One quick and easy trick to make your tomatoes even healthier

Tomatoes: they’re delicious, they’re packed with powerful antioxidants and they can help to lower cholesterol, so bung them in the oven now.

You probably know tomatoes are good for you, but there’s great news if you love a rich pasta sauce – you can make them even healthier by cooking them.

Michael Mosley has been singing the praises of the little red fruit in his Just One Thing podcast, explaining how cooking them helps to release more lycopene, the potent antioxidant compound that makes them so healthy.

“While there is a lot to love about a raw tomato, if you really want to boost the benefits you have to cook them,” says Mosley.

Tomato soupCredit: Shutterstock / mythja

A quick and easy way to cook your tomatoes

Plant-based health coach Vanessa Sturman, who helps people pack more nourishing foods into their diet, tells Saga Exceptional it’s quick and easy to boost the amount of lycopene with a simple breakfast recipe.

Sturman says: “Getting a variety of plants – fruit, vegetables, legumes and grains – is really brilliant for us because we get a range of essential nutrients. Tomatoes are so wonderful as part of a healthy, balanced diet. You can chop them up and put them in a salad – that’s a very easy way to eat them. 

“What I love doing is roasting them with a little balsamic vinegar and garlic, then you can have them with any breakfast, or on toast with avocado. Roast a tray full at once so you can have them for a few days, or put them in a sauce. Fresh tomatoes are great, but if you just have a tin in the cupboard, it’s another way to include them in your diet. They’re delicious and you do get more of the lycopene when you cook them,” she adds.


Can tomato juice lower cholesterol levels?

Tomatoes are easy to grow at home, and if you feed and water them correctly, you can ripen them on the plant or on a window sill. Although they’re great in a salad, it’s cooking that helps us to absorb more lycopene, the natural compound that gives them their red hue.

“Raw tomatoes are packed with vitamin C, potassium and folate, as well as lycopene,” says Mosley. “It’s one of the main compounds behind their health benefits, like potentially reducing your risk of cancer and keeping your skin looking younger. Cooking tomatoes dramatically increases the amount of lycopene you can absorb.”

There’s a lot of encouraging research ongoing around the benefits of lycopene, with the antioxidant being hailed as having properties that could help to prevent cancer, lower cholesterol and keep skin looking healthy.

Tomato juice has also been shown to reduce cholesterol levels, according to Mosley. “Scientists found that consuming one to one and a half cups of tomato juice daily for six weeks could lower your risk of cardiovascular disease. People who drank the tomato juice had reduced levels of LDL or ‘bad’ cholesterol and increased levels of HDL, the ‘good’ cholesterol,” he says.

A natural weapon against prostate cancer

Professor Richard van Breemen from Oregon State University has done extensive research on exactly how lycopene is absorbed by the body – and the positive effects it can have. His initial research showed that it can be beneficial for men with prostate cancer, reducing the DNA damage.

He told the Just One Thing podcast: “It’s a marvellous molecule. Eating a tomato salad might give you five or ten milligrams of lycopene, but when we’ve done studies we’re aiming for 30mg – and 100g of tomato sauce has about 50mg of lycopene.”

Van Breemen describes lycopene as “an extremely safe molecule” so there’s no danger of eating too much and if you combine it with a little oil, that’s even better. “It’s an oil-soluble vitamin, so to help extract it from the plant as we eat it, a little bit of olive oil goes a long way,” he says.

Hannah Verdier

Written by Hannah Verdier


Hannah Verdier writes about fitness, health, relationships, podcasts, TV and the joy of reinventing yourself at 50 and beyond. She’s a graduate of teenage music bible Smash Hits and has a side hustle as a fitness trainer who shows people who hated PE at school how to love exercise.

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