Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Tomato Takeover

Just like every other gardener in the midwest we have been inundated with tomatoes.  Between our CSA, Ryan's best friend Keith, and our lone cherry tomato plant, the past few weeks have been filled with these beautiful fruits.  That's right, if you haven't heard, botanically speaking, tomatoes are a fruit not a vegetable.  But nutritionally (carbohydrate wise) they are more similar to a vegetable.  Plus, by USDA standards, keeping tomatoes as a vegetable means that processed tomato paste on pizza and tomato sauce on pasta counts towards the allotted vegetable servings in school lunches.

The question becomes, what do we do with all these tomatoes?  As a kid, I remember picking tomatoes from our garden and eating them over the sink with my dad.  Liberally salting each slice.  We aren't so overtaken that we need to make jars and jars of salsa and tomato sauce, but just slicing them onto salads becomes a bit boring.  The past couple mornings I've sauteed them and then added them to eggs for breakfast.  This weekend I think I'll just make a Mediterranean salad with cucumbers, onions, purple green beans, and a vinaigrette.

Why bother planting and over running yourself with tomatoes any way?  Because they are high in lycopene!  and they taste so good.  Lycopene is the antioxidant polyphenol that supposedly helps reduce the risk of prostate cancer in men.  However, in order for our bodies to access and utilize the lycopene, the tomato must be cooked.  This is where raw foodists make a mistake.  Yes fresh produce is nutritious, but some nutrients can only be accessed when a food is heated.  If you want the benefit of lycopene, find ways to include a cooked tomato product in your diet several times a week. Ketchup doesn't count.  Canned tomatoes in soup or chili, pasta sauce over meatballs (hold the pasta), chicken legs Osso-buco style, roasted tomato salsa, ratatouille, shakshuka eggs.  Your options are just about endless.

All this talk about lycopene and it's prostate benefits made me wonder if there is a difference between prostate cancer occurrence in the US compared to the UK/Italy.  Surprisingly, or not, there is a huge difference.

From the CDC Website...

In 2008 —
  • 214,633 men in the United States were diagnosed with prostate cancer.*†
  • 28,471 men in the United States died from prostate cancer.*†

  • In 2009, 40,841 men in the UK were diagnosed with prostate cancer.
  • 10,721 men in the UK died from prostate cancer in 2010.
In Italy...
  • prostate cancer is the first cancer that hits men, with an incidence of 12%, surpassing lung cancer which is around 10%. Every year in Italy 42,804 prostate cancers are registered with 9070 fatalities (statistics from The Epidemiological Cancer Department – The National Epidemiological Centre, Surveillance and Promotion of Health – The Superior Institute of Health 2005).

Obviously we can't say that a higher consumption of tomatoes is the reason for fewer prostate cancer cases in the UK and Italy.  For one, the US has more people in it than Italy, so more chances for cancer to occur.  There are also other diet and lifestyle habits that vary greatly.  People in European countries walk more than Americans, and exercise has been shown to decrease the risk of just about every cancer.  Many European countries have banned trans fats, another known cause of cancer.  

For now, lets just say that tomatoes are delicious and nutritious and fun to grow; so eat more tomatoes.

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