I used to absolutely hate tomatoes when I was young. In fact, I remember smuggling them out of my packed lunch and into my favourite dinner lady’s obliging mouth during my primary school days. As I got older, I saw the error of my ways: the deliciousness of Heinz tomato soup saw to that. And a good job, too. Tomatoes have a long list of healthy contents, including antioxidant carotenoids like lycopene, as well as polyphenols, folic acid and vitamins C and E.
Tomatoes (or what’s in them) have previously been championed as sensible dietary inclusions in the prevention of prostate cancer. Now, a team of researcher’s in Finland have shown that men who consume more tomatoes and tomato-based products have a lower risk (55-60%) of suffering a stroke. They followed how blood levels of carotenoids, including lycopene, alpha/beta-carotene, retinol and alpha-tocopherol, changed in more than 1000 men over a period of 12 years, and how many of those men had strokes during that time. They identified that the presence of one active tomato ingredient, lycopene, at high levels had a significant effect on decreasing stroke incidence. Lycopene has lots of beneficial effects: it is one of the most highly effective carotenoid antioxidants, scavenging free radicals out of the body, which would otherwise get up to such mischiefs as mutating DNA and killing cells. It is also anti-inflammatory and able to boost immune function. This research supports the idea that eating a diet rich in fruit and vegetables can protect against disease.
Adding a little more lycopene into your diet is easy. Tomato ketchup is one processed source, in a nice, concentrated format. Pink grapefruit, watermelon, papaya and red peppers are also lycopene-rich (and happily tasty).
Read the original article describing this research here.
Karppi J, Laukkanen JA, Sivenius J, Ronkainen K, & Kurl S (2012). Serum lycopene decreases the risk of stroke in men: A population-based follow-up study. Neurology, 79 (15), 1540-7 PMID: 23045517