The tomato is an immensely popular and versatile food that is rich in the vital antioxidant lycopene, which helps fight against cancerous cell formation as well as other kinds of health problems. It also contains many other beneficial nutrients, making it one of the healthiest fruits or vegetables available.
Tomatoes are a fruit from the Solanaceae family, which also includes peppers, potatoes and eggplant.
Tomatoes are rich in Vitamin C and potassium. They are a good source of plant chemicals such as phytosterols, Beta-carotene and lycopene, a potent antioxidant that becomes more abundant when tomatoes are cooked. Tomatoes also contain polyphenols which have been shown effective in halting growth against liver and prostate cancer. They are a good source of Beta-carotene, which is necessary for the production of Vitamin A, a vitamin that plays a vital role in a healthy immune system, and Vitamin E, which helps to protect the body from toxins.
Lycopene is the most common carotenoid in the human body and is one of the most potent carotenoid antioxidants. It is also found in other red fruits like watermelon, papaya, pink grapefruit and pink guava.
Studies have demonstrated that lycopene reduces the risk of prostate cancer and also has cardioprotective, antimutagenic, anticarcinogenic and anti-inflammatory properties.
Lycopene is so insoluble in water and is so tightly bound to the fiber in fruits and vegetables, that the bioavailability of lycopene is increased by processing. Therefore products such as tomato juice, soup, sauce, and ketchup (preferable home-made), produces the highest concentrations of bioavailable lycopene.
Lycopene has been shown to be more health-protective when consumed with fat-rich foods, such as avocado, olive oil or nuts. This is because carotenoids are fat-soluble, meaning they are absorbed into the body along with fats.
Studies on the health benefits of tomatoes
To date, the majority of research suggests that tomato products may be more cardioprotective than lycopene alone. In a study in which animals were given either tomato juice or a lycopene supplement, and then had heart damage introduced, only tomato juice was found to reduce heart cell death, damage to the heart and improved heart function. An in vitro study using tomato extract found that tomatoes contain compounds that reduced platelet aggregation (blood stickiness).
Another study found that women with the highest intake of lycopene-rich tomato-based foods had a significantly reduced risk of heart disease.
Research has found that tomato products have a synergistic effect between lycopene and other naturally occurring nutrients in tomatoes that produced better results than lycopene supplementation alone in reducing risk factors for cancer.
Studies found that tomato intake had a significant protective effect against colorectal and ovarian cancer.
Subjects who consumed tomato sauce daily for three weeks before the removal of their prostate gland (prostatectomy), had a significant decrease in DNA damage in prostate tissues and an increase in prostate cancer cell death. Further research found an inverse association between higher plasma lycopene derived from plant sources such as tomatoes and lower risk of prostate cancer.
Researchers have reported that a daily glass of tomato juice significantly lowers one of the primary markers of inflammation. The build up of these inflammatory compounds and oxidative stress (the production of excessive amounts of free radicals within cells) have been linked to virtually all chronic degenerative diseases.
Tips for Using Tomatoes
- Opt for organic where possible, as organic tomatoes and tomato products have found to deliver as much as three times the amount of lycopene as non-organic alternatives.
- Aluminium cookware should generally be avoided, and this is especially important when cooking tomatoes, since their high acid content will interact with the metal, resulting in the leeching of toxic aluminium into the food, potentially causing harmful effects on your health.
- Guns, E.S. & Cowell, S.P. (2005, January). Drug insight: lycopene in the prevention and treatment of prostate cancer. Nat Clin Pract Urol, 2(1), 38-43.
- Bhuvaneswari, V. & Nagini, S. (2005, November). Lycopene: a review of its potential as an anticancer agent. Current Medicinal Chemistry - Anti-Cancer Agents, 5(6), 627-635.
- Das, S., Otani, H., Maulik, N., & Das, D.K. (2005, April). lycopene, tomatoes, and coronary heart disease. Free Radic Res, 39(4), 449-455.
- Dutta-Roy, A.K., Crosbie, L., & Gordon, M.J. (2001, June). Effects of tomato extract on human platelet aggregation in vitro. Platelets, 12(4), 218-227.
- Basu A.,Imrhan V. Tomatoes versus lycopene in oxidative stress and carcinogenesis: conclusions from clinical trials. Eur J Clin Nutr. 2006 Aug 16;
- Kiani, F., Knutsen, S., Singh, P., Ursin, G., & Fraser, G. (2006, March). Dietary risk factors for ovarian cancer: the Adventist health Study (United States). Cancer Causes Control, 17(2), 137-146.
- Wu, K., Erdman, J.W. Jr., Schwartz, et al. (2004, February). Plasma and dietary carotenoids, and the risk of prostate cancer: a nested case-control study. Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev, 13(2), 260-269.