If someone told you that eating a tomato every day would lower your risk of stroke would you ever get tired of eating them? A new study found that higher levels of lycopene, a powerful antioxidant abundant in tomatoes, lowered the risk of stroke in men by more than half. But if you do get tired of tomatoes, there are many other foods that have been found to lower stroke risk.
King of the carotenoids
Lycopene is a carotenoid phytochemical and a natural pigment that makes tomatoes red. Research has shown that lycopene is the most powerful antioxidant in the carotenoid family. It’s especially effective fighting singlet oxygen, a volatile free radical emitted through normal metabolic processes. Lycopene helps prevent disease by squelching the reaction of singlet oxygen with fatty acids that make up cell membranes.
Research on both humans and animals has found that lycopene plays a role in prevention of cancers of the prostate, pancreas, stomach, breast, cervix and lung, as well as in the prevention of cardiovascular disease, cataracts, and age-related macular degeneration. A new Finnish study published in the journal Neurology makes a strong case for adding stroke prevention to that list.
Lycopene and stroke risk
The new research involved 1,031 Finnish men from 46 to 65 years old. At the start of the study, researchers measured their lycopene blood levels and then tracked them for about 12 years. Men who had the highest levels of lycopene in their blood were 55 percent less likely to have a stroke than men with the lowest levels.
Lycopene had the greatest effect on the most common type of stroke. The high lycopene men were 59 percent less likely to have an ischemic stroke, which is caused by blood clots in the brain.
Other lycopene sources
The study implies that the lycopene levels are the result of eating tomatoes, even though no data was collected on the amount of tomatoes the men actually ate. Guava, watermelon, and grapefruit are also good sources of lycopene.
To boost your lycopene levels with tomatoes, cooking them delivers the highest amount. Unlike other vegetables that are most nutritious eaten raw, heat actually makes lycopene more easily absorbed by the body. It’s also not necessary to focus solely on eating tomatoes. Other foods have also been linked to lower stroke risk, including chocolate, whole grains, low-fat dairy, beans, leafy greens and fish.