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Tomatoes the elixir of youth

Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media

Tomatoes have been hailed as a key factor in maintaining youthful-looking skin, in a scientific study released this week.

Research presented to the UK's Royal Society of Medicine, found that eating tomatoes reduces sun damage and boosts levels of procollagen, the molecule which gives skin its structure, maintaining elasticity.

The study also found further evidence to suggest that tomato consumption can help minimise the onset of wrinkles.

Volunteers, who ate tomato paste daily for a fortnight, suffered less damage to mitochondrial DNA, which is also believed to be linked to skin ageing.

The researchers credit lycopene, the natural pigment that makes tomatoes red, with providing the age defying health benefits.

Leading New Zealand skincare company Trilogy has already embraced the benefits of lycopene, using extracts from tomatoes in its new Rosehip Oil Antioxidant and Tomato Seed Oil products.

Helen Barnes, Business Manager of Tomatoes New Zealand, said that the UK report backed up other global research into the nutritional benefits of tomatoes including studies by New Zealand's Crop & Food Research.

"It's widely known that lycopene is a powerful antioxidant that neutralises free radicals which may cause damage to cell components," she said. "But it is very interesting to hear of tomato consumption being linked directly to increased protection against sunburn and more youthful looking skin.

"There are also many other proven health benefits of eating tomatoes. There is strong scientific evidence for a role of lycopene in reducing the incidence of prostate cancer.

"It may also help reduce the incidence of other cancers and cardiovascular diseases and play a role in eye health and is also a good source of vitamin C, fibre, folic acid, potassium and other vitamins."

Health and beauty conscious Kiwi shoppers need look no further than New Zealand grown tomatoes to boost their lycopene intake. The Crop & Food study also identified the intense red colour, and therefore higher lycopene content, of some New Zealand grown fresh tomatoes as a point of difference over paler Australian imports.

Crop & Food also reported that consumption of the whole tomato, including skins and seeds, consumed with a little good quality oil, optimises the delivery of the potential benefits of tomatoes.

The UK research, carried out by scientists at Newcastle University, compared the skin of 20 volunteers, aged between 21 and 47, who were given 55g of standard tomato paste with 10g of olive oil every day for 12 weeks, with that of volunteers who had been given just olive oil.

The volunteers were exposed to UV rays found in sunlight at the beginning and end of the trial. The researchers found significant improvement in the skin's ability to protect itself against UV among those who had eaten the tomato paste with the tomato-eating group having 33 per cent more protection against sunburn in the form of less redness.

Skin samples taken from groups before and after the trial showed an increase in levels of procollagen, the loss of which leads to skin ageing and lack of elasticity. There was also less damage to mitochondrial DNA in the skin.

The redder a tomato is, the sweeter it will taste. In recent years the range of tomatoes available to New Zealand consumers has grown considerably with cherry, low acid, strawberry, roma and vine-ripened tomatoes becoming increasingly popular.

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