Tomatoes weren’t always so pretty and uniform in color, texture and size. They were once so gnarly, hairy and bumpy that they were given a serious makeover in the nineteenth century when in 1879, after years of fiddling with seeds, Alexander W. Livingston released the world’s first perfectly-perfect tomato, the Paragon.
Sadly, its perfection was only skin deep. In perfecting its outward appearance the tomato had become less flavorful, and less nutritious with the loss of phytonutrients and lycopene.
While The Mayo Clinic has a very conservative take on the benefits of lycopene [read here], others feel waaay more optimistic. At a recent conference sponsored by the Center for Food and Nutrition Policy [CFNP], researchers reported a potential benefit for bone and skin health, and male infertility [read here]. No matter what the studies have yet to reveal, they all agree lycopene is good for you.
Boys, listen up – EAT YOUR TOMATOES!!! Research has shown that lycopene is a powerful anti-oxidant with benefits affecting areas of the body where its concentration is highest, such as in the prostate gland.
In her book Eating on the Wild Side, Jo Robinson gives us some great tips on how to select and prepare the most nutritious tomatoes, the ones with the most lycopene:
1. Deep red tomatoes have more lycopene and overall antioxidant activity than yellow, gold, or green tomatoes
2. The smaller the tomato, the higher its sugar and lycopene content
3. Store-bought “on the vine” tomatoes are NOT field-ripened tomatoes
4. Processed tomato products can be more flavorful and nutritious than fresh tomatoes [because they are field-ripened and processed shortly after harvest]. Canned tomato paste has the highest concentration of lycopene of all the tomatoes and tomato products in the store. Go on, find your Inner Italian Mama and ‘make-a’ some sauce!!
5. tomatoes should be stored at room temperature to preserve their flavor [chilling tomatoes breaks down their flavor and aroma]
6. Cooking tomatoes converts lycopene into a form that is easier to absorb [heat liberates three times more lycopene from the plant’s tissue.]
7. Use the skin, juice, and seeds of tomatoes whenever possible. The skin and seeds are the most nutritious parts of a tomato and the juice is rich in glutamate.
8. Lycopene is a lipid and should be consumed with oil for better absorption.