The health benefits of tomatoes
It is well known that we should eat a healthy and varied diet, with particular emphasis on a rainbow of fruits and vegetables. Tomatoes are one of the most popular vegetables available; they are versatile and delicious, not to mention the fact that they come with a number of health benefits to boot.
Some of these claims relating to the health benefits of tomatoes are a little specious and have no real scientific backing. For others this is not the case and this article will focus on those that have the support of the scientific community in the form of studies that have shown the truth of such claims.
Tomatoes can help fight against cancer
It is thought that lycopene – which is found in all red fruits and vegetables and is highest in concentration in tomatoes – is able to prevent cancer cells from making a connection with a host’s blood supply, thus preventing them from growing.
This was evidenced in a study carried out by Dr. Mridula Chopra et al at Portsmouth University. The team experimented on prostate cancer cells and found that lycopene did indeed stop the cells from making those important connections.
She explains that the highest levels of lycopene can be found in processed tomatoes that have been cooked in a small amount of fat, such as tomato puree, soup, juices and sauce. Fat is important because it helps increase the effectiveness of lycopene absorption by the body.
Dr. Chopra was keen to point out that further investigation needs to be done in this area, with a view to completing a number of human trials on those who have prostate and other forms of cancer.
Eating tomatoes reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease
The inner lining of the blood vessels, otherwise known as the endothelium, is incredibly important in the fight against cardiovascular disease. An unhealthy endothelium will not function properly, thus causing disease, whilst a healthy one will help prevent heart problems in the future.
A study carried out by a group of researchers at the University of Cambridge found that lycopene, which as mentioned above is found in tomatoes, may be incredibly beneficial to heart health.
The team took 36 patients who were suffering from cardiovascular disease and 36 healthy people; they gave some of the participants a supplement that contains lycopene, called Ateronon, and the others received a placebo. The study was conducted on a double-blind basis, which means that neither the researchers nor the participants knew who was receiving which treatment.
The results showed that in the patients who received the lycopene supplement, blood vessels had widened by 53%, allowing for better circulation; but there was no difference in the healthy participants. As with the cancer trial, it is clear that lycopene is at its highest concentrations when cooked in fat, but also when concentrated, such as in tomato puree.
Dr. Joseph Cheriyan, one of the leading researchers in this study, stated that it was clear that the experiment had proven the importance of lycopene in improving the function of blood vessels. It was also clear that it is important to eat a healthy diet that is rich in this antioxidant in order to maintain healthy cardiovascular functions.
Regular consumption of tomatoes helps maintain healthy skin
It has long been known that the lycopene present in a variety of fruits and vegetables has a positive effect in relation to protecting skin from ultra-violet radiation. But Dr. Mark Birch-Machin from Newcastle University wanted to know if the vegetable that has the highest levels of lycopene – tomato – would have a considerable effect on the skin in relation to photodamage and if so, in what way.
He and his team took 20 female volunteers and had 10 of them consume 55g of tomato paste cooked with 10g of olive oil on a daily basis; they did this for 12 weeks. The other volunteers did not follow this regimen, instead they consumed only olive oil as part of the study. All of the volunteers were exposed to ultra-violet rays at the beginning and end of the 12 week period.
The results showed that the women who had been eating the tomato paste had better protection from ultra-violet rays than those who had not. It was calculated that the tomato paste consumption provided the equivalent SPF of 1.3. These women also experienced an increase in the production of procollagen in their skin cells, which is the stuff that gives skin its elasticity and structure; a lack of which is what leads to signs of aging.
Lower cholesterol by eating tomatoes
We’ve probably all seen, at one time or another, the various advertising campaigns that aim to get us to buy their cholesterol lowering products, but did you know that the art of lowering cholesterol may be as simple as eating more tomatoes? Dr. Karin Ried and her colleagues at the University of Adelaide have conducted a study that shows this to be the case.
