Any way you eat 'em, whether it's a thick, juicy slice of a hearty beefsteak tomato, a puree into luscious pasta sauce, spicy salsa or an extract in your green drink, tomatoes and tomato extract decrease atherosclerotic plaque in the arteries of your heart, brain and legs. And if that's not enough, here's another good reason to love your tomato: This magical fruit (it's not a vegetable) also decreases cancer risk.
A new report reveals that lycopene, the powerful carotenoid that gives this fruit its fiery hue and disease-fighting prowess, also boosts levels of an important cancer-quelching hormone called adiponectin.
Like a Swiss Army knife, it does it all: helps you maintain healthy blood sugar, burn fat, cool inflammation, discourages cancer cell growth and throws up roadblocks when tumors try to grow their own arteries. Adiponectin even encourages cancer cells to die.
In a new study, women who got 25 milligrams of lycopene a day from tomato products (equivalent to a half-cup of your favorite sauce) boosted levels of adiponectin by 9 percent, reducing their breast cancer risk. Higher "A" levels also are linked to lower risk for diabetes and heart disease.
Along with boosting adiponectin, lycopene has been associated with reducing risk for prostate, lung and stomach cancer, reducing LDL (lousy) cholesterol levels while helping to control blood pressure. So we think this message, "Eat more lycopene," is for everyone.
Here are five delicious ways to get more into your daily diet:
Go Italian and beyond. The human body absorbs the most lycopene from cooked tomato products eaten with a smidge of good fat, like the olive oil in tomato sauce. You'll get 25 milligrams of lycopene from a half-cup of tomato puree or tomato sauce. Top off your whole-wheat pasta with tomato marinara, or dunk whole-grain bread in tomato sauce, but don't stop there. Ladle sauce over black or red beans, spaghetti squash or your favorite veggies, too.
Sip soup or juice. A cup of tomato soup or vegetable juice cocktail also delivers your quota. Choose reduced- or low-sodium varieties. (Read those labels when shopping for sauce and puree.)
Treat yourself to pink fruit. Enjoy a slice of juicy watermelon (13 milligrams) or half of a pink grapefruit (1.7 milligrams).
Choose red toppings. Add five chopped, sun-dried tomatoes (5 milligrams) to your salad topping. Upgrade your veggie burger with 2 tablespoons of chili sauce (6.7 milligrams) or ketchup (5 milligrams), dunk steamed shrimp in cocktail sauce (5.9 milligrams in two tablespoons), add a big dollop of salsa to your burrito (4.8 milligrams in 3 tablespoons).
Munch a tomato. A whole, fresh tomato has 5 milligrams of lycopene. That number jumps to 7.5 if you cook it for five minutes, even higher the longer it simmers.
Put it in your green drink. Tomato extract takes the essences of the tomato and lets you add it to drinks or healthy smoothies you prepare. Read the label to ensure you're getting a real tomato extract.
Remember that healthy "A" hormone, adiponectin, that is increased by lycopene? Your body boosts available levels when you ...
Move your muscles. Muscle cells make adiponectin when you use 'em. A brisk, daily walk plus strength-training exercises twice a week can accentuate your "A levels" significantly.
Find fiber. For optimal adiponectin levels, aim for at least 27 grams of fiber daily. (Two to three servings of whole grains plus five to seven servings of produce.) People who hit that fiber quotient have adiponectin levels that are 24 percent higher than those who get less than 17 grams of fiber a day.
Nibble nuts. Crunching a small handful five days a week could boost your adiponectin levels 12 per- cent.
Subtract sugar. Sugary drinks and added sugars and syrups can reduce levels of adiponectin. Having fruit and fiber (four servings a day) can do the opposite and raise your "A" about 10 percent.
Mehmet Oz, M.D. is host of "The Dr. Oz Show," and Mike Roizen, M.D. is Chief Wellness Officer and Chair of Wellness Institute at Cleveland Clinic. To live your healthiest, tune into "The Dr. Oz Show" or visit www.sharecare.com.