We all love tomatoes – on pasta, on pizza, or even raw in salads. My kids love the small varieties which we call in Europe “tomato pearls” and would eat them as they would berries. So I am delighted to hear the latest research findings on the anti-cancer effects of tomatoes.
This study by researchers at the University of Missouri indicates that certain tomato products have strong anti-cancer properties. And unlike in most cases where natural food loses their nutritional value with food processing, tomatoes seem to retain, even increase their nutrients andd cancer-fighting effects when heated, ground, or dried.
The researchers tested the effect of tomatoes on prostate tumors in rats. Rats fed with tomato paste added with FruHis, which is an organic carbohydrate present in dehydrated tomato products, developed less tumors and lived longer. Only 10% of the rats in the tomato diet group developed prostate cancer compared to 60% in the control group. Tomatoes are rich in ascorbic acid, carotenoids and other phenolic compounds. FruHis, an antioxidant seems to have especially potent anti-cancer properties.
Certain berries, especially the dark types like blueberries, contain anthocyanins which are a type of flavonoids and have therefore strong antioxidation properties. Unfortunately we don’t seem to get enough berries in our diets due to cost, seasonality, and limited shelf life. This is not the case with tomatoes, vegetables which are available the whole year round and eaten by many in sufficient quantities daily.
This is why British researchers developed the purple tomato by incorporating two genes from the snapdragon flower. These genes are responsible for producing pigments as well as anthocyanins, similar to what is found in blueberries. This rendered the purple tomato with almost three times antioxidant power compared to its red relatives.
The researchers compared the effects of purple and red tomatoes on lab mice and observed that mice fed with purple tomatoes have significantly longer lifespans compared to those fed with normal red tomatoes. Although these results look very promising, the anticancer properties of purple tomatoes still need to be confirmed in studies using tumor models.
Pills vs GM tomatoes
These studies highlight the importance of fruits and vegetables in our diet. Unfortunately, over the years, people use the lack of time and money as excuses to divert from a healthy diet. Instead, the use of vitamin cocktails and nutritional supplements has become popular, with questionable benefits to our health. By concentrating nutrients in widely available natural food stuffs such as the tomato, researchers are trying to come up with alternatives to pills.
Of course the purists among us would argue that the supernutritious purple tomatoes are actually genetically modified. In a perfect world, we should not be forced to make tough choices. But ours is not a perfect world and there’s bound to be trade offs to make. It’s your take.