Discover why Lycopene is secret of a healthy Mediterranean diet

Sunday 27th January 2013 

Lycopene is a powerful antioxidant, a compound that blocks the action of free radicals, activated oxygen molecules that can damage cells, and that several scientific studies have found lower risk disease among people who eat lycopene-rich foods.

Now I know what you are thinking already.

How can ketchup which we know is full of salt, colourings and a whole heap of sugar help our hearts – surely Ray has finally tipped over the edge.

Well you’re going to have to allow me a little artistic license with this one.

You see something I found out this week has unlocked the mystery of why the Italians, Spanish and Greeks (to name but a few races) are always considered to be long-lived and healthy because of what they eat.

I know you’ll be glad to discover that it has nothing to do with ketchup – but does have a lot to do with cooked and concentrated tomatoes.

Let me explain.

Do you want the power of tomatoes working on your heart?

The secrets of the Mediterranean diet in a pill

Recently there was a blaze of activity in the media about the power of the tomato in the fight against heart disease.

You may have seen some of the coverage, for example: “Tomato pill could help cut risk of stroke and heart attack” (Telegraph), and “Super pill is key to living longer” (Express).

This made it all sound like something new had been discovered, but in fact it was just a restatement of something that has been known, understood and used widely since ancient times.

Well I say known and understood, what I mean is that those that had diets rich in tomatoes lived longer to tell the tale than those who didn’t.

You see the role of tomatoes in the diets of those who lived in the early civilisations around the Mediterranean had long ago been identified as one of the reasons for their longevity.

Now though a company from Keele University has launched a pill containing concentrated chemicals found in tomatoes, and the trial results have been impressive.

The actual active ingredient derived from tomatoes is known as lycopene, a carotenoid antioxidant, which acts on cells in the body called macrophages and stops them ingesting LDL cholesterol.

This is important as it is these cholesterol gorged macrophages which form the plaques that block off our blood vessels and lead to coronary heart disease and atherosclerosis (blockages).

I find it interesting that much of the normal health advice we get focuses on reducing the levels of ingested LDL cholesterol; you know, we are all eating too much fatty food and that is the reason heart disease is on the increase.

Whilst I have no doubt that this is true, there has been very little about the build up of cholesterol in the macrophages when in reality this also a very important aspect of the way heart and circulatory problems develop.

When you start to look into the research files though it is clear that there has been a lot of work published about how lycopene can help by combating the formation of plaques.

For instance, in 2002 a research team from the University of Toronto published a paper in the Journal of Experimental Biology & Medicine which made a very strong case for using lycopene to help prevent the formation of plaques in blood vessels.

Importantly one of their findings helped explain why much of the world had missed the benefits of eating tomatoes – and why fresh Italian pizza, rich Spanish tomato soup and Greek meatballs with tomato sauce may hold the key to long life.

Which brings me to the crux of this letter, and how I got the headline above.

Could tomato ketchup help you live longer than a fresh salad?

The key to getting the best out of the humble tomato isn’t so much to do with how fresh it is, or where you live – but all about how you eat it.

In the UK we consume about 500,000 tonnes of tomatoes a year, mostly as fresh salad vegetables with the market growth being driven by premium versions such as vine tomatoes.

Following on from the Canadian research though it seems that you might be better eating ketchup rather than fresh fruit still on the stem; you see they found that the bioavailability of lycopene was significantly higher in processed fruit than in fresh:

“In general, circulating and adipose tissue levels of lycopene seem to be better indicators of disease prevention than dietary intake data. Lycopene has been shown to be better absorbed from processed tomato products than from fresh tomatoes.”

Maybe this is why the true Mediterranean diet is so healthy, rather than the one the style magazines would have us believe.

You see far from fresh tomato salads dominating the dinner tables, our enlightened friends are more likely to be found with a deep unctuous fish stew, tomato rich paella or steaming spiced tagine.

In each of these the tomatoes will be slowly cooked to release the full flavour, and improve the quality of the finished sauce – however, by a happy and healthy coincidence this method of preparation increases the release of absorbable lycopene.

The power of lycopene has also been linked in research to reducing the risk of cancers, in particular prostate and breast – two of the most common in the UK at present.

This is linked to the highly anti-oxidant properties of the compound which helps remove damaging free radicals from circulation and protects the tissues which are most vulnerable.

So, next time you are looking at your greenhouse groaning with ripe fruit, don’t worry about having to eat them in one sitting; cook them down to a rich paste and freeze them in handy portions.

These can be added to curries, soups and casseroles at a later stage, safe in the knowledge that your heart will be singing in delight.

A daily dose of heart and body healthy lycopene is so easy to find right here

 

Yours, as always

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