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 regularly, are less likely to suffer from heart attacks than those who don’t make tomatoes part of their diet. Why? Because tomatoes contain lycopene. Lycopene has been identified as the substance responsible for the antioxidant effects that tomatoes have shown in many studies. One recent research suggested that the consumption of tomato products prevents the oxidation of LDL cholesterol, the “bad” guy; oxidized cholesterol is the initial step in the formation of plaque in the arteries, that consequently leads to heart attacks.
Lycopene can also reduce the amount of cholesterol in your blood. During one three-month long study, 60 men were fed 60 milligrams of lycopene every day, the equivalent found in 1 kilo of tomatoes. At the end of the treatment period, the results showed a 14 percent reduction of LDL cholesterol in their blood.
How to increase lycopene absorption:
An important consideration when studying lycopene, is its absorption by our cells. Research has shown that the level of lycopene found in our organs’ tissues, is a better indicator than the amount of lycopene we eat. Individuals with a high concentration of lycopene in their tissues, are at lower risk of heart attack than those who have a low level.
1. 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.
2. Eat fresh tomatoes with fats such as olive oil.
3. Eat products that contain lycopene, with other food antioxidants. An example would be eating tomatoes with other vegetables, such as in salads; use olive oil and lemon juice as dressing, and you will have the perfect combination of lycopene and antioxidants.
7 ways to include more tomatoes in your diet:
• Make it a point to always have tomatoes at home. Bright red, ripe tomatoes have more lycopene than green or yellow ones.
• 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 sandwich.
• 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.