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More Tomatoes, Please

Eating lots of tomatoes – a total of 10 servings a week – could cut the risk of prostate cancer by 18 percent, according to new research from Great Britain. Those 10 servings don’t have to be raw tomatoes or tomato salad – they could include the tomatoes in pasta sauce or on pizza, tomato juice and the tomatoes in baked beans, the study found. Researchers from the universities of Bristol, Oxford and Cambridge examined the diets of some 14,000 British men ages 50 to 69 to reach these conclusions. They further reported that men who ate five servings or more of fruit or vegetables per day had a prostate cancer risk that was 24 percent lower than that of men whose fruit and vegetable consumption averaged two and a half servings a day or less. The antioxidant lycopene found in tomatoes is believed responsible for the lower risk of prostate cancer. In addition, the researchers reported that men whose diets included selenium provided in bread and pasta and calcium from dairy products also had a lower risk of prostate cancer. This study doesn’t conclusively prove that eating lots of tomatoes prevents prostate cancer – just that there is an association between the amount of tomatoes eaten and a lower risk of the disease.

My take? Lycopene is a powerful antioxidant - it is the carotenoid pigment responsible for the red color of tomatoes. In a number of large studies, it has demonstrated a protective role against prostate, colon, and rectal cancer, as well as heart disease. Lycopene is much more available to the body from cooked tomatoes than from raw ones. And since it is fat soluble, you need to eat your cooked tomatoes with some fat to facilitate absorption. That doesn't mean eating all the pizza you can get your hands on. However, it does suggest that homemade marinara sauce would be a healthful staple. I make my marinara with olive oil and keep some on hand in the freezer. If you don’t like tomatoes, you can always obtain lycopene from watermelon, which contains 40 percent more lycopene than an equivalent weight of tomatoes. The lycopene from watermelon is as well-absorbed by the body as the lycopene from tomatoes. (And, fortunately, you don't have to cook watermelon to get the same benefits that you get from tomatoes.)

Vanessa Er and Richard M. Martin et al, “Adherence to Dietary and Lifestyle Recommendations and Prostate Cancer Risk in the Prostate Testing for Cancer and Treatment (ProtecT) Trial.” Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers and Prevention. doi: 10.1158/1055-9965.EPI-14-0322