Wednesday, May 5, 2010

How to make tomato juice safe and delicious

Tomato juice should be just about the healthiest drink that you can drink. It’s difficult to think of many natural liquid foods that carry a bigger load of healthy vitamins and minerals. It also has more lycopene, the cancer and cardiovascular disease-fighting antioxidant than any other food. But to get all that goodness, the tomato has to be cooked, even better yet, with a little oil.

Unfortunately, tomato juice, sauces and ketchup might not be healthy at all—quite possibly dangerous to your health. That’s because most of them contain a lot of salt, the big health risk that we have been repeatedly warned about.

Labels on different brands of canned tomato juice at a supermarket that I checked said each contained 570 mg of sodium per 250 ml—a small, eight-ounce glass of tomato juice. The labels also say that this is 23 percent of the “daily value.”

That’s misleading. “Daily value” implies that 570 mg of sodium is 23 percent of the amount your body needs for the optimum health benefits of sodium. It is not, in fact, 23 percent of what you need, but 23 percent of the maximum daily amount considered by Health Canada to be safe. It is 38 percent of all that is actually needed for adults under age 50; 44 per cent of the daily amount required by adults aged 50 to 70; and 48 percent of the needs of those over 70, Health Canada says in an online article, “Sodium: It’s Your Health.”

Health Canada states: “The amount of sodium considered adequate to promote good health in adults is 1,500 mg per day,” or 1,300 for those aged 50 to 70, and 1,200 for those past 70.

Both Canada and the United States have adopted a “Tolerable Upper Intake Level” (UL) for sodium, which Health Canada says is “The highest intake level that is likely to pose no adverse health effect.” That UL limit is 2,300 mg of sodium per day. Health Canada recommends that you do not exceed that daily limit of 2,300 mg of sodium.  Yet average Canadian sodium consumption in 2004 was 3,092 mg of sodium per day—77 percent more the stated safe limit. More than 90 percent of men over age 19 and 66 percent of women consumed more than the stated safe limit.

If drinking just one small glass of tomato juice accounts for almost one quarter, then with the sodium consumed in all our other food, it would seem difficult to stay within the recommended daily maximum. A daily glass of tomato juice highly spiked with salt does not sound like a healthy prescription.

Reducing salt would dramatically improve our health, say the health authorities. A study in the Canadian Journal of Cardiology estimates that reducing salt consumption to recommended levels would prevent 11,000 premature deaths each year.


It might be altogether different if you exercise strenuously in hot weather for a couple of hours or more. In that case, you probably will need extra salt, says Dr. Gabe Mirkin, a former marathon runner and a widely recognized authority on sports medicine and fitness. Reducing salt consumption might save lives “for many people who do not exercise,” Dr. Mirkin writes in his online newsletter (Salt for Warm Weather Exercise, Dr. Mirkin’s eZine.) “But for heavy exercisers and athletes, particularly those who are vegetarians, it can cause cramps, fatigue, injuries, and even death.” He concludes: “If you exercise regularly for more than a couple of hours, particularly in hot weather, you need extra salt. You also need more sugar in hot weather to increase endurance.”

That might be sound advice for heavy exercisers who are as fit as Olympic athletes. But for the rest of us, two or more hours of heavy exercise in hot weather sounds like a good prescription for a heart attack or a sudden life-stopping cardiac arrest—with or without extra salt.

For my part, I hope to avoid this problem by avoiding heavy exercise when it’s hot, as I train for the September marathon and the 90-kilometre October hike. On my walks of 5- to 10-K, four times a week, I’ll start out at 6 am, when the weatherman calls for a hot day. On my weekly longer walk, perhaps I’ll have to start at 5 am. And I’ll try to keep my salt intake within the recommended bounds—in part, by avoiding highly salted tomato juice.

Fortunately, it’s very easy to prepare great-tasting tomato juice that has only 10 mg of sodium per cup, rather than the 570 mg of sodium found in food store tomato juice.

This is a trick Joan taught me. We often eat a bowl of canned, diced, no-salt-added tomatoes. It contains only 10 mg of sodium per 250 ml. Joan spices it with a little plain white vinegar. Here’s how to make spiced tomato juice.

Empty a 797-ml (28-ounce) can of diced, no-salt-added tomatoes into a mixing bowl. Add 2 tablesppons of white vinegar; 1 tablespoon canola or olive oil; ½ teaspoon oregano; ¼ teaspoon each freshly ground pepper and cumin. Process in a blender or juicer.

Adding a little oil to the tomato helps your body absorb lycopene, the powerful antioxidant that helps fight cancer, heart disease and macular degeneration. Tomatoes are the richest source of lycopene, and your body absorbs very much more of it when tomatoes are cooked or processed, as in canned tomatoes, and even more with a little oil.

You’ll enjoy this spicy tomato juice that has barely two percent as much salt as the supermarket stuff.
TAGS: Tomato juice. Tomato recipes. Sodium. Lycopene. Cancer. Cardiovascular disease.  


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