Are cooked tomatoes better for you than raw? The answer is yes and these antioxidant test results prove it.
Very few vegetables are healthier in their cooked form. This is because the heat of cooking - whether it be baking, boiling, frying, you name it - causes most types of antioxidants to breakdown. That still happens with tomatoes too, especially their vitamin C, which is one of the nutrients most adversely affected by cooking. However lycopene is different, as it becomes more bioavailable upon being exposed to heat. This phytonutrient is specifically found in the red carotenoid pigments of certain fruits and vegetables and not many have it.
Here's a look at which foods contain the most lycopene - the top 10. All measurements are based on a serving size of 100 grams (about 3.5 ounces):
1. Guava - 5,204 micrograms
2. Watermelon - 4,532 micrograms
3. Cooked Tomatoes - 3,041 micrograms
4. Papaya - 1,828 micrograms
5. Grapefruit - 1,135 micrograms
6. Cooked Red Bell Peppers - 484 micrograms
7. Asparagus - 30 micrograms
8. Red Cabbage (a.k.a. Purple Cabbage) - 20 micrograms
9. Mango - 3 micrograms
10. Carrots - 1 microgram.
As you can see contrary to popular belief, tomatoes do not have the most lycopene. From the list, you can see how the top six are major outliers. This is because #6 (cooked sweet red peppers) has 1,600% of what #7 (cooked asparagus) has.
Now let's take a look at how much antioxidants are in cooked tomatoes vs. fresh. Calculating the ORAC value for each, which measures total antioxidant content found within 100 grams of the item, we get the following.
Cooked Red Ripe Tomatoes = 423
Raw Red Ripe Tomatoes = 387
There is an important caveat to keep in mind when comparing these two numbers. When tomatoes are cooked, they lose quite a bit of their water content. For that reason 100 grams of cooked tomatoes would be more dense than 100 grams of fresh. The USDA did not go into detail as to how much they cooked their tomatoes, or in other words, how much water evaporated in the process. So yes, one can say cooked tomatoes are better for you, but that can only conclusively be said for an equal weight basis comparison. For example, eating 1 ounce of cooked weight is healthier than 1 ounce of fresh.
USDA Database for the Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity (ORAC) of Selected Foods, Release 2 - Prepared by Nutrient Data Laboratory, Beltsville Human Nutrition Research Center (BHNRC), Agricultural Research Service (ARS), U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) - May 2010