Tomatoes Fight Prostate Cancer

Tuesday, October 3, 2006 - 2:49pm

By Erin Dummert RD, CD

According to the National Cancer Institute, excluding skin cancer, prostate cancer is the most common cancer and the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths in American men. It is estimated that 234,460 cases were diagnosed in 2006. However, prostate cancer rates are significantly lower in southern Mediterranean countries. Researchers have discovered that tomato products, a staple in the Italian diet, help protect against prostate cancer.

Science Links Tomatoes to Cancer Prevention

The link between tomato products and prostate cancer has been extensively studied, and the results are extremely positive. Results of a Harvard study showed men who ate 10 or more servings of tomatoes or tomato products a week lowered their risk of prostate cancer by 45 percent.1 Even men who ate just 2 servings per week still dropped their risk by 20 percent. Researchers have indicated that the plant chemical lycopene is partly responsible for this benefit.

With high amounts present in tomatoes and tomato products, lycopene is responsible for the red or pink colors in tomatoes, watermelon, and pink grapefruit. It functions as an antioxidant, working to repair cell damage and blocking the initiation of cancer.

Best Sources of Lycopene

Lycopene is found in watermelon, red peppers, guava, pink grapefruit, and tomatoes, but tomato-based products such as spaghetti sauce, tomato paste, tomato soup, and ketchup are the most potent sources. This is because when raw tomatoes are heated, the lycopene becomes easier for the body to absorb. This is one rare example where a processed food provides more nutritional benefit than food in its natural state. In addition, a small amount of fat is needed to absorb lycopene. Therefore, olive oil in spaghetti sauce or cheese on pizza enhances the nutritional benefits of lycopene.

Food Is Better Than Supplements

Lycopene is available in a supplement, both on its own and as a part of multivitamin-mineral combinations. Because lycopene in foods can reduce your cancer risk, it is natural to assume that lycopene in supplement form would have the same potential. However, there is no evidence that lycopene supplements are beneficial for cancer prevention.

Get Your Daily Dose

Try the following tips to get lycopene in your diet every day:

  • Drink tomato juice with breakfast or between meals
  • Enjoy tomato soup for lunch
  • Add ketchup to eggs
  • Add tomato paste to soups and stews
  • Add spaghetti or marinara sauce to pasta
  • Ask for double sauce on pizza
  • Dip bread in tomato sauce.

Tomato products such as spaghetti sauce, ketchup, and tomato paste not only taste great, but they have the potential to fight off one of the most common cancers in American men. Adding these foods to your diet is easy, and can significantly reduce your risk for prostate cancer. Start today by adding tomato products to your diet as a part of your everyday routine!

Source1 E Giovannucci, EB Rimm, Y Liu, MJ Stampfer, WC Willett. "A prospective study of tomato products, lycopene, and prostate cancer risk." Journal of the National Cancer Institute 94 no.5 (March 6 2002): 391-398.