Believe it or not, the
"love apple" is good for one's health. Of course everybody knows that tomatoes are
good for the health. For instance, it contains calcium, Vitamin C and lycopene
that are good for such diseases and conditions as cancer, heart disease, and
high cholesterol. Here are some surprising information on the healthful
attributes of the "love apple".
Tomatoes are loved for their fresh taste and the versatile role they play in
cooking. But research indicates there may be another reason to love them --- they're loaded with lycopene (LY-ko-pene). Lycopene is a plant chemical (phytochemical)
that gives tomatoes their red color. It also appears to offer potential health
Tomatoes contain many nutrients, among them vitamins C and B complex and the
minerals iron and potassium. Also in the mix are carotenoids (kuh-ROT-uh-noids).
These include lycopene and beta carotene, which are converted into vitamin A by
Lycopene gets high marks from
researchers for its apparently potent antioxidant properties. Antioxidants are
thought to neutralize harmful substances in the body called free radicals. These
molecules, which result from normal cell metabolism as well as other causes, may
increase your risk of cancer and cardiovascular disease.
Research into dietary lycopene suggests it may lower risk of:
- Heart attack.
A study of more than 1,300 European men suggested that those consuming the
most lycopene from foods had about half the risk of heart attack as men who
- Prostate cancer.
A 5-year study of 48,000 men found that those eating 10 servings a week of
cooked tomato products had the lowest risk of prostate cancer. Their risk
was one-third that of men eating less than two servings a week. Other
studies suggest that lycopene may play a role in reducing the risk of other
cancers, including colon, rectal and breast cancers.
Add heat and eat.
Fresh tomatoes are loaded with lycopene, but cooking tomatoes makes
lycopene easier for your body to use. For instance, your body will absorb five
times more lycopene through tomato sauce than through an equivalent amount of
fresh tomatoes. Evidently, heat breaks down tomato cell walls to free lycopene
that otherwise would pass through your digestive system.
Including a little fat when you cook tomatoes can
further improve absorption of lycopene. Use a monounsaturated fat, such as olive
Getting your share.
No one has determined just how many servings of lycopene-rich foods you should
eat each week for health benefits. Some studies suggest 7 to 10 servings a week.
A serving is equivalent to a half cup of tomato or spaghetti sauce, a quarter
cup of tomato paste, one medium tomato or one slice of pizza with tomato sauce.
You can obtain that amount in any number of ways, including tomato-based sauces,
such as those found on pizza, pasta and other foods, canned tomatoes, soups,
salsas, juice, ketchup and from whole tomatoes as a salad ingredient. Other good
lycopene sources include watermelon and pink grapefruit, although their lycopene
content is only about one-half to one-fifth that of canned tomatoes.
A package deal.
While researchers continue to study dietary lycopene, keep in mind
that foods are complex nutrient packages. Researchers, therefore, are reluctant
to label lycopene as the sole means of attaining nutritional benefit from
tomatoes. Lycopene may simply indicate the presence of other protective
substances in tomatoes that have yet to be identified or isolated.
As for lycopene supplements, any possible
benefits or risks are unknown. For that reason, dietitians generally recommend
eating lycopene-rich foods instead of taking a supplement.