Tomatoes contain a rare red pigment called lycopene. Lycopene acts as an antioxidant by neutralizing free radicals. New studies suggest that lycopene may have twice the cancer-fighting power of beta-carotene. And for men, lycopene seems to concentrate in the prostate, possibly protecting this gland from cancerous tumor growth.
That alone is reason enough to add tomatoes to your diet. But tomatoes also contain two powerful compounds called coumaric acid and chlorogenic acid. These two compounds have been found to block the effects of the most potent carcinogens in tobacco smoke. And of course tomatoes contain a large dose of vitamin C, which has long been known as an antioxidant.
A Harvard Medical School study found that women who had more lycopene in their systems had a reduced risk for getting cardiovascular disease. In another study, 10 healthy women ate a diet containing tomato puree for 21 days and then switched over to a tomato-free diet for 21 days. After the first 21 days, lycopene concentrations increased in the group that consumed the tomato diet and decreased in the group that consumed the tomato-free diet.
Researchers discovered that tomato consumption had an effect on cellular antioxidant capacity: DNA damage was decreased by 33% and 42%, respectively, in the two groups after consumption of the tomato diet.
So, what’s the best way to add tomatoes to your diet? Surprisingly, you don’t necessarily have to eat your tomatoes fresh. Researchers now know that processed tomatoes like those in sauce and paste could be more effective at reducing cancer risk. This is because processed tomato products and cooked tomatoes contain two to eight times the available lycopene of raw tomatoes.
And another thing to consider: compared to other carotenoids that are stored in your body, the level of lycopene falls quickly as soon as you stop eating lycopene- rich foods. Try to get a little bit of tomato every day. This isn’t as difficult as it sounds, since ketchup, pasta sauce, a tomato in a salad, pizza, and barbeque sauce all contain some lycopene.