Health Benefits of Tomatoes

Many of the health benefits of tomatoes are believed to be associated with the natural chemical that makes it red.

Lycopene in tomatoes causes the bright red color. Whether a person can get as much benefit from a lycopene supplement as he or she can from eating a whole tomato is a subject of some debate.

The name lycopene was taken from the botanical name of the tomato, Solanum lycopersicum. Lycopene is the most common organic pigment in the human body. It is also one of the most potent antioxidants.

Antioxidants are necessary in both humans and plants to prevent damage to the cells that can be caused by oxidative stress, which is present in many diseases including heart disease, vascular disease, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and cancer.

The amount of lycopene in tomatoes is higher than that found in other red fruits and vegetables. In most fruits and vegetables, the nutritional content is reduced by cooking. However, the amount of lycopene in tomatoes that is available for use by the human body (bioavailable) is increased by cooking.

Thus, the bioavailable lycopene in tomato paste is four times greater than the bioavailable lycopene in tomatoes that are freshly picked.

Research studies related to the health benefits of tomatoes are numerous. The lycopene in tomatoes is believed to play a role in cancer prevention. However, recent studies have shown that a stand-alone lycopene supplement alone is not as effective as dietary intake of a wide variety of fruits and vegetables.

Public health organizations, the American Heart Association and the American Cancer Society recommend a daily intake of 5-10 servings of fruits and vegetables per day.

Recently, at the University of Illinois, vegetables were studied for their effectiveness at reducing cancer tumor growth. In this study, tomatoes were compared to broccoli and a broccoli-tomato combination. The researchers concluded that the broccoli-tomato combination was more effective at suppressing tumor growth than either of the vegetables alone.

It seems that the health benefits of tomatoes are enhanced by adding other vegetables to the mix, creating a synergy.

An alternative to a lycopene supplement, and probably a better choice for dietary supplementation, is a whole food supplement.

Recent research showed that a whole food supplement containing fruit reduced unhealthy cholesterol levels in male volunteers. However, research involving a lycopene supplement alone was not shown to improve cholesterol levels.

Scientists have spent many years trying to isolate the “effective” ingredients in plant foods, but most now agree that it is likely that a combination of plant food components provide the benefits.

Whole food supplements made from plant foods contain all of the naturally existing components, not just one or two isolated compounds.

Much more than the health benefits of tomatoes discussed back at the Home Page

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