They are common ingredients found in millions of kitchen cupboards. But pasta sauces and pizza toppings could add much more than a tasty tomato flavour to a family’s favourite meals. Scientists said that cooked tomatoes can have the same benefits as statins for patients battling against high cholesterol levels or high blood pressure.
They could be an ‘effective alternative’ to dangerous statins, the class of drugs commonly prescribed for these conditions which can lead to heart problems, according to a study.
And just two ounces of tomato paste or a pint of juice a day could be enough to help many patients.
The secret lies in high levels of the compound lycopene which gives ripe tomatoes their bright red colour. This powerful anti-oxidant is essential for good health as it helps lower the risk of heart attacks and strokes.
Cooked tomatoes are best as tests showed the body can absorb more lycopene from these than raw fruit.
Experts in Australia analysed the results of 14 international studies into the benefits of lycopene over the past 55 years.
They concluded that it could provide a natural defence to raised levels of so-called ‘bad cholesterol’ – or low-density lipoprotein – in the blood.
The effect was comparable to small doses of statins which are used to treat millions with high cholesterol or blood pressure
These conditions can be a factor in cardiovascular disease which is one of the biggest killers.
One of the study’s authors, Dr Karin Ried, of the University of Adelaide, said tomatoes have particularly high levels of lycopene.
In the journal Maturitas, she added half a litre of tomato juice or 50 grams of tomato paste daily ‘would provide protection against heart disease’.
Eating just one tomato a day would not be enough. Dr Ried said: ‘I would really recommend looking at tomato paste. It is very rich in lycopene and it is not difficult to get 50 grams a day in pasta or on a pizza or as a drink. Our study suggests that if more than 25 milligrams of lycopene is taken daily, it can reduce “bad” cholesterol by up to 10 percent.
Lycopene is also found in watermelon, guava, papaya, pink grapefruit, apricots and rosehip but in lower concentrations.