Tomatoes and tomato products (sauce, paste, on pizza, etc.) fit into lots of mouthwatering dishes, but they have a payoff beyond their deliciousness.  Read on.

Prostate cancer (PC) scares the hell out of men.  It’s usually not fatal but the side effects of treatments, such as impotence and incontinence, aren’t pleasant either.  The American Cancer Society says 1 in 8 men will be diagnosed with PC, exceeded only by breast cancer in number of cases.

Prostate Cancer Risk: Diet DOES Count – A Lot

Could your diet reduce your risk for developing PC?  Yes, specifically getting enough of a dietary antioxidant called “lycopene”.  This review of the PC research concluded that lycopene:

  • Prevented PC cells from multiplying.
  • Caused PC cells to die.
  • Inhibited PC cells from spreading throughout the body (aka “metastasizing”)
  • Helped decrease blood levels of prostate-specific antigen (PSA)

Why tomatoes?

Tomatoes are our single highest source of lycopene, supplying about 80% of the lycopene in our diets, so if you don’t eat tomatoes, you could be missing out.  Some other food sources:

  • Watermelon
  • Pink grapefruit
  • Guava
  • Dried apricots
  • Papaya

With Tomatoes, Processed Beats Fresh

At least when it comes to getting your lycopene.  Cooking tomatoes releases lycopene from the cell structure and makes it more bioavailable (usable by the body).  That’s important, because no matter how much lycopene a food has, if your body can’t access much of it, it can’t help you.  

Here’s how the lycopene content of cooked tomato foods stacks up, from highest to lowest, per 100 grams (3½ ounces): Raw tomatoes have 25% to 60% less lycopene than cooked tomatoes.  It’s pretty easy to use 100 grams (about ½ cup) of tomato-based marinara sauce on your pasta.


        •     Tomato paste                          
        •     Tomato puree
        •     Tomato juice
        •     Raw Roma tomatoes
        •     Raw cherry tomatoes
        •     Raw on-the-vine tomatoes
        •     Tomato ketchup

Raw tomatoes still have lots of lycopene, so get tomatoes however you want, and try to eat tomatoes in some form several times a week.  This study found that eating 10 servings of tomatoes and tomato products per week was associated with about a 20% lower risk of prostate cancer, other studies found a risk reduction of 20-30%.  The power of food!

10 Servings a week? What’s a serving?

Not as much as you think.  Here’s how it breaks down:

  • A handful of cherry tomatoes
  • 1 medium fresh tomato
  • ¼ cup canned tomato sauce
  • 2 tablespoons canned tomato paste
  • ½ cup diced or crushed canned tomatoes

Take-Away: Gazpacho, Anyone?

I love making gazpacho because there are so many ways to customize it.  Gazpacho is a cold soup that uses tomatoes in some form as a base, but after that it really varies.  There are tons of recipes for gazpacho online.  I love this recipe from  Why I like it:

  • They say “It’s as easy as it gets.” They’re right.  It’s also really refreshing.
  • No cooking! You can keep the kitchen as cool as this dish!
  • It uses CANNED diced tomatoes for more highly-available lycopene (and less work!)
  • It’s customizable: Keep in the tomatoes but tweak other ingredients as you like. I don’t find it needs extra salt at all. I like the chunks, but blend until smooth to serve in a mug.

Aim for 10 servings a week but do the best you can.  It’s a small change with a big impact – what we all want from food.   For more recipes and tomato info, check