Nutrition Corner: Why and how men should eat tomatoes

August 17th, 2017 10:48 am

Lycopene, a natural occurring compound found in tomatoes, typically headlines as a prostate cancer preventive. This phytochemical has been the spotlight of studies, including one which looked at other foods containing lycopene, such as watermelon.

Most of us look to tomatoes to protect against prostate cancer. According to the American Institute for Cancer Research, a study found that men who consume higher amounts of lycopene have a lower risk of prostate cancer. An average tomato has about three milligrams of lycopene. The study reported a one percent decrease in prostate cancer risk for each additional milligram of lycopene eaten per day.

When looking at tomatoes as a source of lycopene, men who ate the highest amounts had a 10 percent lower risk of developing prostate cancer.

After reviewing the study, I asked the question, “What other foods contain lycopene?”

Grapefruits contain about 85 percent of one cup, as do raw cherry tomatoes. Papayas and one slice of fast food cheese pizza contain a little less, only approximately 69 percent. Tomato sauce takes the lead with 10 times the amount that’s found in one cup of cherry tomatoes, and cooked tomatoes are much higher Just swallowing the food, however, does not always mean the body absorbs all its lycopene.

Carotenoids, the family to which lycopene belongs, are absorbed in the intestines. To be absorbed, carotenoids first need to be “released” from the food. Food processing and cooking helps to release lycopene from the food, hence, increasing absorption. But the process also needs a little bit of fat. Three-to-five grams of fat is sufficient to ensure that lycopene is absorbed into the body. That equates to about 1 teaspoon of oil.

Vegetable or fruit?

Still contemplating whether tomatoes are a vegetable or a fruit? Consider this: vegetables are the edible part of the plant, stems, leaves or roots. Fruit is the edible part of the plant that contains seeds. In the US, we term tomatoes a vegetable as they lowers the import tax. Vegetables have less tax than fruits.

Tomatoes are sometimes picked unripe. If the tomato is not quite ripe, do not place it in direct sunlight; place it in a paper bag with an apple or banana. If tomatoes are ripe, store away from bananas or apples, or they will over ripen.

Enjoy fresh tomatoes. However, men should choose to eat tomatoes as a sauce. Try this recipe to boost lycopene; it’s a cooked recipe and has a bit of fat in it.

Vegetarian Spaghetti Sauce

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 onion (medium, chopped)

3 cloves garlic clove (chopped)

1 1/4 cups zucchini (sliced)

1 tablespoon oregano (dried)

1 tablespoon basil (dried)

1 can tomato sauce (8 oz.)

1 can tomato paste (low sodium, 6 oz.)

2 tomatoes (medium, chopped)

In a medium skillet, heat oil. Sauté onions, garlic and zucchini in oil for five minutes on medium heat. Add remaining ingredients and simmer covered for 45 minutes. Serve over spaghetti. Enjoy!

Nutrition Corner Mary R. Ehret Corner Mary R. Ehret

Mary Ehret is the Penn State Extension Nutrition Links Supervisor in Luzerne, Lackawanna, Monroe, Carbon, Sullivan and Bradford counties. Reach her at 570-825-1701 or at