Do tomatoes have carbohydrates? The simple answer is yes, they do. However, if you are on a low-carb diet, you certainly can fit a few tomatoes into your meal plan. Even a large tomato only has about 5-6 grams of carbs. You may think this is surprising, since the tomato is technically a fruit, but keep in mind; it’s mistaken for a vegetable for a lot of reasons. One of those reasons is that it is not too sugary. A cherry or plum tomato is only going to have 1/2 – 1 gram of carbohydrates, give or take. This means you can eat quite a few on a low-carb diet.
Now there is one thing to consider before you go stuffing yourself on tomatoes. Like a lot of other fruits, the carbs in tomatoes are simple ones. This means the body breaks them down and turns them to fat quickly and does so easier than with complex carbohydrates. This is a dilemma with many fruits. They are rich in nutrients and antioxidants, but their sugars are simple and turned to fat by the body. Tomatoes suffer this same fate as they are rich in Vitamin C and Lycopene, but their carbohydrate structure lacks complexity.
This isn’t to say you shouldn’t be eating tomatoes as part of a low-carb diet. Many times, not getting enough nutrients from the fruit and vegetable portion of the ol’ food pyramid is the downfall of these sorts of diets. Often time’s people focus heavily on eating meats, cheeses and other proteins and don’t diversify the mix. One has to be careful to eat tomatoes in moderation when on a low carb diet. The 5 grams of carbs in a regular sized tomato is virtually nothing, so you can have quite a few. The moderation is because these carbohydrates are not complex.
In tomatoes, you’ll find the essential nutrient lycopene (amongst others). It’s found in many red/pink fruits, but is in abundance in cooked tomatoes. Another great natural source for lycopene is Watermelon, but that will set you back even further in the carb department. Even if you’re on a low fat diet, you are going to need balance. You have the option to get nutrients over the counter through supplements, but the value of soaking them up naturally is higher, and most nutritionists will tell you there is more benefit from eating naturally found antioxidants, vitamins and minerals than there is from consuming them in pill form.
One of the theories behind the low-carb diet is that the lack of sugars causes your body to create less insulin, which helps you feel fuller. High protein foods are supposed to limit those hunger pangs. This doesn’t mean that you can’t eat carbs, but it does mean that the fewer tomatoes you chomp on and the more protein you add into your diet, the fuller you’ll feel. Then, when your body has no carbohydrates to convert to sugar and fat, you will lose weight. If you’re going to be eating 3-4 tomatoes on a low-carb diet, the simple sugars may add to the hunger. What I would recommend is off-setting this by eating some healthy protein with the meal or snack. Greek yogurt is always a good way to go and does the trick to make me feel full.
If you are a home gardener, you may be able to minimally control the amount of carbs in your tomatoes. I find that when I let tomatoes stay on the vine past their peak ripeness they are a little sweeter, and thus have more sugars. If you are growing at home and want tomatoes with a more acidic flavor and that have less carbs, you can always pick them sooner. The difference however is probably going to be negligible. Also, it’s important to keep in mind that if you are growing tomatoes at home, you are probably going to be eating them often. You want to reap the reward of growing your own produce. This means you will be adding up the simple sugars regardless if you pick your tomatoes a little early or not. My recommendation is just to pull your tomatoes whenever you feel they will taste best and have the right texture for you, disregarding the negligible difference in carbs.
Another thing you will have to consider about your tomato consumption, if bought in a store, is how it’s cooked or what it is with. For example, some salsas have added sugars to enrich the flavor, thus more carbs. This problem also rears its ugly head when it comes to ketchups and barbecue sauces. Although these two modes of tomato production include a lot of lycopene, they are infused with sugars and thus have many, many more grams of carbohydrates.
All in all, you should know that tomatoes do have carbs. A raw tomato is very low in carbs, but they are simple sugars that are turned to fat easily. I know it’s hard to resist fresh picked tomatoes, but if you are watching what you eat and counting carbs, you can probably get healthier ones in another form. I’m not saying you shouldn’t eat tomatoes, but you should watch it. Also, get that lycopene, but be weary of salsas, ketchups and sauces, especially ones made commercially.