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Dr. Clare Hasler

Health Benefit

Aging Males: Talk Up on Tomato Products

The Tomato Magazine
April 2005


If you are an aging male and are worried about the prospects of being diagnosed with prostate cancer, boost your consumption of tomato products, particularly the processed kind.
That’s the advice of Dr. Clare Hasler, a functional food expert with the University of California-Davis. Functional foods are defined as those that confer a health benefit which goes beyond basic nutrition, such as a reduction in the incidence of cancer, heart disease, diabetes, osteoporosis and other chronic diseases.

Before coming to the University of California in February 2004, Hasler served 10 years as the founding director of the Functional Foods for Health Program at the University of Illinois. She now serves as the executive director of the Robert Mondavi Institute for Wine and Food Science.

During her career at the University of Illinois, Hasler was in charge of a research program focused on functional foods. Several faculty in the program researched the health benefits of lycopene in tomatoes, considered “exciting” since most people enjoy eating tomatoes.

“Some foods toted as being functional are not necessarily the people’s favorites,” she explains. “Soy is a good example. Many don’t particularly like soy. Few people, however, dislike tomatoes.”

Over the years, it has been exciting watching what’s been happening in functional food research, Hasler says. Studies clearly show that lycopene, as found in tomatoes, can reduce certain chronic diseases, of which cancer is the most recognized. Lycopene’s effect on the reduction of prostrate cancer is most notable. Researchers also are reporting reduced heart disease and improved bone health; these two findings, however, are of more recent origin and are considered very new.

“There have been several notable, large functional food health studies in the past. The first was published in 1995 in the New England Journal of Medicine,” Hasler says. “A Harvard research group followed the health indicators of more than 47,000 men over a six-year period.”

The study gathered so much interest that researchers, now 20 years later, are continuing their investigation.

During their initial research, the team looked at the men’s history of tomato product consumption and found that those who consumed 10 or more servings of tomato products per week had less than half the incidence of advanced prostrate cancer.

“In fact, there was a 53 percent reduction,” the researcher points out. “They were eating a little over one serving of tomato products per day. The primary tomato products consumed were tomato paste, tomato sauce and pizza, which frequently have a heavy dose of tomato sauce and sliced tomatoes.

In 1999, the Harvard group did a second study, according to Hasler. Team members looked at 72 studies from around the world and found that, in general, there is a strong relationship between those who consume tomato products and the level of tomato lycopene in their blood and tissues and their risk of cancer. Again, there was a significant reduction in prostrate cancer, but there was also good evidence of a reduction in stomach and lung cancers.

The take-home message, Hasler believes, is that men at risk for prostrate cancer should be consuming tomatoes or tomato products on a regular basis.

One component of the research is that processed tomatoes may offer more disease protection benefits than fresh tomatoes. The view is that heating tomato lycopene changes the form of that compound slightly, making it more absorbable and available to the body.

“That’s not to say that fresh tomatoes are not protective,” Hasler adds, “but the heating processes seems to make processed tomatoes a little more beneficial to the body.”

Prostate cancer is an inevitable process of aging, the researcher points out. Despite better detection capability today, prostate cancer remains the leading diet-related cancer in men. Incorporating more processed tomato products into their diets would be an excellent preventative measure. Lung cancer remains the leading type of cancer but is generally attributed to smoking and is not as strongly diet related.

Easy on the Cheese
One caution for those seeking to obtain their lycopene through eating pizza: skip the extra cheese, Hasler advises. Cheese adds extra fat which brings with it its own challenges. Where possible, select a pizza topped with plenty of vegetables and including a healthy serving of tomato sauce and fresh tomatoes.

Spinach is another excellent functional food, Hasler says. There is growing evidence that it may help reduce the risk of macular degeneration which causes blindness is many over the age of 65. While there is no known cure for the disease, spinach is linked with a reduction in the incidence of this disease.

“Research clearly demonstrates that those who consume lots of fruits and green leafy vegetables lead healthier lives,” Hasler stresses. “Green leafy vegetables, in particular, are high in lutein, a carotenoid. There are over 600-plus such carotenoids. A salad, made up of green leafy vegetables (including spinach and sliced tomatoes), is very healthy. Spinach on a pizza with tomato sauce also is recommended. Spinach includes folic acid, known to be important to women.”

Onions contain quercetin, which has antioxidant properties. Apples are another important source of antioxidants. The problem with onions, she explains, is that people seldom eat enough of them to provide the full benefits they offer.

Broccoli, of course, is another excellent functional food and is linked to reductions in c ertain types of cancer.

So what’s best for you? A good healthy diet containing lots of fresh fruits and vegetables, Hasler suggests. Current USDA guidelines call for a minimum of nine servings per day.

“If you are predisposed to a certain type of disease, the best advice is to select an ample amount of the specific types of fruits and vegetables know to be helpful to your particular challenge,” she advises. “Certainly, if you are an aging male and have a history of prostate cancer in your family, consuming plenty of processed tomato products is strongly recommended.”

© 2005 Columbia Publishing

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