Think lycopene’s only good for your prostate? Well this might change your mind…
As part of a recent study, Cambridge researchers set out to investigate the heart health benefits of this Mediterranean mainstay. (Olive oil and red wine might get all the credit—but lycopene-rich tomatoes feature just as prominently in the Mediterranean diet. And their antioxidant power is nothing to sniff at, either.)
This clinical trial was small. Just 36 patients with heart disease. All of them were on statin drugs. But all of them had impaired endothelial function. (The endothelium is made up of the cells that line your blood vessels. It plays a critical role in regulating vascular function. And it’s a major predictor of heart risk.)
But despite its small size, this was a gold-standard study—randomized, double-blind, and placebo-controlled.
Researchers gave the volunteers a supplement containing 7 mg of lycopene or a placebo every day for two months. And by trial’s end, they found that the heart patients taking lycopene benefited from better blood flow than the placebo group.
In fact, their blood vessels’ ability to relax and widen improved by more than 50 percent. And improved blood vessel function boosts circulation, lowers blood pressure, and takes lethal stress off of arterial walls.
The bottom line: Lycopene is a lifesaver. And as this study so elegantly shows, it succeeds in protecting your heart where statin drugs fail miserably.
The timing of this finding really couldn’t be better. This study looked at a lycopene supplement. But there’s no need to take a “tomato pill” when it’s tomato season—and you’ve got a fresh, local selection waiting right at your local farmers market.
Just remember that this is one case where cooked is better. You’ll maximize lycopene content by turning all those fresh tomatoes into a hearty sauce. (And as an added bonus, you’ll also avoid all the extra sugar that hides in most jarred tomato sauces.)
Spoon your homemade sauce over zucchini “noodles” and I promise you won’t miss spaghetti at all.
2 pounds tomatoes (peeled, seeded, and diced)
¼ cup fresh basil, chopped
1 medium onion, minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 Tbsp macadamia nut oil
Salt and pepper
In a medium saucepan, cook tomatoes and basil over medium-low heat until tomatoes are soft. Meanwhile, in a small skillet, saute onion and garlic in the macadamia nut oil until onions are translucent. Add onion and garlic mixture to saucepan containing tomatoes and basil. Add salt and pepper to taste. Let simmer on low heat for 20-30 minutes. If you prefer a smoother consistency, sauce can be transferred to a food processor or blender and pureed before serving.
4 medium zucchini
There are a number of gadgets available now for making vegetable “noodles.” They do make the process faster, but they’re not a requirement. You can make zucchini “spaghetti” simply by cutting your zucchini into thin slices with a mandolin or vegetable peeler, then cutting the slices down into strips with a knife.
Spread out your “noodles” into a single layer on some paper towels. Lightly salt the “noodles” and let sit for 10-15 minutes. (The paper towels will absorb the excess moisture from the zucchini). While you’re waiting for the zucchini noodles to “drain,” bring a medium pot of water to a boil. Add zucchini noodles and cook for one minute, until noodles are slightly tender. Drain well and serve immediately, topped with homemade sauce and Parmesan cheese.
 Gajendragadkar PR, et al. “Effects of oral lycopene supplementation on vascular function in patients with cardiovascular disease and healthy volunteers: a randomised controlled trial.” PLoS One. 2014 Jun 9;9(6):e99070.