Sun-dried tomatoes are a treat, that’s for sure. But should you really be eating them? We asked a doctor for his take.
Tart, sweet, and savory, sun-dried tomatoes can be a fantastic mid-day snack, especially if you pair them with freshly baked bread. They also go great in salads, pasta dishes, and focaccia bread. You can even grind them up and turn them into red pesto sauce.
But as tasty as sun-dried tomatoes are, are they really good for you? And, even if the answer to that question is “yes,” is it true that you can have too much of a good thing?
To find out the answer, I talked to Dr. M. Kara, a Medical Doctor (MD) with over three decades of experience with patients, including at The Cleveland Clinic in the early part of his career.
He is also the creator of KaraMD, a line of supplements focused on digestive support, heart health, and reducing inflammation as the gateway to overall health.
Sun-dried tomatoes, eaten in moderation and as part of a balanced, healthy diet, are good for you. They are a rich source of Vitamins C and A and, when packed in olive oil, of Vitamin E and heart-healthy fats.
But eat too much of them, and you can get swelling in the joints or stomach issues, the doctor said. Here’s why—and what else you need to know.
What Nutrients Are There in Sun-Dried Tomatoes?
There’s a reason why people started drying tomatoes in the sun to begin with, and that reason is to preserve them for the winter. (A century ago, Italians would dry their tomatoes on their rooftops’ hot ceramic tiles in the summer sun.)
Ripe tomatoes, Dr. Kara tells me, are highly nutritious. But they’re also full of moisture, which is why they go bad so quickly. Drawing out the water from the fruit extends its shelf life.
The good news for all of us is that sun-drying also helps the tomatoes retain the same health benefits and nutrient value.
“Sun-dried tomatoes are loaded with antioxidants and essential nutrients, specifically Vitamin C and Vitamin A. Antioxidants are important to combat damage in the body that occurs from free radicals.”
“They are also essential for reducing inflammation and protecting your heart and blood vessels. The high concentration of Vitamin C in sun-dried tomatoes also makes them beneficial when it comes to immune system function and support.”
Along with antioxidant and immune system value, Dr. Kara tells me, they also contain “a healthy amount of fiber and nutrients that contribute to improved digestive health and bowel movements.”
Does the Oil Make Sun-Dried Tomatoes Overly Caloric?
As you select sun-dried tomatoes at the grocery store, you will notice that they’re almost always packed in some kind of oil. Cheaper sun-dried tomatoes are typically packed in vegetable oil, whereas pricier tomatoes are preserved in olive oil and, in rarer cases, avocado oil.
Not all oils are created equal, though. It’s true that all oils contain a relatively high amount of calories compared to other foods, but some oils offer more health benefits than others.
When in doubt, reach for the jars with olive oil or avocado oil. That’s because, for a slightly higher price, you get more of the good, heart-healthy stuff.
“Olive oil is rich in Vitamin E, another important antioxidant,” Dr. Kara says, while “avocado oil is known for its heart-healthy fat content.” By choosing these options, even though they are slightly more caloric, “you can add additional health benefits to your sun-dried tomato snack.”
“Health-wise, olive oil has what we call good fats (i.e. monounsaturated fats) which are good for heart health and antioxidant value. Vegetable oil, on the other hand, goes through a more extensive process to make it flavorless and has a higher-smoke value so it does not retain a lot of its nutritional value.”
Can You Have Too Much of a Good Thing?
When it comes to sun-dried tomatoes, Dr. Kara says, the answer is “yes.” And, contrary to what most of us home cooks may think, it’s not just because of the cooking oil they’re preserved in.
“Tomatoes contain an alkaloid called solanine. Consuming too many tomatoes can cause swelling in the joints which can lead to pain. This is because solanine contributes to a buildup of calcium, which in turn increases inflammation.”
“Along with solanine, tomatoes also contain something called oxalate. When eaten in excess, this can lead to kidney issues. Tomatoes are also very high in acidity so they can cause feelings of indigestion and irritate people who have acid reflux or gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). The seeds of tomatoes can also cause issues with those who have diverticulosis.”