Anthocyanidins are phytonutrients that give red foods their red color. This includes tomatoes, beets, grapes, strawberries, red onion, watermelon and the like.
For the sake of this article, let’s talk about one specific beneficial nutrient…
You’ve likely heard about the benefits of lycopene. Lycopene is a carotenoid found primarily in red, orange and yellow foods. These powerful substances reduce a person’s risk of various cancers, diabetes, heart issues and many other conditions1.
But here’s the important reason that we have to use EVIDENCE as a foundation for our nutrition and health information: Tomatoes are best known for lycopene. This is true…but what is not as commonly known is that in order to get the lycopene from the tomatoes, they must be cooked AND need to be eaten with a small amount of fat in order to be properly assimilated2. Carotenoids, including lycopene are fat soluble so this is why taking them with a bit of fat can be helpful for absorption. This is also why most of the store-bought pasta sauces that you find come with a bit of olive oil in them.
This doesn’t mean that raw tomatoes are bad…they still have lots of vitamins, minerals, fiber and other phytonutrients. But if you’re looking for the anticancer benefits, raw tomatoes won’t cut it.
So how can you increase the lycopene in your diet? A great way is to make homemade tomato-based soups, chilis and sauces (which you likely already love anyway).
Side note: This illustrates one of the reasons why I believe it’s important to eat both cooked and raw foods. Some nutrients are depleted by cooking (vitamin C for example) while others are enhanced (lycopene for example).
1. Imran M, Ghorat F, Ul‐haq I, et al. Lycopene as a natural antioxidant used to prevent human health disorders. Antioxidants. 2020. doi:10.3390/antiox9080706
2. D’evoli L, Lombardi-Boccia G, Lucarini M. Influence of heat treatments on carotenoid content of cherry tomatoes. Foods. 2013. doi:10.3390/foods2030352
Nothing said or implied in this post is intended to treat, cure, diagnose or prevent any disease. It does not take the place of a qualified health care practitioner and is intended for educational purposes only.