Lycopene is a member of the carotenoid family of phytochemicals and is the natural pigment responsible for the deep red color of several fruits, most notably tomatoes. Recently scientists have found evidence that supports the role of lycopene in human health, specifically in the prevention of cancers of the prostate, pancreas, stomach, breast, cervix and lung, as well as in the prevention of cardiovascular disease, cataracts, and age-related macular degeneration.
Lycopene is also believed to play a role in the prevention of heart disease by inhibiting free radical damage to LDL cholesterol. Before cholesterol can be deposited in the plaques that harden and narrow arteries, it must be oxidized by free radicals. With its powerful antioxidant activity, lycopene can prevent LDL cholesterol from being oxidized.
Lycopene is a fat-soluble substance, and as such requires the presence of dietary fat for proper absorption through the digestive tract. To facilitate proper absorption tomatoes can be prepared with minimal healthy fat such as olive oil, canola oil or even dairy fat found in cheese.
Shopping for Tomatoes:
Choose tomatoes that have a deep rich color. Not only is this one of the signs of a delicious tasting tomato, but the deep color indicates that it has a greater supply of the health-promoting phytochemical red pigment, lycopene. Tomatoes should be well shaped and smooth skinned with no wrinkles, cracks, bruises or soft spots. They should not have a puffy appearance since this indicates that they will be of inferior flavor and will cause excess waste during preparation. Ripe tomatoes will yield to slight pressure and will have a noticeably sweet fragrance.
Tips for Preparing Tomatoes:
Before serving, wash tomatoes under cool running water and pat dry.
If your recipe requires seeded tomatoes, cut the fruit in half horizontally and gently squeeze out the seeds and the juice.
It is especially important when cooking tomatoes to not use aluminum cookware since their high acid content will interact with the metal. This may result in the migration of the aluminum into the food, which will not only impart an unpleasant taste, but more importantly, may have deleterious effects on your health.
Breaded Broiled Tomatoes
Chicken-and-Brie Salad with Roasted Cherry Tomatoes
Spinach Frittata and Cherry Tomatoes
Tomato Boats with Melted Mozzarella