Eating tomatoes cuts heart disease risk by a quarter
Lycopene is an antioxidant which gives tomatoes their rich red colour and is found in high levels in the fruit as well as products like tomato juice, ketchup and passata.
A new study by scientists at Tufts University in Boston, USA, suggests regularly eating lycopene over many years can have a powerful protective effect on the heart.
They reached their findings after analysing data gathered over more than a decade looking at dietary intake to see the effects of lycopene intake on the cardiovascular system.
Previous studies on the relationship between lycopene and heart disease have produced mixed results.
Some show that raised levels in the body lead to fewer heart attacks but others showed no obvious benefit.
Scientists from Tufts University compared hundreds of patients who took part in a long-running heart disease project called the Framingham Offspring Study, which was carried out in the US.
Participants recorded their dietary patterns, including whether tomatoes or tomato products were a regular part of their diet.
The results, published in the latest British Journal of Nutrition, showed eating lycopene-containing foods on a regular basis over an 11-year period reduced the risk of coronary heart disease by 26 per cent but had no effect on the chances of a stroke.
The researchers said in a report on their findings that the powerful antioxidant appeared to shield against heart disease but stressed more studies are needed to be certain it is the lycopene and not something else that is providing protection.
‘This study provides supporting evidence for an inverse association between lycopene and cardiovascular disease risk.
‘But more research is needed to determine whether lycopene or other components of tomatoes, the major dietary source of lycopene, are responsible for this association.’
Last year, Finnish scientists found men with the lowest levels of lycopene were up to 60 per cent more likely to suffer a heart attack.
Other recent research suggests the popular fruit may even help to ward off depression, while tomatoes’ antioxidant properties have long been associated with reducing a man’s chances of getting prostate cancer.