Lycopene - Whole Tomatoes vs. Supplements
Yuri Elkaim, BPHE, CK, RHN
Lycopene is the compound responsible for the red colour of tomatoes - and many other fruits. Lycopene is a fat-soluble antioxidant whose role in tomatoes is to protect the seeds from damage created by oxygen and light. In fruit, lycopene can absorb UV light and its antioxidant activity allows it to neutralize free radical damage. As you'll soon discover, the yellow fluid around the tomato seeds also contains compounds that help prevent cardiovascular disesase!
Lycopene's health promoting properties have been so impressive that even the nutraceutical industry has isolated lycopene in supplement form. After all, if lycopene from a tomatoes can help prevent cancer, then why not take a truck-load of it in pill form? That seems to be most peoples' thinking. Plus, pills and supplements are easier to take - tomatoes take a little bit more thought!
It may also be helpful to realize that tomatoes are the 4th most commonly consumed fresh fruit and the most commonly consumed canned fruit/vegetable in North America. Therefore, do we really need to supplement???
Furthermore, does lycopene in supplement form offer the same protective benefits (or better) as do whole tomatoes?
Well, let's find out...
Lycopene in Whole Tomatoes Protects Against Prostate Cancer
A study by the Harvard School of Public Health showed that men who had 10 or more servings of tomato-based foods per week had a 45% reduction in the rate of prostate cancer.
Lycopene's action against prostate cancer is an example of the power of whole foods versus supplements for health benefits. In a study published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, rats were fed either a whole tomato powder or an isolated pure lycopene supplement (extract) and the results were nothing short of amazing. The risk of death from prostate cancer was significantly greater in the rats that were fed the pure lycopene extract!
Such results show us that there MUST be other compounds in tomatoes that have a protective and synergistic effect, and that the whole food is truly what we should be after. The power of whole foods lies in the synergy that exists between all the nutrients inherent in a given food. In the case of lycopene, the whole tomato evidently contains a plethora of phytonutrients that render the whole tomato (not necessarily lycopene itself) so powerfully beneficial.
Lycopene in Whole Tomatoes Protects Against Cardiovascular Disease
The yellow fluid that surrounds the seeds in tomatoes contains an impressively large amount of flavonoids that have anti-clotting properties. Theoretically, these flavonoids could reduce the risk of heart attacks and stroke.
In a landmark study derived from the Women's Health Study, which followed 40,000 women for 11 years, who were free from cancer or cardiovascular disease (CVD) at the start of the study, tomato consumption was significantly correlated with a reduction in (CVD).
For those women who consumed 7 servings or more of tomato-based foods like tomato sauce and pizza each week, there was a nearly 30% risk reduction in total cardiovascular disease compared to the group with intakes of less than 1-1/2 servings per week. Women who ate more than 10 servings per week had an even more pronounced reduction in risk (65%) for specific CVD outcomes such as heart attack or stroke.
Again, such results are not seen in research that specifically isolates lycopene on its own. The power of whole foods cannot be undermined.
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