When we were living in Hong Kong, we saw a makeover reality show on television that mentioned the health benefits of eating tomato paste. A few volunteers ate tomato paste daily for several months and claimed they burned less easily in the sun and saw a slight reversal in sun damage.
This tip caught my attention because eating a little tomato paste is definitely something I can do.
The Benefits of Lycopene in Tomato Paste
I found numerous articles online that said in 2008, researchers at Manchester and Newcastle Universities in England saw measured results in 10 volunteers that ate 5 tablespoons of tomato paste plus 2 teaspoons of olive oil every day for 3 months. Their skin’s ability to block UV rays improved.
The lycopene found in tomatoes provides this benefit, and it becomes more highly concentrated after being cooked. That’s why they suggest eating tomato paste versus raw tomatoes. Think about how many raw tomatoes you’d have to eat to get the right dosage otherwise.
Lycopene is an antioxidant that is not produced by our bodies. It is a pigment that gives tomatoes and other fruits and vegetables their red color. You can read more about lycopene on the American Dietetic Association website.
The Combination of Olive Oil and Tomato Paste
Researchers suspect that olive oil and tomato paste are a particularly powerful combination. They are not sure if the added beneficial antioxidants, squalene and oleic acid in olive oil are complementary or if the combination provides some sort of further enhanced benefit.
Mediterranean populations have a low incidence of skin cancer and they obviously eat quite a bit of olive oil.
The Tomato Paste Study
Anyway, ten volunteers ate tomato paste and olive oil and another ten volunteers just ate olive oil. Researches tested small patches of the participants’ skin with UV lamps. After 3 months, the tomato paste eaters were a third better protected against sunburn at the end of the study than at the start. They also had higher collagen levels.
This level of improvement supposedly equates to a low-level sunscreen. I don’t think anyone believes this is a substitute for sunscreen, however.
I am born and raised in Southern California so I’ve had my fair share of sun. Only when I moved to Hong Kong, where people walk around with umbrellas if it’s sunny, did I become a little bit more conscious of keeping my freckles at bay.
On our last trip to Costco, I bought a giant box of organic tomato paste. I’m going to try this experiment and see what happens.
*Photo credit: istockphoto/robynmac