Super tomatoes may protect against disease

The nutrition team

Tomatoes are full of nutrients and are an especially good source of antioxidant vitamins. In fact, one serving of tomato will give you 40% of your recommended daily allowance of Vitamin C.

Diets rich in fruit and vegetables are associated with lower rates of many diseases and a diet which includes high intake of tomatoes has been shown to protect against prostate cancer.

No one can say yet exactly what gives tomatoes their anti-cancer power. It may be a cocktail of compounds working together. But one of the good guys is certainly a substance called lycopene, the pigment that gives tomatoes their red colour.

Tomatoes are by far the richest source of lycopene, a powerful antioxidant, in our diets - no other food comes close. Lycopene is highest in processed tomato foods, such as tomato puree, because they're concentrated.

And now, scientists in the US have produced tomatoes with even higher levels of lycopene. The tomatoes have been genetically modified to contain 2-3½ times the lycopene of the average tomato.

Researchers in The Netherlands have also been able to increase flavonols in genetically modified tomatoes. Flavonols are antioxidants which fight disease by neutralising harmful oxygen molecules that circulate in the body, damaging tissues and accelerating the ageing process. Some foods such as onions and tea are naturally rich in these substances. They are also found naturally in tomato skin, but at much lower levels.

Genetic modification of foods is a way to quickly improve crop characteristics such as yield, pest resistance, or herbicide tolerance. Which isn’t often possible with traditional methods to that degree.

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