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