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For Tomatoes, Yummy Means Healthy

Armen Hareyan's picture

Healthy Tomatoes

Can a tomato taste healthy? That's what some scientists think. They wonder if maybe the flavors of a tomato or a strawberry give us little clues about the vitamins and other healthy stuff inside, according to a study in the 10 February issue of the journal Science.

Plants are always mixing up a bunch of chemicals in their leaves, stems, fruits and flowers. Sometimes they make a puff of smelly chemicals to protect themselves from hungry nibblers like deer. Sometimes they make a flowery perfume to get bees to carry away some of their pollen and make new plants grow in different places. Sometimes these chemicals end up in fruit, where they make things like strawberries juicy and sweet. People and other animals like to eat these tasty treats, and that also helps spread a plant's seeds.

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When Steven Goff of the Syngenta company and Harry Klee of the University of Florida looked very closely at what kind of chemicals tomatoes make, they found that most of the chemicals that make a tomato taste like a tomato are also good for you. The chemical that makes a tomato taste kind of "green" or "grassy" makes energy for the cells in your body. Other tasty tomato chemicals help make proteins and protect cells.

Scientists think other smelly and tasty plant chemicals might also be good for us. Vegetables like garlic, onions and chili peppers and spices like ginger and mustard all have chemicals that fight off bacteria, the nasty bugs that can sometimes make you sick. Some scientists think that people started to like the flavor of these vegetables and spices because they were good at keeping them from getting sick when they ate food that was spoiled or dirty.

These days, people can be tricked by their sense of taste and smell. We eat a lot of foods with flavors added to them, so sometimes flavors are separate from the healthy chemicals they used to be attached to, Goff and Klee say.