TO-MATO OR NOT TO-MATO: THAT IS THE QUESTION
In Ayurveda, tomatoes are contentious. On the one hand, they are full of beautiful benefits, but on the other, they belong to the nightshade family — a group of ingredients that are best consumed in careful moderation. So what’s the deal with tomatoes? Do they have their rightful place in an Ayurvedic diet? Like with everything else, I think they do, but in small quantities and with respect to both the seasons and the Doshas.
When fresh tomatoes are in season — that is, in the heart of summer — and grown locally, they are full of Prana (life force). This is considered very important in Ayurveda, which tells us that we truly are what we eat. Additionally, tomatoes contain a pigment named lycopene, which is associated with antioxidant properties. These fruits are also thought to slow signs of aging, help prevent cancer and reduce blood sugar, as well as promote eye, bone and skin health. In terms of Doshas, tomatoes can balance out excess Kapha. Not to mention how delicious a ripe, juicy tomato tastes!
THE PROBLEM WITH TOMATOES
Tomatoes and other nightshades, such as potatoes, aubergines, onions, etc., are considered very Rajasic in Ayurveda. This means that they can be overstimulating and even lead to stress and anxiety when consumed in excess. On top of this, tomatoes’ high acidity can aggravate Pitta and Vata. Because they are in season during summer, which is a Pitta time of year, they can doubly irritate the fiery Dosha.
SHOULD YOU CUT TOMATOES OUT FOR GOOD?
Thankfully, you don’t have to say goodbye to tomatoes forever, but if you feel like they could be causing issues for you then it’s all about how you pick, prepare, cook and consume them. Firstly, make sure your tomatoes are local and beautifully ripe, as underripe fruit is a no-no for your digestion. To make them less irritating, peel and deseed them before using them in cooking (see instructions below). Cooked tomatoes are recommended over raw, as this increases the amount of lycopene in them and makes them easier on your tummy. Finally, enjoy one or two tomatoes from time to time but don’t overindulge. If you’re really suffering from the heat or are experiencing a Pitta imbalance for any other reason, try to lay off them for a few days and see if that makes a difference.
HOW TO PREPARE YOUR TOMATOES
Skinning and deseeding tomatoes
1. For tomato chunks: score an “X” into the base of each tomato and place in a bowl. Cover in boiling water and leave for a minute. Peel off the skin, cut in half and use a teaspoon to scoop out the seeds.
2. For tomato sauce: roughly blend, then pour into a sieve, using the back of a spoon to push through the tomato juices leaving behind the skins and seeds.
GOOD AND BAD FOOD COMBOS
Bad food combinations can have terrible consequences on your digestion, causing bloating, sluggishness, irritability and a range of other unpleasant symptoms. One such combo is tomatoes with dairy, so if your Agni isn’t feeling lively skip it for now, and avoid repeating this combo in the long term to avoid it taking its toll on your gut. Some Ayurveda-approved recipe ideas are: