5 Amazing Benefits of Tomatillos

by John Staughton (BASc, BFA) last updated -

Some of the health benefits of tomatillos may include their ability to reduce the chances of diabetes, increase the health of your digestive system, boost the immune system, increase cellular growth, increase energy levels, reduces the risk of certain types of cancer, improve vision health, lower blood pressure, and can help in weight loss efforts.

What are Tomatillos?

Tomatillos are native to Mexico and are small delicious vegetables from the nightshade family. Although they resemble tomatoes (both in appearance and in the name), they are actually related more closely to cape gooseberries. Their scientific name is Physalis philadelphica and is a staple in a number of cuisines in Central and South America. Despite the fact that its closest nutritional match is not actually a tomato, the common names for this plant’s fruit are Mexican tomato, husk tomato, or husk cherry. As the plant grows, it develops a light brown husk that will eventually break off when the tomatillo is ripe or ready to be picked. The ideal color and texture of the tomatillo should be bright green and rather firm. [1]

In culinary usage, it forms the primary ingredient of the famous Mexican green sauces, as well as various sauces, while those cultivars that produce red or purple tomatillos are more suitable for jams and preserves, as they have a slightly sweeter taste. Tomatillos can also be steamed, fried, or broiled, much like traditional tomatoes. The name tomatillo is derived from tomato since European explorers saw the small green vegetable and associated it with a small tomato. For this reason, although the rest of the world refers to red tomatoes as “tomatoes”, people in Mexico and Central America still call these green vegetables “tomate”. Like many other fruits and vegetables, tomatillos are packed with nutrients and their unique blend of vitamins, minerals, and organic compounds make it a very healthy addition to a nutritious diet. [2] [3]

An unripe tomatillo with the ripe tomatillo on a jute cloth

Tomatillos, sometimes called husk tomatoes, are a staple in Mexican cuisine. Photo Credit: Shutterstock

Nutrition Facts

Tomatillos, raw
Serving Size :
Water [g]91.63
Energy 32
Energy [kJ]133
Protein [g]0.96
Total lipid (fat) [g]1.02
Ash [g]0.55
Carbohydrate, by difference [g]5.84
Fiber, total dietary [g]1.9
Sugars, total including NLEA [g]3.93
Calcium, Ca [mg]7
Iron, Fe [mg]0.62
Magnesium, Mg [mg]20
Phosphorus, P [mg]39
Potassium, K [mg]268
Sodium, Na [mg]1
Zinc, Zn [mg]0.22
Copper, Cu [mg]0.08
Manganese, Mn [mg]0.15
Selenium, Se [µg]0.5
Vitamin C, total ascorbic acid [mg]11.7
Thiamin [mg]0.04
Riboflavin [mg]0.04
Niacin [mg]1.85
Pantothenic acid [mg]0.15
Vitamin B-6 [mg]0.06
Folate, total [µg]7
Folate, food [µg]7
Folate, DFE [µg]7
Choline, total [mg]7.6
Vitamin A, RAE [µg]6
Carotene, beta [µg]63
Carotene, alpha [µg]10
Vitamin A, IU [IU]114
Lutein + zeaxanthin [µg]467
Vitamin E (alpha-tocopherol) [mg]0.38
Vitamin K (phylloquinone) [µg]10.1
Fatty acids, total saturated [g]0.14
16:0 [g]0.1
18:0 [g]0.04
Fatty acids, total monounsaturated [g]0.16
16:1 [g]0.01
18:1 [g]0.15
Fatty acids, total polyunsaturated [g]0.42
18:2 [g]0.4
18:3 [g]0.02
Sources include : USDA [4]

Tomatillos Nutrition Facts

Tomatillos have significant levels of dietary fiber, very few calories, and low levels of fat. Furthermore, they contain moderate levels of vitamin C, vitamin A, vitamin K, and niacin, as well as potassium, manganese, and magnesium. In terms of organic compounds, however, tomatillos may possess withanolides and flavonoids such as lutein, zea-xanthin, and beta-carotene. [5]

Health Benefits of Tomatillos

Health benefits of tomatillos include the following:

May Improve Digestion

According to Dr. Juliana K. Choi, Genoveva Murillo, et al, IIT Research Institute, Chicago, USA, most vegetables possess a potentially high level of dietary fiber, and tomatillos are no exception. This means that they are very good for digestive health, as fiber can help add bulk to foods and speed their transit through the digestive tract, thereby eliminating constipation, excess gas, bloating, cramping, and even more serious conditions like colon cancer and gastric ulcers. Furthermore, fiber is very good at regulating the release of carbohydrates (simple sugars) into the bloodstream, thereby regulating blood sugar levels, which can be important for people suffering from diabetes, who need to strictly control their glucose and insulin levels. [6]

May Have Anticancer Potential

A team of researchers from the University of Illinois, Chicago, published a study in the Tetrahedron Journal states that tomatillos contain unique antioxidant phytochemicals called withanolides, which have been directly linked to some anti-cancer and antibacterial functions. Antioxidants such as withanolides help to combat the effects of free radicals, which are the dangerous byproducts of cellular reproduction that can kill or mutate healthy cells and turn them into cancerous ones. [7]

Furthermore, a report published in the American Journal of Epidemiology, states that vitamin A, vitamin C, and flavonoids within tomatillos provide other cancer-protective effects, particularly in terms of lung and oral cancers. The Journal states that while smoking avoidance is the most important behavior, a combination of fruits and vegetables containing all these nutrients offers the best dietary protection against lung cancer. [8]

May Boost The Immune System

The vitamin C found in tomatillos can help to boost the immune system by stimulating the production of white blood cells, the body’s primary line of defense against foreign agents and pathogens. Vitamin C is also a key component of collagen production, which may support the health and creation of skin tissue, as well as the cells and tissues that make up our organs and blood vessels, increasing the body’s sustainability and metabolic functions. [9]

May Improve Vision

Vitamin A has long been connected to the health of our vision. Tomatillos also contain beta-carotene, a derivative of vitamin A, that functions as an antioxidant and prevents macular degeneration, cataracts, and other conditions that can affect the health of our eyes. [10]

May Help in Weight Loss

Tomatillos are one of those preferred vegetables for people who are trying to lose weight. High-nutrient, low-calorie, and low-fat vegetables with high fiber content, like tomatillos, may help people to feel full, acquire the necessary nutrients on a daily basis, and reduce the chances of overeating, because they feel satiated. They are ideal if you are trying to reduce obesity for a healthier lifestyle. [11]

May Boost Energy Levels

Niacin is a member of the B-family of vitamins that are often overlooked in human health. Niacin is a key element in the enzymatic processes that break down food and complex molecules into usable energy for the body. By increasing the availability of this energy and making the process more efficient, the niacin found in tomatillos can give you a sustainable boost of energy throughout your day. [12]

May Lower Blood Pressure and Improve Heart Health

The positive ratio of potassium: sodium in tomatillos means that your blood pressure can be reduced. Potassium is a vasodilator, meaning that it may relax blood vessels, possibly reduce the strain on the cardiovascular system, and might promote circulation and oxygenation to vital areas of the body. Furthermore, when combined with a possibly high fiber content, which can reduce “bad” cholesterol levels, tomatillos can promote heart health by reducing the chances of atherosclerosis, heart attacks, and strokes. [13]

A Final Word of Caution: Nightshade vegetables tend to have high levels of alkaloids, which can exacerbate inflammation of the joints if you already have certain problems with arthritis or inflammation. However, tomatillos possess relatively low amounts of alkaloids. That being said, consult your doctor before adding tomatillos to your diet if you suffer from these types of health conditions. Other than that, add tomatillos to your diet and enjoy!

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About the Author

John Staughton is a traveling writer, editor, publisher and photographer with English and Integrative Biology degrees from the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana (USA). He co-founded the literary journal, Sheriff Nottingham, and now serves as the Content Director for Stain’d Arts, a non-profit based in Denver, Colorado. On a perpetual journey towards the idea of home, he uses words to educate, inspire, uplift and evolve.

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