Scientists in Finland claim that eating a diet rich in lycopene, a chemical that occurs naturally in tomatoes, can reduce the risk of stroke by more than half.
The study, published in the journal â€˜Neurologyâ€™, followed over 1,000 men over a period of 12 years.
Those with the highest levels of lycopene in their bloodstream were the least likely to have a stroke. The study concluded that eating lots of lycopene-rich foods reduces the risk of a stroke by 55%. It is thought that the chemical contains antioxidants, can reduce inflammation and â€“ important in the reduction of stroke risk â€“ can help to prevent blood clots from forming.
Lycopene is found in red peppers and watermelon, as well as tomatoes.
So how can you increase the amount of lycopene you consume and benefit from this wonder chemical?
As a starter:
- Try thinly slicing fresh tomatoes and serving with basil and mozzarella for tasty, refreshing and healthy starter â€“ just go easy on the mozzarella as it contains a lot of fat.
- A simple tomato salad can be really tasty, providing the tomatoes themselves are high quality. If you can, always go for the â€˜grown on the vineâ€™ variety, or better yet, grow your own. Tomatoes are relatively easy to grow and that way youâ€™ll know that theyâ€™ve not been sprayed with all sorts of nasty chemicals. If growing your own isnâ€™t possible, try to pick tomatoes that feel heavy for their size and have a pleasant aroma â€“ it should mean they have more juices and are more flavorsome.
- A classic tomato soup started will contain lots of lycopene. Enjoy hot in the winter and in the summer, try serving it chilled with a swirl of crÃ¨me fraich or soured cream.
- Enjoy a tasty bruschetta by rubbing a slice of ciabatta or similar bread with olive oil and garlic, toasting lightly, and then topping with finely chopped fresh tomatoes, basil, and a tiny drizzle of olive oil.
As an entree:
- The Mediterranean diet is typically very heavy on tomatoes. A lot of pasta recipes use fresh, canned or sieved tomatoes (passata). Try marinara, bolognaise or a basic tomato-basil sauce when you next make pasta or go out for an Italian meal. Even a lowly slice of pizza will have tomato sauce which will be high in lycopene levels.
- Try the French dish ratatouille, a delicious mix of tomato, eggplant, zucchini and capsicum (be sure to use the red variety). If you feel like veggies alone arenâ€™t going to satisfy you, try adding some chunks of goats cheese to your cooked ratatouille and popping back in the oven so that the cheese melts. Serve with some delicious, fresh crusty bread.
As a dessert:
- Ok, this is stretching it. The tomato may be a fruit, but it doesnâ€™t really lend itself to sweet dishes or puddings. Try instead ending a meal with some slices of refreshing watermelon, which is also high in lycopene.
- Sun dried tomatoes make a great snack and are also a good nibble to serve with drinks. To make your own sundried tomatoes, simply half your tomatoes, sprinkle with some salt and/ or herbs of your choice, and set in the hot sun to dry. If youâ€™re not lucky enough to live somewhere hot â€“ or are simply impatient â€“ you can get the same effect by putting them in the oven on a low heat for six to twelve hours.
So there you have it – the humble tomato is not only tasty but nutritious and possibly life-saving too. Increase your intake today to reap the health benefits of this little wonder fruit.