The chemical lycopene is found in some fruits and vegetables and gives them their rich red color. It is a very powerful antioxidant that is similar to a sponge in the way it soaks up damaging molecules called free radicals. Cells can be damaged from these free radicals if no action is taken to destroy them.
Tomatoes are especially rich in lycopene so eating tomatoes daily and putting red sauce on your spaghetti, meatballs and other foods could possibly decrease your risk for having a stroke, according to research that was recently published in the journal Neurology. Study author Jouni Karppi, of the University of Eastern Finland in Kuopio, says “this study adds to the evidence that a diet high in fruits and vegetables is associated with a lower risk of stroke.” Karppi claims that the chemical lycopene helps to protect the brain.
The researchers in the study tested the amount of lycopene in the blood of more than 1,000 Finnish men from age 46 to 65, beginning in 1991. The men were then observed for more than 10 years by scientists to record the number who had strokes. They found that the men who had the highest levels of lycopene were 55% less prone to have a stroke than those with the lowest amounts in their blood.
Although the study focuses mainly on the benefits of tomatoes and their containment of lycopene, there is other data that supports eating fruit and vegetables in general to avoid the risk of strokes. There isn’t a sufficient amount of proof that eating tomatoes will lessen your risk of stroke.
A lot of focus has been on lycopene recently because of it’s strong antioxidant powers. Experts believe that if we do not consume enough lycopene type foods, too many free radicals store up in the body causing blood vessels to be damaged by forming fatty deposits. As these deposits build up, a blockage can form. If that vessel with the blockage happens to be in the brain, the blockage can cause a stroke.
Tomatoes can also help reduce strokes in other ways. They provide a good source of potassium, which is known to reduce blood pressure. High blood pressure is a major risk factor for getting a stroke.
Even though experts say all the credit can not go to lycopene rich tomatoes alone, they recommend eating about 5 servings of fruits and vegetables daily. Obviously it would be wise to include tomatoes in that assortment. If you do choose to eat more tomatoes, researchers say that cooked tomatoes appear to provide more protection than raw.