You Say Lycopene,
I Say Tomato
by Kate Heyhoe
Tomatoes are more than just tasty summer treats; they're packed with health-giving powers. In our diet, tomatoes are the most significant source of lycopene, an antioxidant that helps lower the risk of heart attack and stroke, as well as fighting prostate cancer and other diseases.
Lycopene, the substance that gives tomatoes their redness, is also the most powerful of several phytochemicals in fresh tomatoes. Interestingly, these phytochemicals appear to work best together, in their natural state, rather than separately, to lower the risk of heart disease, stroke and cancer. In this day and age, when there's a pill to help lower this or a supplement to reduce the risk of that, keep in mind that fresh whole foods such as tomatoes provide benefits not obtained in a pill. A recent report from Harvard's ongoing Woman's Health Study suggests that tomatoes are more effective in preventing heart disease than lycopene alone, indicating the importance of the whole tomato, not a single compound. Other new studies concur. For example, scientists at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and Ohio State University studied the link of lycopene in lowering the risk of prostate cancer. They also found that lycopene is enhanced by other phytochemicals contained in whole tomatoes.
Other studies suggest that lycopene may be more bioavailable if tomatoes are cooked, and recommend tomato paste, sauce, and ketchup as more concentrated sources of lycopene than fresh, raw tomatoes. But in either case, fresh or cooked, tomatoes are packed with healthful properties. Adding a small amount of oil to fresh or cooked tomatoes enhances their absorption.
Tomatoes also offer the benefits of vitamins A and C, potassium, and fiber. With only 35 calories and six grams of carbohydrate for one medium-sized tomato, they're a good choice for anyone on a weight-loss regimen, whether it's a low-fat or Atkin's-style low-carb diet. If you're looking for lycopene, pick the reddest tomatoes you can find. Yellow tomatoes are packed with vitamins and other nutrients, but they don't contain lycopene.
And please don't refrigerate your tomatoes. Doing so weakens the flavor. To ripen fresh tomatoes, just keep them on your kitchen countertop for a few days, never in the refrigerator. You'll know they're ripe when the tomatoes soften slightly and turn a deeper shade of red. At farmers' markets, when tomatoes are juicy and fresh off the vine, I take a quick sniff of the stem end; a truly ripe tomato smells like, well, a ripe tomato, bursting with the fragrance of a summer vegetable garden.
Copyright © 2004, Kate Heyhoe. All rights reserved.
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