Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Lycopene, Home Grown Tomatoes and Your Health

home grown tomatoes
Home Grown Tomatoes
In a recent article in the Wall Street Journal researchers showed that men who consumed high levels of the antioxidant, Lycopene, reduced the chance of a stroke by 55%.  The study conducted in Finland, included 1,031 particpants, all male, ranging in ages of 42 to 61.

Lycopene is an antioxidant found primarily in tomatoes but can also be found in watermelon, grapefruit, papaya and mango.

According to the USDA, tomatoes are the number one plant grown in the home vegetable garden in the United States by more than 5 to 1 of it's next closest competitor, the pepper or cucumber, depending on which survey you read.  That translates into a lot of people "growing" their own lycopene right at home.

"Lycopene is a carotenoid compound that accounts for the red color in tomatoes. It is the most abundant form of carotenoids (of a total of 600) in the US diet," says Dr. Lori Shemek the health expert for ABC's Good Morning Texas.  "The bioavailability of lycopene is increased following cooking. And so cooked tomato products have higher levels of lycopene than raw. - This is because the cooking process breaks down the cell walls of the tomato which makes the lycopene more available"

According to Dr. Shemek, who also authored the book Fire up your Fat Burn, she says lycopene is so powerful because it has been shown to protect against degenerative diseases by neutralizing free radicals in a person's body.  "Lycopene may help prevent DNA damage in the cells and help the cells to function better," continues Dr. Shemek.  "High levels of lycopene, in the blood and fatty tissues, correlate with reduced risk of cancers, heart disease and macular degeneration. The human body cannot produce lycopene so it must be obtained from food sources."

While no studies currently exist showing if lycopene levels are higher or lower in home grown tomatoes compared to store bought ones, no one can disagree with how easy they are to grow at home, and taste much better.

When I asked Dr. Shemek how much lycopene one can expect to get from a tomato, she said that one fresh tomato accounts for about 4mg, where as a cooked tomato can be as high as 25mg.  Leading to a fact that such items as tomato soup and sauces will yield higher levels of this powerful antioxidant.

Because lycopene is a cartenoid and phytonutrient found in red fruits there are other options than tomatoes.  Along with the four mentioned earlier, you will find lycopene in various quantities in guavas, red cabbage, and chili peppers.  Just think red, think fresh and you are sure to get a good supply of this healthy fighter.

About the Author
Mike Podlesny is the author of Vegetable Gardening for the Average Person: A Guide to Vegetable Gardening for the rest of us. Be sure to join Mike`s vegetable seeds mailing list.
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