By Kira Hamman
A few hundred years ago, people thought that tomatoes were poisonous.
Western people, that is, not the South Americans who had been eating them for several thousand years at that point.
Because tomatoes (along with potatoes, eggplant, and peppers, to name a few) belong to the Solanaceae family, which also includes plants like deadly nightshade, mandrake, and tobacco, it seems they suffered from guilt by association. And it’s true that tomato plants do bear a striking resemblance to some of those poisonous ones, so maybe people were wise to be cautious.
Nonetheless, at some point in the 18th century, Westerners caught on to the fact that tomatoes are not only non-poisonous but also delicious, and they started growing and eating them in droves.
But the vilification did not end there, I’m afraid, because just last week I noticed a book in my local bookstore which implicated poor, defenseless tomatoes in a host of health problems ranging from arthritis to irritable bowel syndrome. Naturally I didn’t believe a word of it, but as soon as I got home I hurried to the computer to find scientific backup for my disbelief.
Well, guess what. It turns out that some people are allergic to tomatoes! How horrifying! Their allergic reactions can range from minor symptoms like skin rash to fairly major ones like something called laryngeal angioedema, which I think means your throat feels tight. Those poor people! How awful for them!
Luckily, there aren’t many people who suffer this way — tomato allergies are extremely rare. Furthermore, tomatoes have been shown to reduce blood pressure, help prevent certain cancers, and improve vision. They provide a large amount of vitamins A and C and smaller amounts of many other vitamins, and they are a great source of those compounds-of-the-hour, antioxidants.
So, as long as they don’t make your mouth itch, eat up! Tomatoes are great for you. But it might be best not to scoff at anyone who tells you they’re allergic — just nod sympathetically and offer to eat theirs.