Pour on the ketchup – tomatoes may help balance your gut microbiome

Did you know that:

  • Tomatoes can slightly increase their weight even after harvest?
  • Heinz Tomato Ketchup has a speed limit? If it pours at more than 0.028mph when it’s in the Heinz Tomato Ketchup factory, it’s considered too runny and is rejected.
  • The largest tomato on record was picked in Oklahoma in 1986. It weighed more than 3.5 kg.
  • Tomatoes are beneficial to the gut microbiome.

Researchers at Ohio State University (OSU) discovered that pigs fed substantial amounts of tomatoes experienced favorable changes in gut bacteria, including greater microbe diversity.

“It’s possible that tomatoes impart benefits through their modulation of the gut microbiome,” says Jessica Cooperstone, assistant professor of horticulture, crop and food science and technology at OSU, in a statement.

“Overall dietary patterns have been associated with differences in microbiome composition, but food-specific effects haven’t been studied very much,” Cooperstone adds. “Ultimately we’d like to identify in humans what the role is of these particular microorganisms and how they might be contributing to potential health outcomes.”

The tomatoes used in the study were developed by Ohio State plant breeder, David Francis, of a strain typical of canned tomato products.

Ten recently-weaned control pigs were fed a standard diet and 10 pigs were fed the same diet, except 10% of the food consisted of a freeze-dried tomato powder, from the custom-bred strain of tomatoes. Microbial compositions in the pigs’ guts were detected in fecal samples collected before the study began, then seven and 14 days after the diet was introduced. 

The gut microbiomes of pigs fed the tomato-heavy diet showed greater diversity of microbes and more favorable concentrations of two species of bacteria common in mammals. This higher ratio of Bacteroidota, compared to Bacillota, has been associated with favorable health outcomes. Other studies have linked greater concentrations of Bacillota, compared to Bacteroidota, to obesity.

Tomatoes account for about 22% of vegetable intake in Western diets, and previous research has associated consumption of tomatoes with reduced risk for the development of various conditions that include cardiovascular disease and some cancers. 

Cooperstone says these findings in pigs – which have a gastrointestinal tract more similar to humans’ GI system than that of rodents – suggest it’s an avenue worth exploring. “This was our first investigation as to how tomato consumption might affect the microbiome, and we’ve characterized which microbes are present, and how their relative abundance has changed with this tomato intervention,” she explains.

“To really understand the mechanisms, we need to do more of this kind of work in the long term in humans,” she continues. “We also want to understand the complex interplay – how does consuming these foods change the composition of what microbes are present, and functionally, what does that do?

“A better understanding could lead to more evidence-based dietary recommendations for long-term health,” Cooperstone concludes.

The research is published in the journal Microbiology Spectrum.

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