One of my favorite relaxation-promoting activities at home is to make a big vat of my own tomato sauce. As you can imagine, having the last name of Sinatra means perfecting the art of the red sauce. It's been a rite of passage as well as a center of family life for me. It's also been a real boon to my health, since tomato health benefits include red carotenoid lycopene.
The benefits of lycopene’s antioxidants have been documented for many years, but we continue to learn more about this carotenoid's positive health effects. In particular, lycopene has been shown to:
- Protect against cancer
- Inhibit the oxidation of LDL cholesterol
- Promote eye health
Numerous Tomato Health Benefits
Did you know, for instance, that 10 servings of tomatoes a week, whether raw or in sauces, can reduce the risk of prostate cancer by more than 40 percent? In addition, a study out of the Department of Epidemiology at Harvard's School of Public Health identified a lycopene deficiency as the strongest dietary factor for prostate cancer. And lycopene equally protects women from breast cancer. In one study, seven micronutrients were evaluated in 289 women with confirmed breast cancer and 442 women without cancer. Breast cancer risk was inversely related to lycopene level-in other words, the lower the lycopene levels, the higher the risk for breast cancer, and vice versa.
Lycopene has also been shown to lower heart disease risk due to its impact on LDL cholesterol. Specifically, lycopene prevents LDL cholesterol from oxidizing, which is the process that initiates heart disease. In one study, researchers found that men with the lowest levels of lycopene in their blood were three times more likely to have a heart attack than those who had more. And finally, the benefits of its antioxidants have been linked to boosting eye health, particularly reducing the risk of developing cataracts.
Sliced, Diced, Stewed Or Off The Stem
Cooked tomatoes are a particularly concentrated source of lycopene, so enjoy tomato sauce on your whole-wheat pasta and veggie pizza often. Low-sodium tomato juice is another potent—and delicious—source of lycopene.
One thing to keep in mind is that dietary oils like olive oil, as well as the carotenoid beta-carotene (abundant in vegetables such as peppers), can actually promote lycopene absorption. So try recipes, like the one below, that combine tomatoes with these other heart-healthy ingredients to achieve the greatest tomato health benefits. (Get more heart-healthy recipes.) And simply make it a habit to add a few fresh tomato slices to all your salads, omelets, and more.
Fresh Tomato Salsa
- 2 large tomatoes, diced
- 2 Tbsp. chopped red onion
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 1 medium green pepper, chopped
- ¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro
- 1 Tbsp. fresh lime juice
- 1 small jalapeno pepper, seeded and finely chopped
Combine all ingredients in a medium bowl and chill several hours before serving.
Makes 2 servings.
Nutrition Facts (per serving): Calories 70, Total Fat 1 g, Sodium 20 mg, Carbs 16 g, Fiber 3 g, Protein 3 g