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Tomayto, tomahto, it’s all good for you. Actually, it’s the best for you when it’s in a sauce. Tomatoes contain an antioxidant that, according to a new study, may help prevent strokes. Looks like it’s time to increase your consumption of marinara and get familiar with lycopene. Lycopene is a red pigment and antioxidant that is present in many fruits and vegetables, but mainly in tomatoes.
A study out of Finland found that men with the most lycopene in their bodies were less likely to suffer from a stroke than the men with the lowest amount of lycopene. The 1,031 male study participants were given a blood test at the beginning of the study in the early 1990s, then another seven years later. The men were followed for about 12 years to see whether they suffered a stroke in that time. Those with the most lycopene in their blood had a 55-percent lower risk of stroke than their lycopene-deficient counterparts. The participants were divided into four groups depending on their levels of lycopene. There were 67 strokes among the entire group of 1,031: 25 among the group with the lowest amount on lycopene, 11 in the group with the highest level.
The study was originally designed to test the effect of vitamins A and E on stroke rates, but researchers found that those levels had no effect. Instead, it was lycopene that was linked to the reduced rates.
There are currently no government recommendations for the amount of lycopene we should ingest daily, but it is found in a number of fruit and vegetables (of which you should already be eating plenty!). The U.S. government announced that eating two-and-a-half cups of fruits and vegetables per day is associated with a decreased risk of stroke. The Wall Street Journal reports that lycopene has also been linked to a decreased risk of some types of cancer, as well as cardiovascular disease and macular degeneration.
It looks like the best way to get your lycopene is from cooked tomatoes. Store-bought tomato sauce, be it pasta or marinara sauce, contains more than 31,000 micrograms of lycopene in every cup. In comparison, a raw tomato has about 3,165 micrograms. Even ketchup, which I always assumed had little-to-no nutritional value, has 2,146 micrograms of lycopene in each tablespoon. I spent most of my childhood trying to convince my mother that pizza was good for me, and it turns out than I was (kind of) right: the average slice of fast food pizza has 2,074 micrograms of the antioxidant. Watermelon, papaya, and mango also contain lycopene, but nothing in comparison to tomato sauce: a cup of mango only has 5 micrograms of the stuff.
So the next time you’re feeling guilty about eating pizza, don’t! You’re getting lycopene. Boost the benefits by dipping it in marinara sauce. For healthier options, put tomato sauce on cooked cauliflower or whole grain pasta. It tastes delicious and prevents strokes, so go gobble up some lycopene-rich tomato sauce!