The traditional Mediterranean diet, rich in tomatoes, tomato products and other carotenoids, has been associated with a lower incidence of chronic heart disease.
Recent scientific studies have shown that people who eat tomatoes and tomato products regularly are less likely to suffer from heart attacks than those who don’t make tomatoes part of their diet.
Because tomatoes contain lycopene.
Lycopene has been identified as the responsible substance for the antioxidant effects of tomatoes in many studies, including a recent research study that suggests that consumption of tomato products prevents the oxidation of LDL cholesterol, the "bad" guy.
Oxidised cholesterol is considered the primary initial step leading to the formation of plaque in the arteries and consequently to heart attacks.
What is lycopene?
Lycopene is the red pigment found in several fruits and vegetables such as guavas, rosehips, watermelon, pink grapefruit, and red chillis. But it mainly comes from tomatoes and tomato products.
As a powerful antioxidant, lycopene prevents the oxidation of LDL cholesterol caused by free radicals – highly unstable and destructive molecules that subject our cells to oxidative stress and continuous damage that eventually kills the cells.
Lycopene can also reduce the amount of cholesterol in your blood. During one study, that lasted three months, 60 men were fed 6omg of lycopene per day—the equivalent found in 1kg of tomatoes. At the end of the treatment period, the results showed a 14 percent reduction in LDL cholesterol in the blood.
How to increase absorption of lycopene
An important consideration in studying lycopene is its absorption by our cells. Our tissues have to gulp lycopene from the food we eat and get it inside our cells before they can put it to some use.
Research has shown that the level of lycopene found in our organs’ tissues is a better indicator of disease prevention than the amount of lycopene we eat.
People who have a high concentration of lycopene in their tissues have a lower risk of heart attack than those who have a low level.
Here are three ways you can increase absorption of lycopene:
- Process the tomatoes with heat. Heat changes the chemical structure of lycopene and makes it ready for our cells to swallow it up. Some examples include tomato sauce, tomato paste, or tomato soup.
- Eat fresh tomatoes with fats such as olive oil.
- Eat products that contain lycopene with other food antioxidants. An example would be eating tomatoes with other vegetables such as in salads or eating a piece of fruit for dessert. Use olive oil and lemon juice as dressing, and you will have the perfect combination of lycopene and antioxidants.
Now that you know how important it is to include tomatoes and tomato products in your diet, the question is how are you going to include them in your daily meals. Here’s how:
- Make a point to always have tomatoes at home. Bright red, ripe tomatoes have more lycopene than green or yellow tomatoes.
- Always include tomatoes in your salads. Use olive oil and lemon or vinegar as dressing.
- Eat pasta with tomato sauce.
- Add some tomato slices to your sandwiches.
- Rub half a tomato on the bread you eat with your meal.
- Always keep "no salt added" canned tomatoes on hand. They are very handy when you are in a hurry and need them for soups or sauces.
- Whenever possible, visit your local farmers’ market and look for locally grown tomatoes.
- (Emilia Klapp//Health24)
About the author: with her book, Your Heart Needs the Mediterranean Diet, Emilia Klapp has helped thousands of people just like you lower high blood pressure, reduce cholesterol levels and remove the risk of heart disease. For more information visit www.emiliaklapp.com