“Oh, what I wouldn’t give for a plate of fried green tomatoes like we used to have at the cafe. Ooh!” Ninny Threadgoode in Fried Green Tomatoes (1991).
Fried Green Tomatoes was about strong Southern women. Now it turns out, those green tomatoes may be the key to strength in both men and women.
Researchers from the University of Iowa have discovered a potent compound in green tomatoes for building muscle and protecting against muscle atrophy. It’s called tomatidine.
Muscle can atrophy or waste with age. In addition, illnesses like cancer and heart failure can weaken muscles. So can orthopedic injuries or drugs like cholesterol-lowering statins. Muscle atrophy can make you weak and fatigued, slow you down, and increase your risk of falls and fractures. It’s a serious condition that affects more than 50 million Americans every year.
The Iowa researchers discovered that tomatidine in green tomatoes operates at the genetic level. It changes gene expression. In fact, it makes gene changes that are essentially opposite to the changes that occur when muscles atrophy.
In the lab, the researchers found that tomatidine stimulates the growth of human muscle cells. Then they added tomatidine to the diet of mice. The results were impressive. The mice did not develop muscle atrophy. In fact, they grew bigger muscles, became stronger, and could exercise longer.
But it gets even better. Even though the mice had bigger muscles, they didn’t weigh any more. The tomatidine also helped them lose fat.
Tomato plants and green tomatoes contain a compound called tomatine. The tomatine helps the plants ward off bacteria, fungi, viruses and insects. According to an earlier study tomatine in green tomatoes may also fight cancer cells. Researchers found that extracts from tomatine in green tomatoes strongly inhibited human cancer cell lines of the breast, colon, liver, and stomach.
Other studies indicate tomatine boosts the immune system and lowers LDL cholesterol levels, at least in animals.
When we eat tomatine it breaks down in the gut and produces muscle-building tomatidine.
Researchers don’t know yet how many green tomatoes you’d have to eat to get the muscle benefits they saw in their mouse study. But go ahead and enjoy them often.
Despite rumors to the contrary, raw green tomatoes are safe to eat. But because their high vitamin C content makes them bitter, most people prefer to cook them.
Besides frying them, you can use green tomatoes to make pickles, preserves, salsas, soups, and chutneys. Check out these 52 Great Green Tomato Recipes.