Red is a Heart-Healthy Color
Red foods like tomatoes, watermelon, sweet red peppers, red grapefruit, and papaya all contain a powerful, heart-healthy carotenoid called lycopene. According to an article by Dr. Joel Fuhrman, You Say Tomato--We Say Lycopene, a Protective Carotenoid, 85% of lycopene in the American diet comes from tomatoes. While fresh tomatoes are packed with lycopene, tomato sauce or tomato paste has even more because the cooking process removes much of the water thus concentrating the goodness in tomatoes. Plus, the heat of the cooking process releases the lycopene from the tomato's cell walls, making it more available to your system.
Tomatoes Provide Protection
Many studies have been done showing the protective qualities of lycopene. The results are impressive!
- Lycopene in the blood concentrates in the male reproductive system where it helps protect against prostate cancer.
- In the skin, lycopene helps prevent UV damage from the sun and thus protects against skin cancer.
- Lower blood levels of all carotenoids--including lycopene--were linked to an increased risk of death from all causes.
- Very low blood lycopene was the strongest predictor of mortality.
Your Cardiovascular System Loves Tomatoes!
Lycopene has also been studied for its heart-protective properties.
- Low blood lycopene levels in men were associated with increased plaque in the carotid artery and three times the risk of cardiovascular events when compared with higher lycopene levels.
- Higher blood lycopene levels in women made them 50% less likely to have cardiovascular disease.
- Stroke risk in men is reduced by 39%-55% with the highest levels of blood lycopene.
- As lycopene levels increases, heart attack risk significantly decreases.
Why Your Heart Loves Lycopene
Lycopene is a potent antioxidant believed to be twice as powerful as beta-carotene and packs ten times the punch of Vitamin E. Antioxidants help prevent oxidation of LDL particles in the blood, which is an early step in the formation of atherosclerotic plaque. Lycopene helps to keep plaque from forming. Oxidative damage can also reduce the function of the endothelial cells which line the blood vessels and help regulate blood pressure. One study demonstrated that a diet rich in tomatoes could improve endothelial function in as little as two weeks while another study showed that even patients with existing cardiovascular disease had a 63% improved blood flow in as few as eight weeks when treated with lycopene.
But lycopene is more than just an antioxidant. Studies show that when participants consumed tomato products on a daily basis -- roughly 1 cup of tomato juice or 3-4 tablespoons of tomato paste -- LDL cholesterol was reduced by 10%. Like statin drugs, it appears that lycopene inhibits the enzyme responsible for making cholesterol but without the side-effects caused by statins. Further, lycopene has several anti-inflammatory properties that may prevent excessive proliferation of vascular smooth muscle cells, which contributes to the formation of atherosclerotic plaque.
Lycopene is a Lover Not a Loner
Like all antioxidants, lycopene works best when it's not alone. Plant-based antioxidants, phytochemicals, and other micronutrients work synergistically to protect against disease. Eating a diet rich in colorful fruits and vegetables--including tomatoes--provides the best protection for your cardiovascular system.
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