What they actually did was collate information from a number of studies that have been carried out in recent years and summarised the main findings, which seemed to show that consuming at least 25mg of lycopene each day will reduce cholesterol by as much as 10%. The amount suggested is the equivalent of consuming half a litre of tomato juice, 6-7 raw tomatoes or roughly 50g of tomato puree.
Reduce age-related eye problems by eating more tomatoes
Degeneration of eye tissue is thought to be a natural side effect of aging, however, more and more people are developing issues with their eyes at younger ages. There have been numerous studies carried out in relation to eye health, in particular the lifestyles and diets that is thought to affect it. One such study focused on how carotenoids, such as lycopene, zeaxanthin and lutein, affect eye health.
The study looked at 263 Chinese people, between 50 and 88 years of age. The participants would undergo fasting and then they had blood samples taken; these were then tested to assess the levels of carotenoids and retinol present. The results showed that those volunteers with the highest levels of zeaxanthin and lycopene had the least degeneration in their eye tissue.
Tomatoes have some of the highest levels of zeaxanthin, so this would suggest that a diet rich in this vegetable will help to prevent, or at least delay, age-related eye problems.
Eating tomatoes can help prevent strokes
You know the rules: regular exercise, low stress and a healthy diet are all supposed to help prevent diseases such as heart disease and stroke. It seems that one of the most important factors in reducing the risk of stroke is a diet rich in lycopene. This wonderful antioxidant certainly seems to be an all-round good guy and tomatoes possess tons of it!
A 12 year study, conducted by Dr. Jouni Karppi et al at the University of Eastern Finland, looked at how increased levels of lycopene would affect the probability of experiencing a stroke. The study followed the health of 1,031 men, between 46 and 65 years of age, who were divided into 4 groups relating to the amount of lycopene in their blood and, therefore, in their diets.
The results found that the men who had the highest concentrations of lycopene in their systems were 55% less likely to suffer from a stroke than the men with the lowest concentrations of lycopene – a truly staggering difference! It certainly seems to be the case that a lycopene rich, and therefore a tomato rich, diet is key in helping prevent the likelihood of stroke in the future.
Reduce the risk of blood clots
Your blood is meant to clot so that you don’t bleed out if you cut yourself or have major surgery, but when it clots too much, it can cause serious problems like heart attacks, deep vein thrombosis and stroke. A study carried out by Dr. O’Kennedy et al researched the effects of tomato extracts on platelet aggregation – which is the technical term for blood clotting.
They took 90 healthy individuals and gave some of them a high dose of tomato extracts, equivalent to approximately 6 tomatoes, and the others received a low dose, which was equivalent to approximately 2 tomatoes. The study was conducted on a double blind basis so that neither the participants nor the researchers knew who was receiving which treatment. The researchers then examined the blood of the volunteers, 6 hours after ingestion.
The results showed that whilst both groups of participants had reduced platelet aggregation, the group who ingested higher concentrations of tomato extract had a greater effect on reducing platelet aggregation.
Tomatoes can help prevent muscle atrophy
Muscle atrophy occurs when muscles waste away, often due to lack of exercise, but it can also be caused by disease or an injury. When this disease takes hold it can affect your ability to move properly and can lead to falls and more serious injuries. A recent study conducted by researchers at the University of Iowa set out to see if tomatidine, which is found in the skins of tomatoes, had any effect on skeletal muscle atrophy.
Using cultured tissues from humans and mice, the researchers found that tomatidine stimulated cell growth. It did this because it is an inhibitor that blocks atrophy and allows the protein and mitochondria to accumulate, thus creating increased tissue growth.
The study also found that whilst tomatidine can be found in both green and red tomatoes, it is in its highest concentrations in green tomatoes; meaning that a diet rich in green tomatoes can greatly improve the effects of muscle atrophy.
So there you have it, some of the health benefits of tomatoes that have scientific evidence backing them up. If you love tomatoes, this is great news for you – start eating them more often!