Intense Heat May Boost Tomato Antioxidant

Fat added to lycopene molecules appears to increase disease-fighting power, study says

THURSDAY, Aug. 21, 2008 (HealthDay News) -- A new way of processing red tomatoes that may boost their disease-fighting power has been developed by Ohio State University researchers.

Red tomatoes are rich in the antioxidant lycopene, a naturally occurring pigment believed to help prevent cancer and other chronic diseases. The standard structure of lycopene in red tomatoes is linear, which may hinder the molecule's absorption through intestinal walls and into the blood, explained Steven Schwartz, a professor of food science and technology and an investigator in the university's Comprehensive Cancer Center.

Most lycopene molecules circulating in human blood have a bent structure. This indicates that either the human body somehow reshapes linear lycopene molecules or that bent molecules are much more likely to be absorbed into the blood.

Working on the assumption that the latter is true, Schwartz and his colleagues developed a method of restructuring linear lycopene molecules into bent molecules. This is done by combining tomatoes with fat and subjecting them to intense heat during processing into tomato sauce.

In a clinical trial, the Ohio State team found that people had 55 percent more lycopene in their blood after eating the specially processed sauce than they did after consuming regular red tomato sauce.

The research was presented Wednesday at the American Chemical Society national meeting, in Philadelphia.

Food processing is often criticized for its tendency to deplete vegetables of nutrients, change their color and affect their taste.

"Instead, here is a case where processing is positive in terms of enhancing absorption of lycopene," Schwartz said.

More information

The American Dietetic Association has more about lycopene.

SOURCE: Ohio State University, news release, Aug. 20, 2008
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