Articles for Our Patients ~ Vanessa Wadda, M.S., RD
What Everyone Needs to Know About Tomatoes
Author: Vanessa Wadda, M.S., RD • Language: ENG
We all know the tomato. It’s that red thing sliced in your salad, and it’s in that sauce you eat with spaghetti. But is there more to tomatoes than we think? Tomatoes have an extensive history in the culinary world. From beefsteak to cherry to Roma tomatoes, each variety offers a different culinary use, a slight nutritional value difference, and a different flavor and texture.
In addition to tomato varietals, today tomatoes are processed in various forms. Whether they are fresh whole tomatoes, diced, stewed, pureed, sun-dried or made into a sauce or paste, tomatoes are enjoyed by everyone. But tomatoes not only supply us with palatable pleasure, they can offer something different than other fruits and vegetables. Tomatoes can potentially prevent certain cancers due to a substance called lycopene.
Recent talk about vegetables and fruits containing substances called phytochemicals have stirred up much interest in nutrition and have changed the way we look at food. Tomatoes are an exceptional piece of fruit because they contain a significant quantity of lycopene. There is much promise and growing evidence that lycopene can reduce one’s risk for prostate cancer and heart disease. One study even showed that people who consumed a diet rich in lycopene foods reduced their risk for cancer of the cervix, skin, bladder, breast, lung, and digestive tract.*
Lycopene may be more potent than beta-carotene in antioxidant activity.* As an antioxidant, lycopene wards off free radicals which damage our cells and make them susceptible to harmful substances which include environmental triggers for the onset of cancer and diseases. One study indicated that the prostate is particularly vulnerable to oxidative attack because of the potential for chronic inflammation of prostate epithelial cells, faster cell turnover rate, and lower levels of DNA repair enzymes compared with other tissues.**
In a study designed to follow lycopene’s pathway in the body, it showed significant uptake of lycopene into prostate tissue and a reduction in DNA damage.** This is promising evidence that lycopene could prevent prostate cancer through its antioxidant activity. Research has shown that canned and processed tomatoes have the highest concentration of lycopene compared to their fresh unprocessed counterparts. The lycopene in canned and processed tomatoes is much more available to the body in terms of absorption across the gut. When eaten with some fat, absorption is enhanced since lycopene is fat soluble. This antioxidant activity is especially enhanced when vitamin E is around.*
Since vitamin E is commonly found in cooking oil and is used in preparation of tomato-based foods, this is generally easy to accomplish. Once believed to be poisonous by the Europeans and, therefore, cooked thoroughly to neutralize their “poisons,” we have definitely come a long way in understanding the food we eat and what it can do for our bodies and health.
Tomatoes not only allow for tasty food but they also give us health benefits which may include cancer and heart disease prevention. So the next time you look at that red stuff called salsa or that red slice in your sandwich, think about how you are helping to protect your body.NOTES:*Margen, S., MD. (2002). Wellness Foods A to Z. New York: Rebus.
**Bowen, P., Chen, S. et al. (2002). Tomato sauce supplementation and prostate cancer: lycopene accumulation and modulation of biomarkers of carcinogenesis. Experimental Biology and Medicine, 227, 886-893.