Tomatoes contain a protective nutrient called lycopene which has been studied intensively over the last 5 years or more and found to be ‘preventative’ against human disease.1, 2, 3
Lycopene, is a member of the flavonoid nutrient family, found mostly in the skins, seeds and leaves of red and orange fruits and vegetables;-tomatoes, carrots, green peppers, apricots, pink grapefruits, red cabbage, berries, plums. Lycopene is a carotene but does not convert to Vitamin A unlike the carotenes from carrots and other plants.
So what does it do? It protects you. Carotenes dissolve into fat and this allows them to build up in the fatty cell walls of your skin, eyes, organs and they protect you from free-radical damage. Hence, in theory they should be protective against cancers, sun damage and a hectic lifestyle!
Don’t peel! Carotenes are in the skin and seeds of the vegetables. Buy organic for any thin-skinned fruits and vegetables and wash well before eating to avoid as much as you can of the pesticides and insecticides.
Laboratory studies4 have shown that you get two to three times as much lycopene from tomatoes when they are heated in oil. Therefore tinned tomatoes and tomato puree are a rich source as they have been heat processed. They do not have to be floating in oil, just massage 1 tsp of oil onto your individual serving e.g. 10 cherry tomatoes, before putting them in the oven. Chopping them also helps. The heating process appears to liberate the lycopene from the plant’s cells. Tomatoes are best fully ripe, deep red in colour and stored at room temperature.
- Warm tomatoes in the oven with some oil and stir through a pasta/rice dish along with your other vegetables and protein.
- A grilled tomato brushed with a little oil for breakfast with your egg, wholegrain toast and beans
- Chop cherry tomatoes into quarters and mix with chopped onions, chilli, apple cider vinegar, lemon and olive oil to make a tomato salsa. Warm through and serve with white fish and mixed lettuce leaves.
1. Gionvanucci et al. (1995) Intake of Carotenoids and Retino in Relation to Risk of Prostate Cancer. J Natl Cancer Inst 87 (23): 1767-1776
2. Sesso et al (2003) Dietary Lycopene, Tomato-Based Food Products and Cardiovascular Disease in Women. J Nutr. 133(7):2336-2341
3. Giovanucci E. (2005) Tomato Products, Lycopene, and Prostate Cancer: A Review of the Epidemiological Literature. J Nutr. 135(8):2030S-2031S
4. Gartner C. et al. (1997) Lycopene is more bioavailable from tomato paste than from fresh tomatoes. Am J Clin Nutr. 66(1): 116-122.