Tomato Products May Lower Cancer Risk

Tuesday, January 16th, 2001

A diet rich in tomato sauce, ketchup, and other tomato-based products containing a powerful antioxidant may lower the risk of prostate cancer, a new study says.

Researchers analyzed the food choices and prostate cancer histories of more than 47,000 men and found that those who ate at least two meals a week containing tomato products lowered their risk of prostate cancer by 24 to 36 percent.

Bonnie Dixon, Director of Nutrition Services at Georgia Cancer Specialists, says “Eating whole foods—not taking antioxidants like lycopene in a supplement form—may well help prevent prostate or other cancers.”

Lycopene is an antioxidant and a part of the group of phytochemicals that also includes beta-carotene. Lycopene is what gives tomatoes their red color and is found in only a few other foods such as red grapefruit and watermelon.

While epidemiological studies (such as this one) have found that tomatoes and tomato products are linked with reduced prostate cancer risk, it is unclear whether the lycopene or combination of substances in the whole food is responsible for the decrease.

Substances such as lycopene taken as a supplement may not provide the cancer protection that a whole food source of lycopene such as tomatoes might provide. It is important to remember that tomatoes contain many other antioxidants that may contribute to the lowered risk. Eating a wide range of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains provides a wide variety of foods rich in antioxidants that provide the most protection.

Bottom Line: Enjoy a glass of tomato juice, tomato soup or some low fat pasta with tomato sauce daily as part of a well-balanced diet with lots of whole grains, fruits, and vegetables. Maximizing the antioxidants in your diet from whole foods may well help prevent prostate or other cancers.

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