For many years I have been focused on nutrition and various urologic diseases, especially prostate cancer. Although the relationship between prostate cancer and diet is certainly a consideration, the use of tomatoes may be one of the strongest preventive options a man can take to avoid prostate cancer.
There are many health advantages of eating more tomatoes, which includes a lower risk of prostate cancer and other cancers as well. While the good news is Americans eat more tomatoes and tomato products than any other non-starchy vegetable, about 90% of adult men fail to consume the 2.5 cups of vegetables per day recommended by the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans.
Tomatoes contain a high antioxidant content, specifically lycopene. Lycopene has been the subject of many research studies regarding its protective effect against prostate cancer.
In men with prostate cancer, lycopene supplementation has been shown to be safe and tolerated well in doses up to 120 mg per day for up to one year. Toxicity is generally very mild, with diarrhea as a possible side effect at very high doses.
There appears to be a protective effect of tomatoes and tomato products on the prevention of prostate cancer as well as improvements in biomarkers of disease status, including the PSA levels.
A unique characteristic of tomatoes is that unlike the nutrients in other fresh fruits and vegetables, lycopene is more bioavailable after tomatoes are cooked and processed. This fact opens up even more possibilities for individuals to enjoy the benefits of lycopene.
According to the US Department of Agriculture National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference, ½ cup of tomato paste contains 18.84 mg of lycopene, while an equal amount of tomato sauce has 17.12 mg, spaghetti sauce has 15.82 mg, and tomato juice has 10.88 mg of lycopene. One-half cup of raw tomatoes, however, contains only 2.32 mg of lycopene. Non-tomato products that contain lycopene include watermelon (1/2 cup has 3.44 mg) and grapefruit (1/2 fruit contains 1.75 mg).
More recent hypotheses have looked at the advantages of whole tomatoes, which are excellent sources of vitamins A and C, fiber, and potassium, and identified other protective elements beyond lycopene. Vitamins A and C are potent antioxidants, while fiber has been shown to reduce cholesterol, and potassium is helpful in lowering blood pressure and possibly reducing bone loss.
Experts in nutrition and cancer note that the preponderance of evidence suggests that consumption of whole tomatoes and tomato products should be preferentially recommended because of greater consistency of documented positive outcomes with the whole tomato and the concomitant supply of other important essential nutrients.
Given that tomatoes and tomato products are already dietary favorites, increasing their consumption can achieve several goals, including reduction in the risk of prostate cancer and other diseases, and helping Americans achieve the recommended daily intake of 2.5 cups of vegetables.
Bottom Line: Prostate cancer is the most common cancer (besides skin cancer) in men and the second most cause of death in men following lung cancer. Men can be easily diagnosed with a PSA test and a digital rectal exam. Man can also decrease their risk of prostate cancer by consuming lycopene, an antioxidant, which is plentiful in tomatoes.