Tomatoes

Did you know that tomatoes do not have to be a deep red color to be an outstanding source of lycopene? Lycopene is a carotenoid pigment that has long been associated with the deep red color of many tomatoes. A small preliminary study on healthy men and women has shown that the lycopene from orange- and tangerine-colored tomatoes may actually be better absorbed than the lycopene from red tomatoes. That’s because the lycopene in deep red tomatoes is mostly trans-lycopene, and the lycopene in orange/tangerine tomatoes is mostly tetra-cis-lycopene. In a recent study, this tetra-cis form of lycopene turned out to be more efficiently absorbed by the study participants. While more research is needed in this area, we’re encouraged to find that tomatoes may not have to be deep red in order for us to get great lycopene-related benefits.

Tomatoes are a treasure of riches when it comes to their antioxidant benefits. In terms of conventional antioxidants, tomatoes provide an excellent amount of vitamin C and beta-carotene; a very good amount of the mineral manganese; and a good amount of vitamin E. In terms of phytonutrients, tomatoes are basically off the chart, and include:

  • Flavonones
    • naringenin
    • chalconaringenin
  • Flavonols
    • rutin
    • kaempferol
    • quercetin
  • Hydroxycinnamic acids
    • caffeic acid
    • ferulic acid
    • coumaric acid
  • Carotenoids
    • lycopene
    • lutein
    • zeaxanthin
    • beta-carotene
  • Glycosides
    • esculeoside A
  • Fatty acid derivatives
    • 9-oxo-octadecadienoic acid

Bone health is another area of growing interest in tomato research. Interestingly, the connection of tomato intake to bone health involves the rich supply of antioxidant in tomatoes. We don’t always think about antioxidant protection as being important for bone health, but it is; and tomato lycopene (and other tomato antioxidants) may have a special role to play in this area. In a recent study, tomato and other dietary sources of lycopene were removed from the diets of postmenopausal women for a period of 4 weeks to see what effect lycopene restriction would have on bone health. At the end of 4 weeks, women in the study started to show increased signs of oxidative stress in their bones and unwanted changes in their bone tissue. We expect to see follow-up studies in this area that will hopefully determine exactly what levels of tomato intake are most helpful in protecting bone tissue.