Tomatoes: A Must Food for Your Heart
The traditional Mediterranean diet, rich in tomatoes, tomato products, and other carotenoids has been associated with a lower incidence of chronic diseases, including heart disease. Recent scientific studies have shown that people who eat regularly tomatoes and tomato products are less likely to suffer from heart attacks than those who don’t make tomatoes part of their diets.
Tomatoes and the arteries
Tomatoes are crucial in the fight against heart disease because they contain lycopene. Lycopene is the red pigment found in several fruits and vegetables such as guava, rosehips, watermelon, pink grapefruit, and red chilies, but it mainly comes from tomatoes and tomato products. As a powerful antioxidant, lycopene prevents the oxidation of LDL cholesterol caused by free radicals. In a study to investigate the effects of tomato lycopene on the oxidation of cholesterol, Agarwal and colleagues provided the participants one-to-two servings per day of tomato juice, spaghetti sauce, and concentrated lycopene for one week. The study showed an important reduction of oxidized LDL cholesterol.
Absorption of lycopene
An important consideration in 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 of disease prevention than the amount of lycopene we eat.
How to increase absorption of lycopene
Lycopene appears more readily in the blood if the meal includes a source of fat or if the tomatoes have been heated, as in the case of tomato sauce and tomato paste. Heat changes the chemical structure of lycopene and makes it ready for our cells to absorb it.
To increase the level of lycopene in your body tissues you can do several things:
• Process the tomatoes with heat. An example would be tomato sauce, tomato paste, or tomato soup.
• Eat fresh tomatoes with fats such as olive oil.
• Eat products that contain lycopene with other food antioxidants. An example would be eating tomatoes with other vegetables such as in salads or eating a piece of fruit for dessert. Use olive oil and lemon juice as dressing, and you will have the perfect combination of lycopene and antioxidants.
Is pizza a good combination of tomato and fat?
Although pizza is not the ideal combination of fat and lycopene because the fat in cheese is mainly saturated, the wrong type for our arteries, you can eat pizza in moderation. Ask the waiter or cook to go easy on the cheese and hold the pepperoni and ham.
For more information about the author and her book “Your Heart Needs the Mediterranean Diet” visit www.emiliaklapp.com.