That’s because lycopene is tightly bound within a tomato’s cell walls; heat, how-ever, breaks down those walls, thus releasing more lycopene for absorption and use by the body. (In other words, cooking or processing increases lycopene’s “ bio-availahility.”) So, for instance, canned tomatoes, jarred salsa, ketchup, spaghetti sauce, tomato paste, and tomato soup are all good sources of lycopene, as are even sautéed fresh tomatoes. And because it’s fat—soluble, lycopcne also becomes more available for absorption and use in the presence of dietary fats (like cheese or olive oil), which help dissolve and carry it into the bloodstream.
WHY IS MORE LYCOPCNE A GOOD THING? Many of its health benefits are believed to derive from its powerful antioxidant properties. Lycopcne’s ability to counter oxidative stress is thought to be largely responsible for its role in fighting cancer and heart disease. In a landmark study, Harvard University resear- ers discovered that men who consumed 10 servings of tomato products a week reduced their risk of prostate cancer by a s much as 45 percent. (Yes, 45 %) Research also suggests that lycopcne can reduce the threat of other cancers, such as those of the colon, stomach, cervix, skin, and breast, as well as help to prevent ather -osclerosis and heart disease by lowering LDL levels (bad cholesterol). Some observational evidence indicates that lycopene may reduce the risk of macular degenerative diseases as well.
BECAUSE THE BODY DOES NOT PRODUCE LYCOPENE, you can only obtain its benefits by eating foods that are rich in it. Hint: Lycopene is a carotenoid - a plant pigment—that gives certain fruits and vegetables a red hue, including pink grapefruit, watermelon, and guava. The riper and redder the tomato, generally speaking, the more lycopene it contains.
For most of culinary history, the tomato s health benefits were lost on humans. That’s because the tomato is a member of the nightshade family; some of which are deadly. so many people assumed it was poisonous. (They werc on to something: a tomato leaves and stems arc toxic.) It’s only in the last 200 years that people have believed it safe to eat. One of the great characters in the history of the tomato was its advocate Colonel Robert Gibbon Johnson of Salem, New Jersey, who, legend has it, shocked his hometown in 1820 by safely consuming a basketful of tomatoes in front of a crowd of spectators. According to earlier chapters in the tomato’s history, it grew in Montezumas famous garden and was brought back to Renaissance Spain by the conquistador Fernando Cortez in the 16th century.
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