(NaturalNews) It is no longer a secret that a diet rich in organic fruits and vegetables reduces the risk of many diseases related to the aging process and our fast-paced modern lifestyle. Fresh produce is a crucial source of essential minerals, vitamins, fiber and a variety of bioactive molecules, or antioxidants, which protect our body against bacteria, viruses and free radical damage.
While tomatoes never make it into the spotlight when it comes to superfoods, a recently published review in the oncology journal Cancers, unveiled some remarkable cancer-fighting abilities of tomatoes and tomato products.
Protective bioactive compounds in tomatoes
Although tomatoes are not often touted for their nutritional value, the high availability of tomatoes all year round makes them an important source of cancer-fighting bioactive compounds, such as carotenoids and polyphenols.
Over the past decades, many studies have associated carotenoids, such as the lycopene and beta-carotene found in tomatoes and tomato products, with a lower cancer risk, in particular the risk of prostate cancer.
Apart from the protective effect of carotenoids against prostate cancer, the authors of the review also reported a reduced incidence of cancers of the mouth, pharynx and larynx, and also lung and breast cancer.
Lycopene, an antioxidant which gives tomatoes their vibrant red color, neutralizes damaging free radicals. Free radicals are highly reactive, unstable oxygen molecules that have been linked to the development of cancer and other serious diseases.
According to a study published by the Harvard Medical School, consuming tomatoes and tomato-based products like tomato sauce and pizza more than twice a week, may reduce the risk of prostate cancer by 21 to 34 percent, depending on the food.
Another study, this time out of Italy, where tomato intake is high, found a 30 to 60 percent lower cancer risk, especially of the digestive tract, in people who ate seven or more servings of raw tomatoes a week.
Polyphenols, another class of powerful antioxidants found in tomatoes, have been reported to interfere with the initiation, promotion and progression of cancer. Evidence suggests that some of these powerful polyphenols may reduce the risk of breast, lung, liver, stomach and colorectal cancer.
In addition to their protective, antioxidant effect, polyphenols and carotenoids have shown some remarkable abilities when it comes to fighting tumors and improving survival rates. These little compounds can inhibit growth factors that stimulate cancer cells to grow and proliferate. And finally, they seem to boost the immune defense mechanisms against cancer, too.
The total package matters
Furthermore, the authors of the review note that when these cancer-fighting compounds come in their original, natural package – namely a nutrient-rich tomato – they seem to provide more health benefits than when ingested as a dietary supplement.
“It is difficult to establish a clear link between a specific component of a complex diet with the prevention of different types of cancer. Especially, when their efficiency may depend on the matrix in which the bioactive compound is present. Consequently, supplementation studies may differ from their natural ingestion in food,” they wrote.
This strengthens the general belief among the majority of scientists that the synergetic effects of these molecules with other phytochemicals enhance their health benefits and cancer-fighting properties.
According to the authors, developing new functional tomato varieties with increased levels of carotenoids and polyphenols could hold the key to cancer prevention. For decades, traditional breeding programs have focused their attention on improving the yield, taste and appearance of fruits and vegetables, while they should be focusing on the quantity of these health-promoting bioactive compounds instead.