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The Tomato: Good or Evil?

“It's difficult to think anything but pleasant thoughts while eating a homegrown tomato.” Lewis Grizzard

The history of the tomato begins with the Peruvian Incans in ancient times. By the 13th century, tomatoes had proliferated throughout South America., and in the 1600s, Spanish colonialists exported them to Europe.

Tomatoes got a very cold reception, because they are related to the poisonous plant “the deadly nightshade,” used to make digitalis (a medicine for the heart). Incidentally, the same genus of plants includes the potato, eggplant, and chili pepper, as well as some notoriously toxic offshoots like mandrake root.

For centuries, the English thought that the tomato was unfit to eat. When the tomato was exported from Europe to the American colonies, it was again met with resistance and rejection. For a long time, the tomato was not consumed in the New World. Legend has it that the public didn’t get over their fear of its poison until 1820 when Colonel Robert Gibbon Johnson publicly consumed the fruit on the front steps of a court house.1,3,4

Because of this fearful conception of the tomato, there is a concept called The Tomato Phenomenon, which refers to rejection or abandonment of an idea that is right or correct because the intellectual explanation does not fit.  In other words, the expression is equivalent to “That’s fine in practice, but it will never work in theory.”

Today, the contentious tomato is again in the spotlight; and this time, it’s because it’s on the list of foods that cause trouble for people with reflux. The evil tomato is found in many different foods and forms, including raw tomato  slices or dices in garnishes and salads, and is used as an ingredient in many types of salsas  and sauces. Unfortunately, for most people with reflux the tomato is a real no-no. On our reflux diet, we usually do not allow any tomatoes or tomato sauces. Sorry!

We tested the pH (acidity) of ripe tomatoes, cooked tomatoes, and prepared (canned/bottled) tomatoes and tomato sauces and found that almost all were in the unacceptably acidic range (below pH 4.0).  (With the pH scale pH 7 is neutral, and pH 1 is very acidic.  By the way, you should know that stomach acid is pH 1-4.)

If we were going to make a recommendation, and we aren’t sure that we should, the only tomatoes that we might condone for the refluxer are  ripe, home-cooked tomatoes (pH 4.8).  The issue is that tomatoes cause problems for many people with reflux no matter what the pH.  Here’s the bottom line — If you have big-time reflux, avoid tomatoes all together.

Can’t live without your tomato-lovin’ fix?  Try to use it in moderation.  A good example is in our Vegetable Fritatta with Quinoa recipe found in our book, The Reflux Diet Cookbook and Cure.

References

  1. Jones, Robert.  The Legend of Colonel Johnson.  American Vegetable Grower.  Retrieved 2010-2-23.
  2. Produce Statistics “ FAOSTAT: United Nations. Retrieved 2010-2-23.
  3. Smith, Andrew F (1994). The Tomato in America: Early History, Culture, and Cookery. Columbia, S.C, USA: University of South Carolina Press.
  4. “Tomato: The Apple of Peru” The McGraw-Hill Companies: Retrieved 2010-2-23

 

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15 Comments

  1. My ENT doctor finds that I have LPR and suggested that I buy your book, which I have done. (My primary symptom is hoarseness.)

    But I have a question. You list a group of “idosyncratic foods” that are
    usually bad. Since I have no “heartburn”, how can I tell if tomatoes, onions,
    or garlic are bad for me? On days when I have had these foods my symptom
    is no worse than others. Could this mean they are OK for me (in moderation)?

  2. Thanks for an informative article. And for the recipe which gives me some ideas for mediating some of the tomato’s effect.

  3. If your symptoms are no worse after eating these foods, then they are probably not triggers for you and fine to eat in moderation.

  4. What about taking vitamins and minerals. I take garlic, turmeric and a multivitamin. Is this a problem. Also, if I had to choose between a vanilla cookie and a chocolate cookie would they be equally evil. Last I suffer from glossitis and need gum or cough drops or someone to suck on. Are these okay?

  5. What about taking vitamins and minerals. I take garlic, turmeric and a multivitamin. Is this a problem. Also, if I had to choose between a vanilla cookie and a chocolate cookie would they be equally evil. Last I suffer from glossitis and need gum or cough drops or something to suck on to produce saliva. Are these okay?

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  8. Some people say that its the seeds of the tomato that contain acid and that the outer laye is free from acid is this true?

  9. I have acid reflux and I have no problems with raw tomato slices specially heirbloom tomatoes in a salad, but I do with any tomato sauce. I also have no problem with avocados and scrabbled eggs, all in reseanoble amounts, but others do with any amount of such items. I think is best to do your list. I never consume citrus fruts, berries only raw and in small amounts, no dairy except small amounts of fresh Mexican farm cheese or panela or water mozzarela cheese, no carbonated drinks, canned or processed or fried foods, no gracias, non starchy fruits or vegetales or that make me feel bloated, no legumes, no red meat, fish and poultry in small portions, apples in small amounts, papaya, countiloupe and watermelon only before noon. I use a mud Heat/cold bad from Walmart when my stomach is bloated or hurts. Small meals, elevated ned, yoga, have a snack every 4 hours
    Little things that work for me.

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  11. As a child, Iwoukd get sores on my mouth from tomatoes, so always put sugar on them. Dies that raise the pH value to a acceptable level?

  12. Is coconut oil safe to consume?

  13. I take a multi vitamin and turmeric for arthritis. Are these ok?

  14. Just bought your book. A recent transnasal scope that ended at the top of my esophagus showed that my larynx was swollen (“oh, you DO have some edema”). I had already suspected that LPR might be responsible for my chronic cough and sinus problems, so I decided to cut out alcohol, caffeine, etc etc. and think I’m on the right track. What I’d like to know is where can I get accurate info on the actual ph of certain foods (nuts of all kinds, varieties of tomatoes, etc) not mentioned in “Dropping Acid…”. Also, would you agree that the table of the ph for home canning from the FDA/CFSAN is reliable? One more question: I have been using Dr. Best’s Pepzin GI after each meal, chewing DGL tablets when my throat feels uncomfortable, and swallowing the odd Slippery Elm capsule. Do you think I should continue on this particular regimen?
    Thanks very much for your input. Reading Dr Koufman’s overview of silent reflux was a real game-changer for me. I don’t feel quite so blind.

  15. I am with H pylori and high production of acid in stomach is it good to take tomatoes?if not what are other fruits and vegetable to avoid?

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