Liking Lycopene for Fresh Tomato Day

More than just for a salad, there are many health benefits.

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April 6 is fresh tomato day. I love my tomatoes: grape, cherry, on the vine, of fresh from the vine a bit warm with the dusty coating on it a bit sweet with that bit of satisfying something that I can’t quite define.

I find that tomatoes are one of those vegetables (technically a fruit) that almost everyone likes. Perfect as a snack, sliced on a salad, diced or sliced onto a pizza or crushed into a sauce – tomatoes are high in water, low in calories, and have some fantastic health benefits.

While a medium tomato is only 25 calories, 1.5 g of fiber and nearly 300 mg of potassium 9 (a good thing), there are other added benefits. Phytochemicals!

Phytochemicals or “phytonutrients” are chemicals found in plants (hence the “phyto”) that have health benefits. These are good things.

Lycopene is one of these substances. Years ago, I remember that research was looking at lycopene as a powerful antioxidant that played a potential role in the prostate cancer. Most notably that it helps reduce the risk of prostate cancer. No offense to the men in my life, but I always thought that was a bit discriminatory and was sure that lycopene would eventually be linked to the lower risk of other cancers, in addition to prostate cancer.

I need to start charging for predicting the future, because sure enough, lycopene is linked to reduction of colorectal cancer, breast, endometrial, lung and pancreatic cancer in addition to prostate cancer.  (In case this is news: high fruit and vegetable intake is linked to lower cancer risk overall.)

Lycopene is the one we know about in tomatoes, but it is highly likely that there are dozens of yet undiscovered phytonutrients in tomatoes (and many fruits and vegetables). While you can buy supplements with lycopene, why bother? The real food is so much cheaper.

But there is a catch: lycopene in tomatoes is best absorbed with a little fat. So, a tomato sauce, tomato soup, or my favorite, Caprese anything is the best way to get lycopene. Who doesn’t like fresh red tomatoes, FRESH buffalo mozzarella, fresh basil and olive oil (and a bit of balsamic too)?

I love Caprese Salad, the Caprese sandwich from “Which Wich?” and I’ve even had a Caprese omelet at Miss Shirley’s in Baltimore (she calls it Margarita). That is a big deal, since I am a French toast chick.

But, if you like your tomatoes fresh, all alone, that is okay, you will still get a lot of benefit from them. Tomatoes are an excellent source of vitamin C and vitamin A in the form of beta-carotene. These are powerful antioxidants.

Here is the bottom line: tomatoes are good for you, have a lot of health benefits, and if it turns out that they aren’t so great after all (highly unlikely) there isn’t any harm in eating them either.

So, enjoy a beautiful red, white and green Caprese Salad this month to honor the beloved fresh tomato.

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