At a time when natural ingredients are being recognized for their disease-preventing qualities, tomatoes are one of the indisputable winners. Experts link their main ingredient--lycopene--to the prevention of lung and prostate cancer , digestive tract tumors, arteriosclerosis and heart attacks.
A basic component of the so-called Mediterranean diet, tomatoes were the focus of a research study published in the Journal of the National Cancer Instituteof the United States. The study demonstrated that those who consume significant amounts of tomatoes and tomato-based products are less at-risk for numerous types of cancer.
The report analyzed 72 earlier studies that had examined the connections between tomato intake and cancer as well as blood lycopene levels. This substance protects cells from oxidants that typically cause cancer. Dr. Edward Giovannuci of Harvard Medical School explained in his study that 57 of the 72 studies linked tomato intake with reduced risk of cancer.
In 35 of these studies, the connection was sufficiently strong to be statistically significant. According to Giovannuci, the data are most applicable to cancer of the prostate, stomach and lungs.
Lycopene is an antioxidant of the carotenoid family, which gives tomatoes their characteristic red color. By the way, if you're not a tomato fan, lycopene is also found in smaller amounts in watermelon, red grapefruitand guava.
Another study, published in the American Journal of Epidemiology, established that higher consumption of tomato sauce reduced the risk of heart attack. The study group was led by Lenore Kohlmeier, professor of nutrition at the University of North Carolina.
The scientists analyzed samples of fat from 1,379 people who had suffered heart attacks, comparing the samples to those of people who had not had heart attacks. The conclusion was that those whose samples showed higher concentrations of lycopene had half the risk of suffering a heart condition.
For a long time doctors have been searching for links between this salad celebrity and cancer. According to this same report, lycopene deficiencies can lead to increased risk for lung cancer.
Unlike other vegetables whose beneficial properties are greater when raw, tomatoes are better cooked. The heat during cooking helps free lycopene from the tomato's cell walls. So canned tomatoes or those that have been through any kind of cooking process increase lycopene concentrations.
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