As we achieve a higher level of understanding about what keeps the human body well and what pushes it towards illness, it is increasingly obvious that the food we eat directly affects our level of health. Thus, it comes as no surprise that health advocates repeatedly emphasize consuming a nutritious, balanced diet to ward off disease. While eating fruit and vegetables is the cornerstone of every healthful eating plan, some may mistakenly assume that only fresh produce merits accolades. More specifically, canned tomatoes deserve recognition as a tasty, major health food.
Scientists have found that canned veggies lose a lot of their healthful nutrients in the canning process. Even so, eating canned produce is better than having none at all – especially because experts estimate that Americans typically eat only one-third of the recommended daily intake of fruits and vegetables. However, tomatoes represent a notable exception to nutrient loss when canned.
Tomatoes have been isolated by researchers as a definite ally against a variety of health ailments. Although the debate over whether a tomato is a fruit or vegetable rages on (scientifically, a tomato is a fruit, but it is used as a vegetable by cooks), there is no question that tomatoes contain an abundance of antioxidant activity.
Antioxidants are valued substances that safely neutralize free radicals, protecting the body from the damage free radicals can cause. Free radicals are unstable compounds that are accused of causing or provoking many conditions involving progressive deterioration. Excessive amounts of free radicals in the body have been linked to aging, cancer, liver fibrosis, cardiovascular illness, arthritis and a number of other ailments involving cellular damage.
About Tomatoes and Lycopene
Characterized as a carotenoid, lycopene is the primary antioxidant found in tomatoes and many other red-pigmented fruits and vegetables. The pigment that gives tomatoes their fabulous color, lycopene is also present in smaller quantities in pink grapefruit, watermelon, guavas and papayas. Although more research is needed to construct an open and shut case proving that tomatoes be revered by cardiovascular specialists, studies have indicated that lycopene helps:
- prevent age-related macular degeneration
- lower cholesterol
- protect the prostate from cancer
- promote heart health by reducing thrombotic events (unwanted blood clotting)
Recent Lycopene Research
As published in the May 2011 edition of theJournal of Internal Medicine, Finnish researchers investigated how carotenoids are related to blood vessel thickness of the carotid artery wall. This association is important because, the thicker a carotid artery wall is, the more vulnerable a person is to a heart attack. The researchers found that high plasma concentrations of lycopene were associated with decreased carotid atherosclerosis – a measure indicative of favorable cardiovascular health.
Improving Lycopene’s Absorption
For those desiring to protect their heart’s health, motivation to load up on tomatoes is easy to acquire. However, this plump red fruit/vegetable needn’t be fresh to capitalize on lycopene’s health benefits. In fact, experts insist that canned tomatoes, tomato paste and tomato sauces are among the best sources of lycopene. This is because the heat from canning or processing tomatoes concentrates the lycopene content and makes it easier for the body to absorb upon consumption.
Another interesting fact about lycopene is that it is a lipid-soluble antioxidant. This means that more lycopene is absorbed in the presence of fat molecules. As such, oil eaten together with a tomato helps pull more of the lycopene out of the tomato and into the bloodstream. Cancer researchers believe that lycopene’s lipid-solubility is one of the reasons why people on the Mediterranean diet, which typically combines tomato products with olive oil, have one of the lowest rates of intestinal cancer and one of the longest known life-spans.
If preserving your heart’s health and fending off cancer describe your priorities, put tomatoes on the top of your shopping list. Boost the antioxidant activity of your favorite tomato dish by utilizing canned tomatoes and olive oil in your next meal – and feel confident that you are partaking in a food that is healthy for your heart.