Double The Tomato Sauce

July 17, 2002

When your mother told you to eat more fruits and vegetables, she probably wasn't thinking about tomato sauce on spaghetti or pizza. But foods made from cooked tomatoes actually might be just what the doctor ordered to help prevent prostate cancer. 
A study published in March 2002 in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute found that men who ate two or more servings a week of tomato sauce were about one-third less likely to develop prostate cancer than men who average less than one serving a month. The study, conducted by Dr. Edward Giovannucci and colleagues at the Harvard School of Public Health and at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, analyzed the eating habits of more than 47,000 men during a 12-year period.
The substance in tomatoes that makes the difference is lycopene, says Dr. LuAnn Soliah, professor and director of nutrition sciences in Baylor's Department of Family and Consumer Sciences. Lycopene, a naturally occurring red pigment found in fruits such as tomatoes, red grapefruit and red peppers, is an antioxidant that absorbs free radicals -- chemicals created during metabolism that can damage cells, potentially leading to cancer. Cooking breaks down the tomato skin, promoting greater absorption of lycopene by the body, Dr. Soliah says.

Beal is a lecturer in Baylor's Louise Herrington School of Nursing, where she teaches "The Experience of Illness." She received her BS from Columbia University and her MN from Emory. She is a freelance health and medical writer.