Top up on Tomatoes – Your heart will thank you
Now, when it comes to matters of the heart – health wise, most people are inclined to defer to the views promoted by modern medicine. Certainly in some instances, they have their place, but are we too quick to fill a prescription at the pharmacy or subject ourselves to a myriad of injections and tests?
Could the solution, in part at least, not perhaps be found right in our homes, or kitchen cupboard to be more specific? Could better health be as simple as better nutrition and could whole foods hold the secret to helping our bodies heal themselves? Some researchers believe that tomatoes may indeed be one of those foods that have significant health benefits.
Raw tomatoes, cooked tomatoes, it’s all good!
Tomatoes have long been a staple in most kitchens, because they can be added to meals in so many different ways. Eaten raw or cooked they are nutritious and delicious. You can add them to salads, stews, pasta sauces and wide variety of other dishes. What many people don’t know though is that tomatoes contain a valuable phytochemical called lycopene and this key ingredient has shown to have wonderful health benefits.
It is lycopene that gives tomatoes their distinctive rich red colour. The interesting thing about lycopene is that unlike many vitamins that are reduced by heat or cooking, studies have shown that absorption of lycopene actually increases in cooked tomatoes and other products such as tomato paste.
Lycopene and cardiovascular health
In recent studies, lycopene has come into the spotlight once again relating to cardiovascular health. One of the benefits of consuming tomatoes is that, it is believed that lycopene inhibits platelet aggregation and in this way helps to prevent artherosclerosis – commonly known as hardening of the arteries.
Lycopene has also shown to have a positive effect on endothelial function which is seen as a cardiovascular risk factor and precursor to artherosclerosis. It is in part this antioxidant ability that makes tomatoes beneficial for health in general and in particular for cardiovascular health.
Like many health conditions, there are several factors that could indicate risk of a cardiovascular incident. It is by looking at these indicators, that researchers can consider what could help prevent or treat certain health issues. Lycopene has been the subject of numerous studies relating to cardiovascular health, and many of these studies have shown positive results.
In one particular study lycopene was shown to be more effective than statins in improving blood vessel function. In this randomised, double blind and placebo controlled study, participants given lycopene supplements showed a more than 50% improvement in the widening and functioning of blood vessels. These results reflect strong support that lycopene in tomatoes can help improve cardiovascular health.
In addition to improving general cardiovascular health, lycopene has shown to have a regulating effect on blood pressure, by reducing systolic blood pressure.
Lycopene is also reported to have an impact on preventing DNA damage to white blood cells which are instrumental in fighting off disease.
In a separate study, researchers looked at the effect of lycopene, and specifically tomatoes as a whole food on LDL cholesterol oxidation. Participants that consumed tomatoes - eaten raw, in a spagetti sauce or tomato juice - showed lower levels of LDL oxidation. Researchers believe that this could have an impact on reducing cardiovascular disease.
Health benefits of tomatoes you may not know:
In addition to being good for our heart, tomatoes have shown to have a host of other impressive health benefits:
1. UV Radiation protection: In a British study, where subjects were given 55g of tomato paste combined with 10g of olive oil daily for 12 weeks, it showed that there was less sun damage to the skin.
Lycopene has shown to protect the skin from harmful sun radiation by stimulating excess production of reactive oxygen species, otherwise known as ROS. This helps to neutralise the otherwise harmful effects of UV light that could damage skin structures.
2. Gamma Radiation protection: Gamma radiation is ionising electromagnetic radiation that has shown to have a potentially damaging effect on cells in the body and in particular the liver.
In our modern lives, where most of us use electronic devices regularly and live in urban areas, we are exposed to radiation. The level of exposure and therefore risk will vary from person to person. Where industrial or nuclear accidents occur, exposure to high levels of radiation may result in death.
Radiation is sometimes also used as a cancer treatment, and this too can have serious and unpleasant side effects.
Lycopene’s ability to stimulate ROS can help reduce the effects of radiation. Lycopene in tomatoes have shown to have a natural antioxidant effect and could have a preventative impact on people exposed to levels of radiation.
3. Antioxidant: Tomatoes contain not only lycopene, but also other immune boosting vitamins and minerals such a vitamin C, vitamin A, potassium, beta-carotene and lutein. These compounds work together to help fight oxidative stress that occurs in the body.
It is this antioxidant ability that researchers are studying, to determine if tomatoes could have a protective effect against cancer or help treat it.
Increasingly, scientific evidence is researching and confirming the benefits of whole foods on health and prevention of disease. It would appear that tomatoes and natural tomato products such as juice and paste contain high levels of lycopene and other minerals that can hold distinct benefits for health.
So, before reaching into the medicine cabinet, consider what might be in your refrigerator or cupboard. Food such as tomatoes could help you stay healthier and provide the nutrition and protective effects that your body needs.
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