En español | Nothing says summer like a garden bursting with tomatoes on the vine. Now a handful of studies show that the ubiquitous fruit — or vegetable (it's classified as both) — not only guards against several types of cancer but also may reduce your risk of heart disease, osteoporosis, even diabetes.
Photo by Travis Rathbone
The primary nutrient behind tomatoes' healing power is lycopene, a powerful antioxidant that works by neutralizing free radicals (errant oxygen molecules that cause cellular damage in the body). Research has shown that eating foods high in lycopene protects against a wide range of cancers, from prostate cancer to lung and breast cancers.
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Tomatoes also can help prevent heart attacks, primarily by lowering cholesterol. In one study, drinking 13 ounces of tomato juice daily for three weeks lowered LDL "bad" cholesterol levels by almost 13 percent. Preliminary research also suggests a link between dietary lycopene and increased bone mass.
But lycopene may not be the tomato's only star nutrient. Another appears to be 9-oxo-octadecadienoic acid, which researchers at Kyoto University in Japan recently found lowers cholesterol and fat in the bloodstream. (Left unchecked, these lipids can lead to such diseases as arteriosclerosis and even type 2 diabetes.)
Three or more servings a week of tomatoes are optimal, experts say.