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The Health Benefits of Tomatoes

The tomato not only thrills the taste buds and brightens the dinner table, it also helps fight disease.

A review of 72 different studies showed consistently that the more tomatoes and tomato products people eat, the lower their risks of many different kinds of cancer. The secret may lie in lycopene, the chemical that makes tomatoes red.

As a powerful antioxidant, lycopene helps neutralize harmful free radicals, which are implicated in cancer, heart disease, macular degeneration and other age-related illnesses. The evidence for a benefit was strongest for cancers of the prostate, lung, and stomach.

In a notable Harvard study of 48,000 men, those who ate more than two servings of tomato sauce a week were up to 36% less likely to develop prostate cancer over a 12-year period than men who ate less than one serving a month.

Data were also suggestive of a benefit for cancers of the pancreas, colon and rectum, esophagus, oral cavity, breast, and cervix.

Diets rich in lycopene may also be heart-protective. In a study of more than 28,000 women, those with the highest blood lycopene levels were about half as likely to develop heart disease over five years as women with the lowest levels.

Research also suggests that lycopene may aid blood pressure and bone health.

Processed tomatoes (e.g. canned tomatoes, tomato sauce, ketchup) contain even more lycopene because cooking breaks down cell walls, releasing and concentrating carotenoids. Eating tomatoes with a small amount of fat enables lycopene to be better absorbed.

The tomato is also an excellent source of vitamin C (one medium tomato provides 40% of the RDA) and a good source of vitamin A (20% of the RDA).

On the minus side, as a nightshade relative, tomatoes contain glycoalkaloids, which some people believe contribute to arthritis symptoms. Research, however, has not backed this up.

Tomato Recipes

Tomatoes and Tuna
Cut a circle around the stalk of a firm tomato. Remove the seeds with a teaspoon. Cube 100 g raw tuna, quick-fry the pieces in a little olive oil, fold 1 T chopped parsley into the tuna, season to taste with salt and freshly ground black pepper, and spoon into the tomato. Place under the grill for 3 minutes and serve with a small rocket salad.

Breakfast Tomatoes
Prepare a tomato for stuffing as above, and lightly cook in a warm oven for about 5 minutes. Break an egg into each, season lightly with salt and freshly ground pepper. Return to the oven for about 5 minutes. Enjoy with a thin slice of toast.

Roasted Cherry Tomatoes
Toss 400 g cherry tomatoes with 1 T olive oil, salt and freshly ground black pepper. Roast for about 10 minutes in a warm oven until the skins begin to split. Remove from the oven; throw in a handful of freshly chopped basil and spoon over grilled fish, warm pasta, or fresh salad.

Chef's Tips

* Never keep tomatoes in the fridge; rather out on a sill in the sun. They ripen beautifully and are delicious when sun warmed.
* Remove the pips from tomatoes and use only the flesh in a chicken dish. It's the pips that cause the dish to become "sour".

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