This Father’s Day let’s talk about men’s health. One of the most pressing health issues for men is prostate cancer, with more than 1.3 million men diagnosed each year. Use this month as motivation to take preventative steps to reduce your risk of getting prostate cancer, including getting screened at age 50, and following a healthy and balanced lifestyle that includes regular exercise and a diet rich in fruits and vegetables.
Fruits and veggies contain fiber and antioxidants that have been shown to help fight cancer and keep you healthy. One of the most potent antioxidants out there is called lycopene, which is the powerful pigment responsible for giving tomatoes their bright red color. According to several scientific studies, people who consume more tomato products have a reduced risk of developing prostate cancer, likely due to the powerful combination of lycopene, vitamin A, and vitamin C that occurs naturally in tomatoes.
While fresh tomatoes are relatively high in lycopene, the compound becomes more bioavailable as tomatoes are cooked, meaning your body can absorb more and take advantage of its anti-cancer properties. Why is this? Heat changes the structure of the lycopene molecule, making it easier for the body to take in, and helps break down cell walls, which frees lycopene and allows it to be absorbed. A recent study found that men who ate cooked tomatoes five to six times per week had a 28% decreased risk of developing prostate cancer versus those who didn’t. Eating tomato products such as tomato sauce, tomato juice, tomato soup, canned tomatoes, tomato paste, and salsa is a great way to ensure you are getting in plenty of cancer-fighting lycopene.
How exactly does lycopene exert its cancer-fighting powers? Scientists have proposed several possible methods, including stopping the growth of cancerous cells in the prostate, controlling proteins that suppress tumors, and preventing damage to DNA that can have lasting impacts on the body. While lycopene is powerful on its own, tomatoes contain other anti-carcinogenic compounds, like vitamin A, vitamin C, and fiber. That’s why you’re better off getting lycopene from dietary sources like tomatoes, rather than from a supplement.
In addition to cooking, adding a little bit of oil to your tomatoes can boost your ability to absorb lycopene even more. This is because lycopene is a fat-soluble compound, and the fat in oil helps lycopene get broken down to a form usable by the body. A serving of whole wheat pasta with tomato sauce and a side salad with olive oil and vinegar is the perfect prostate-cancer-preventing meal!
It’s so important for men to be aware of the most common conditions that can threaten health, both in Movember and beyond. Prostate cancer is a frightening possibility, but early detection and prevention is key in reducing your risk. Along with screenings and a healthy diet and exercise plan, incorporating cooked tomato products into your meals several times a week is an excellent way to make sure you are maximizing your dose of cancer-fighting lycopene.