It’s British Tomato Week (21-27 May 2018) and, if you’re trying to conceive, there’s even more reason to support our British tomato growers and eat plenty of tomatoes because they are packed full of the powerful antioxidant lycopene. Lycopene is a naturally occurring carotenoid which provides the red, yellow and orange colour to our fruit and vegetables. The antioxidant in lycopene has an important health role to play in that they protect the cells of the body from damage caused by free radicals.
There have been various studies conducted into the benefits of lycopene for the prevention and treatment of various cancers, particularly prostate cancer, and atherosclerosis. Tomatoes also contain important heart-healthy nutrients, such as niacin, folate and vitamin B6, which help to maintain a healthy heart.
In relation to fertility, there have also been some studies into the beneficial effects of lycopene on male fertility. Research has been conducted that examined the effect of the antioxidants in lycopene in helping to protect developing sperm from free radical damage and possible DNA damage.
‘Our work shows that a diet rich in lycopene can promote fertility in men who are struggling with infertility. In part we can conclude that men who have poor quality sperm can benefit from a diet rich in lycopene, and should consider a balanced diet as part of their strategy to reproduce, especially a diet including tomatoes’ said Dr. Narmada Gupta, Head of the Urology Department at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences in New Delhi, India. Further studies have now found that antioxidants can elevate sperm count, morphology, motility and concentration.
In women, recent research has indicated that lycopene may be useful in reducing the abnormal activity of cells and as a result, may reduce the adhesion effects of endometriosis. Dr Tarek Dbouk, from Wayne State University in Detroit, Michigan, said: ‘What we found in our laboratory study is that lycopene can help with the adhesions that these conditions cause. One of the major complications of endometriosis is that it causes inflammation which induces adhesions. The inflammation basically causes scarring. What we did was to look at protein markers that could help us trace the activity of the abnormal cells that cause these adhesions. The lycopene worked to reduce the abnormal activity of these cells. So, hypothetically speaking, we might be able to reduce the adhesion effects of endometriosis.’ Dr Dbouk also added that ‘It is certainly possible that you can easily get the amount you need from your diet.’
Because research has found that cooking tomatoes release more lycopene from the cell walls of the tomato when compared to raw tomato, roasting tomatoes and making sauces and soups is the best way to get the maximum intake. Lycopene is also fat-soluble, so for maximum absorption add olive oil when cooking them. Other good food sources of lycopene are pink grapefruit, watermelon, guava and rosehip.
Top tips on how to get the most out of your tomatoes!
- Buy fresh ripe tomatoes as they have a considerably higher lycopene content than was thought to be the case, under-ripe tomatoes contain considerably less lycopene.
- Buy locally grown British tomatoes or, even better, try growing your own! Imported tomatoes will have been stored and then travelled a great distance, so may not be as fresh as you might think.
- Cook meals using tomato puree as it has a lower water content than fresh tomato, so the nutrients are concentrated. In recent studies, it has been discovered that lycopene is more bioavailable from tomato paste than from fresh tomatoes.
- Enjoy your tomatoes with a little olive oil as this will increase how much lycopene your body absorbs.
Agarwal, A et al (2015). A unique view on male infertility around the globe. Reproductive Biology and Endocrinology. Volume 13, Issue 37.
Gupta NP, Kumar R. Lycopene therapy in idiopathic male infertility—a preliminary report. International Urology and Nephrology. 2002;34(3):369–372.
Silke Schwarz, Ute C. Obermu¨ ller-Jevic, Eva Hellmis, Winfried Koch, Gu¨nther Jacobi, Hans-Konrad Biesalski 2008 Lycopene Inhibits Disease Progression in Patients with Benign Prostate Hyperplasia1,2 J. Nutr. 138: 49–53
Here’s a fabulous lycopene-rich tomato soup made using fresh tomatoes.
8 large ripe tomatoes
2/3 tablespoons olive oil
1 stick of celery
1 clove of garlic – crushed
1 litre of vegetable stock – add more if necessary for desired thickness
Fresh herbs to taste, such as fresh rosemary and thyme
- Slice the tomatoes, onion, celery, and potatoes into cubes. Grate the carrot.
- Warm a large pot and add in olive oil. Add in the onions and garlic and cook until soft.
- Add the potatoes, tomatoes, celery and carrot – and the herbs if you have chosen to include them. Cook for 2-3 minutes.
- Add the vegetable stock and allow to simmer for about 30 minutes or until the potatoes are soft.
- Using a blender or food processor, blend the soup until smooth. Adjust thickness as necessary by adding extra water if required.
- Adjust the seasoning – swirl with cream or crème fraiche to serve.