While many people are busy debating whether tomatoes are a fruit or a vegetable, there’s one thing we know for certain: tomatoes are full of nutrients, including an array of antioxidants. Eating tomatoes is a great way to reap the benefits of disease-fighting antioxidant compounds.
What are antioxidants?
Antioxidants are compounds found widely in fruits, vegetables, and other plant foods. They’re especially concentrated in brightly colored produce, like tomatoes.
Eating a diet that incorporates antioxidants is a great preventive health practice. Antioxidants can help protect your cells from damage that leads to disease. They’re known to scavenge free radicals that cause oxidative damage and inflammation that can raise your risk of things like heart disease, diabetes, and even cancer. But most importantly, these antioxidants are known to have cancer-fighting power!
We’re regularly exposed to oxidative stressors by participating in society, through things like chemical, environmental, and even certain dietary exposures. An antioxidant-rich diet is a great way to help your body defend itself. Throughout this post, we will talk about the power of antioxidants and how they can possibly help fight cancer, which is exciting research to say the least!
Cancer-fighting antioxidants in tomatoes
Tomatoes are packed with antioxidants, particularly the ones discussed below. Some studies have even found that making antioxidant-rich tomatoes a regular part of your diet is associated with a lower risk for chronic degenerative diseases.
Lycopene & Breast Cancer
Like other red-colored produce, tomatoes are especially rich in an antioxidant compound called lycopene. In fact, lycopene is primarily responsible for the red pigmentation of tomatoes.
Lycopene is only found in foods, meaning that it can’t be made by your body. It has been extensively studied for its role in preventing things like cancer and heart disease.
But probably the most stunning research on lycopene focuses on breast cancer. According to Cancer.org, each year, “About 281,550 new cases of invasive breast cancer will be diagnosed in women. About 49,290 new cases of ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS) will be diagnosed. About 43,600 women will die from breast cancer.”
An astounding number to say the least which is why researchers have been honing in on lycopene. In 2018, The Journal of Agricultural & Food Chemistry reported the following research, “Lycopene (LYC) has been correlated with the reduction of certain cancers and chronic diseases. However, the existence and biofunctionality of degraded, oxidized, and biotransformed LYC products in vivo have not been revealed. Therefore, this study aimed to screen and elucidate the potential bioactive lycopene-derived products in breast-cancer and non-cancerous cells.”
The study concluded by noting that yes, indeed: “These results illustrated that LYC-oxidation derivatives or metabolites are involved in growth inhibition of cancer cells.” Meaning tomatoes are definitely your cancer-fighting friend as lycopene does appear to help stop the growth of cancer cells!
Additionally, The Anticancer Research Journal performed an another study on the effectiveness of lycopene and beta-carotene. “Lycopene and beta-carotene are carotenoids widely distributed in fruits and vegetables, with potential anticancer activity. […] The aim of the present study was to determine the effect of carotenoids on the cell cycle and cell viability in human breast cancer cell lines.”
Punchline: Another success. Researchers concluded the following:
“Our findings show the capacity of lycopene and beta-carotene to inhibit cell proliferation, arrest the cell cycle in different phases, and increase apoptosis. These findings indicate that the effect was cell type-dependent and that carotenoids are potential agents for biological interference with cancer.”
A 2013 review of 17 studies concluded that lycopene may play a modest role in preventing prostate cancer as well. Intervention studies suggest that daily consumption of tomatoes, but not lycopene in supplemental form, may help prevent DNA damage that leads to prostate cancer.
In addition, a 2019 meta-analysis of 25 studies, researchers found that adults with high intakes, or high blood concentrations, of lycopene experienced a 26% lower risk for stroke, 37% lower risk for mortality, and 14% lower risk for cardiovascular diseases.
To get the most lycopene out of your tomatoes, cook them before eating. Studies have shown that cooked tomatoes contain more lycopene than fresh tomatoes.
Beta carotene is a plant pigment found in orange, yellow, and red foods, like bell peppers, mango, sweet potatoes, carrots, and tomatoes. It’s converted into vitamin A in your body, which is important for night vision and eye health, lowering your risk for cancer, and supporting your immunity.
To get the most beta-carotene out of your tomatoes, eat them alongside a source of dietary fat because vitamin A is a fat-soluble vitamin. For instance, cook tomatoes on the stove with a little olive oil, or enjoy them on a salad alongside some nuts and seeds. And as noted above, in addition to lycopene, beta-carotene also has breast cancer-fighting agents that help cells inhibit cancer growth: amazing!
Naringenin is a flavonoid found in citrus fruits, bergamot, and tomatoes. It’s been observed to have antioxidant, antitumor, antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, anti-obesity, and cardioprotective health effects. It may also improve endothelial function, supporting your circulation.
Some studies have even indicated that naringenin could have clinical applications for things like bone regeneration, genetic damage, oxidative stress, metabolic syndrome, and diseases of the central nervous system.
Chlorogenic acid is a plant polyphenol with strong antioxidant properties.
Found in tomatoes, coffee, eggplant, and berries, it’s been studied for its anti-cancer, anti-diabetes, anti-obesity, and anti-inflammatory properties and likely ability to help prevent chronic diseases.