Nancy's Nutrition Corner

"Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food," Hippocrates.

Tantalizing Tomatoes

Many of you have probably heard the news about tomatoes’ all-star compound lycopene and its ability to aid in the prevention of prostate cancer. Studies on lycopene have been so large and conclusive that even big name vitamin companies such as Centrum have touted the lycopene content of their multivitamins.

One of the most impressive studies was conducted at Harvard which showed that men who eat 10 servings of tomatoes a week cut their risk of developing prostate cancer by an incredible 45 percent! But that’s not all. More recent studies have revealed that lycopene in tomatoes is protective against breast, pancreatic, colon and stomach cancers as well.

The Whole Enchilada
And so, yes, lycopene confers great anti-cancer properties, but current research shows that lycopene is most potent when it is part of a tomato, rather than a multivitamin tablet. When scientists compare the benefits of the isolated compound with those the found in a whole tomato, outcomes are better (decreased cancer rates) with the whole tomatta. Researchers have suggested there may be a synergy of action between phytonutrients within the tomato working together. We also know that lycopene is more “bioavailable” when tomatoes are cooked, or eaten along with good fats such as olive oil or avocado. This is because lycopene is fat soluble and therefore better absorbed when eaten with fats.

Last Word – Go Organic!
There are a multitude of reasons to go organic—from the fact that farmers using pesticides have higher cancer rates to the decreased antioxidant content of non-organic produce—and now, there’s another reason. Studies confirm that non-organic tomatoes have a decreased lycopene content. Okay, I’m making a bit of a leap here as the studies were done with ketchup not whole tomatoes, but here are the results of the study performed by the USDA Argricultural Research Service: organic ketchup has as much as three times higher levels of the carotenoid lycopene as non-organic ketchup.

In most of the country, tomatoes don’t get any better than they are in late August, so do your body a favor, and enjoy a plate full today!

Nancy Silva, ND is a licensed naturopath with a penchant for good food. Her monthly column discusses the nutritional aspects of some of the foods available through LocalHarvest. You can contact Nancy from her listing on our website.

Back to the August 2008 Newsletter