Tomatoes – Not Only for Eye Health

tomate1Can you imagine life without tomatoes?  No more Spaghetti Bolognese, no more Pasta Arabiata…or no more of many dishes from around the Mediterranean area?

Neither can I.  Besides onions and garlic, the tomato must be one of the most important basic ingredients in my culinary style.  Perhaps it is not omnipresent, but an improvised vegetable soup, fresh chopped tomato or a little tomato paste here or there for an added flavour boost certainly benefits from it.  I do love anything rich in tomatoes.

The tomato’s benefits are many, but did you know that it is one of those vegetables that once cooked, its nutrients become more bio-available?  This is especially true for lycopene, which is increased by 2.5 to 3.8 times through cooking.

Research shows that lycopene not only is heart healthy, protects the eyes and skin, but it also reduces damage to the mitochondrial DNA.

Lycopene is the bright red pigment found in the blood serum, liver, lungs, adrenal glads, prostate and colon.  Many studies have shown that eating lycopene rich foods may be cancer protective as well as for age related eye disorders.  However, these studies were on tomatoes and not lycopene supplements.  It is important to remember that in nature, properties very often work synergistically.  Tomatoes are also high in potassium, Vit. K., some Vit. C (though higher in fresh).  Here is a short list of what one tablespoon of tomato paste contains:

  • 244 IU of Vit. A (for eyes and skin)
  • 162 IU of potassium (helps lower blood pressure)
  • .5 of iron (blood, cellular function)
  • 3.5 of Vit. C. (cellular function)

Further studies have shown that lycopene protects the skin from  the harmful UV that cause sunburn and skin damage.  Testing over a 10 week period, ingesting 40 g. of tomato paste (roughly 2.5 tablespoons) plus 10 g. of olive oil daily reduced the redness of sunburn by 40%.  Taking 55g. over 12 weeks, gave protection against sun damage due to excessive sun exposure.  It was further shown that it reduced damage to the mitochondrial DNA.

“Tomatoes contain al four major carotenoids: alpha- and beta-carotene, lutein, and lycopene.  These carotenoids may have individual benefits, but also have synergy as a group (that is, they interact to provide health benefits).” A very strong argument against taking just lycopene supplements (which are usually synthetic) that contain none of the synergy of the tomato, especially the paste.

Not only is it eye and skin protective but heart healthy, improves blood pressure, helps against osteoporosis and is good for the prostate as well.

A study by the Ohio State University showed that when tomatoes are eated with a healthy oil/fat source such as avocados or olive oil, the bio-availability of the carotenoids is increased from 2 to 15%.

One of my favourite ways to take tomato paste – besides in cooking – is to mix a tablespoon with a little olive oil and spread it on a crisp bread (Swedish bread, Knackebrot etc.).  Sometimes I mix in a dose of turmeric and a little black pepper and perhaps top it with chives or whatever inspires me.  Black olives, avocado or fresh chopped herb works as well.  As a healthy snack, spread a little on a crisp bread and add a little avocado mashed with olive oil.  Delicious and oh so tasty!

Why purchase lycopene supplements when a tube of tomato paste is inexpensive, has other properties and carotenoids that work synergistically with lycopene, is handy and travels well?  Take it with you to work to add to a lunch or snack – or straight off the spoon!


Selected references:

  •  Mayo Clinic – Drugs and Supplements, Lycopene, HRB-2059666
  • C Gärtner, W Stahl, and H Sies Lycopene is more bioavailable from tomato paste than from fresh tomato 11.6 abstract
  • Levy J, Sharoni Y, Danilenko M, Miinster A, Bosin E, Giat Y, Feldman B (1995). Lycopene is a more potent inhibitor of human cancer cell proliferation than either alpha-carotene or beta-carotene  Nutr Cancer 24(3): 257–266
  • Stahl W, Sies H (1996). Lycopene: a biologically important carotenoid for humans?. Arch. Biochem. Biophys.
  • Br J Dermatol Tomato paste rich in lycopene protects against cutaneous photodamage in humans in vivo: a randomized controlled trial. 2011 Jan;164(1):Epub 2010 Nov 29. 20854436 [PubMed]




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