Tomato Nutrition and Health Benefits

Scientists are suggesting that tomato lovers may be more likely to reduce the risk of serious disease. Lycopene, an anti oxidant which gives tomatoes their lovely rich red color, helps remove free radicals from the body. Free radicals are unstable oxygen molecules and have been implicated in cancer and other serious diseases.


Professor Michael Avirim of the Rambam Medical Center in Haifa, Israel who is testing lycopene in clinical trials says, ' In its natural form, lycopene is an excellent anti oxidant that helps to prevent formation of oxidized LDL, the 'bad' cholesterol in blood, which contributes to the build up of plaque that narrows, stiffens and constricts arteries and can lead to heart attacks. When this natural extract was added to cancer cell cultures, the lycopene inhibited their growth. Lycopene is the most potent nutritional antioxidant found to date.
 
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Another study compared men who had had a heart attack with the same number of healthy men and found that those with high levels of lycopene appeared to reduce their risk of heart diseases by 50%.  The study's coordinator, Lenore Kohlmeier, professor of nutrition and epidemiology at the university of North Carolina, said, 'Based on our findings, and other research, lycopene can be an excellent antioxidant, we recommend that people eat tomato based cooked foods.
Several recent studies have shown that a diet rich in tomatoes and tomato products is strongly linked to a reduced risk of certain cancers. In a six year study of 48,000 male professionals, Dr Edward Giovannucci and colleagues at Harvard Medical School found that consuming tomatoes and tomato based products between five to seven serving a week was associated with a reduced risk of prostate cancer of 21% to 34%.

Another study published in the International Journal of Cancer said that lycopene appears to protect against cancer of the mouth, pharynx, esophagus, stomach, colon and rectum. Researchers at the University of Illinois report that women with the highest lycopene levels had a five fold lower risk of developing precancerous signs of cervical cancer than women with lowest lycopene levels.

The human body does not produce lycopene alone and therefore relies on a consumption of tomatoes and tomato based products for this anti oxidant. Nutritionists and other health professionals have long advocated the cancer preventative benefits of a diet high in fruits and vegetables.


Facts about Lycopene:

  • Research by Dr. Joseph Levy and colleagues from Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, Beer-Sheva, Israel, may have identified the unique mechanism through which lycopene protects against cancer which is by activating cancer-preventive phase II enzymes.
  • Lycopene is an open-chain unsaturated carotenoid that imparts red color to tomatoes.
  • Lycopene is a proven anti-oxidant that may lower the risk of certain diseases including cancer and heart disease.
  • In the body, lycopene is deposited in the liver, lungs, prostate gland, colon and skin. Its concentration in body tissues tends to be higher than all other carotenoids.
  • Epidemiological studies have shown that high intake of lycopene-containing vegetables is inversely associated with the incidence of certain types of cancer. For example, habitual intake of tomato products has been found to decrease the risk of cancer of the digestive tract among Italians.
  • In one six-year study by Harvard Medical School and Harvard School of Public Health, the diets of more than 47,000 men were studied. Of 46 fruits and vegetables evaluated, only the tomato products (which contain large quantities of lycopene) showed a measurable relationship to reduce prostate cancer risk. As consumption of tomato products increased, levels of lycopene in the blood increased, and the risk for prostate cancer decreased. The study also showed that the heat processing of tomatoes and tomato products increases Lycopene bioavailability.
  • Ongoing research suggests that lycopene can reduce the risk of macular degenerative disease, serum lipid oxidation and cancers of the lung, bladder, cervix and skin.
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Updated 5/6/13

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