidant called lycopene — especially when the tomatoes are cooked. Antioxidants are dietary substances, including a handful of nutrients that significantly slow or prevent the oxidative process (damage from oxygen), thus preventing or slowing damage to your body cells. Some ongoing research with lycopene involves prevention of prostate cancer and reducing the risk of heart disease. While some studies contradict these findings, a tomato is certainly an overall healthy food choice.

Lycopene is not the only important nutrient in tomatoes. Vitamin C is a water-soluble vitamin with many health benefits. One medium tomato generally contains about 40 percent of the recommended daily allowance. Vitamin C helps form the connective tissue that holds the many parts of your body together. It keeps the capillaries healthy, so you don’t bruise easily and your gums healthy.

Vitamin C also works in partnership with iron, helping the body absorb iron from plant sources of food. In fact, an adequate daily supply of vitamin C in your food choices can increase the absorption of non heme iron (mostly from plant sources) by two to four times. For those who get most of their iron from plants, such as vegetarians, Vitamin C is of special importance. Vitamin C, also an antioxidant, has been linked to reducing the risk of cataracts and cancer protection, according to preliminary research.

Furthermore, tomatoes contain significant amounts of vitamin A and potassium and are low in calories.

So when eating the last of your garden tomatoes, I will thank Col. Robert Gibbon Johnson, Thomas Jefferson or whomever brought tomatoes into our country and proved them safe to eat — and get a daily dose of Vitamin C and lycopene. Then I’ll long for next year's tomato season.

Norwich Bulletin

Sarah Hospod is a registered dietitian in the Food and Nutrition Department a The William W. Backus Hospital in Norwich. This column should not replace advice or instruction from your personal physician. E-mail Hospod and all of the Healthy Living columnists at healthyliving@wwbh.org.