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Volume 90, Issue 94

Friday, March 21, 1997



Prof did ketch-up to find tomatoes healthy

By Donna MacMullin
Gazette Staff

Would you like a few fries with your ketchup?

This smart alec phrase might be heard a little more often due to a recent study done at the University of Toronto revealing the health benefits of ketchup and other processed tomato products.

Vetket Rao, a nutrition professor at the university, undertook the year-long study which involved testing mainly done with processed tomato products like ketchup, tomato sauce and tomato juice.

"The tomato, because of its red colour, has an abundance of the nutritional compound lycopene, a caretinoid which was found to have strong antioxidant properties for the body," Rao said.

The tests were primarily done to determine the role of lycopene in the human body. "We first did in-vitro testing to find out if lycopene is absorbed by the body," Rao said. "Secondly, we wanted to look at how [lycopene] acts as an antioxidant.

"We found when tomatoes are processed the lycopene is in a more absorbable form for the body," he explained. "And higher amounts of lycopene in the blood were synonymous with lower levels of oxident stress." Increased levels of lycopene in the blood play a role in decreasing the risk of cancer and heart disease.

Rao was inspired to do the study after a similar study was done at the Harvard school of medicine about a year and a half ago. Rao's study is unique because it is one of the first to use human subjects as opposed to animal testing or test-tube blood samples. "We had 20 subjects, 10 male and 10 female, and they ingested lycopene capsules, as well as tomato juice and sauces while being tested," he said.

Len Piché, a home economics professor at Brescia College, said while Rao's study is interesting he cautions that people keep in mind the amount of sodium contained in many processed tomato products.

"Students, especially, are great fans of soup," he said. "And one cup of tomato soup contains a gram of sodium. I would caution that for salt-sensitive individuals especially, that you be careful and find out how much sodium is in these [processed tomato] products before you buy them.

"When many processed tomato products are prepared, there is often a large amount of salt added to enhance the flavour," Piché said. He added products like ketchup are also predominantly combined with other unhealthy food choices like french fries.

David Young, product manager at H.J. Heinz, said the company which is famous for their ketchup, contributed to the funding of Rao's study. "We do not necessarily do our own in-house research but felt Rao's study would be a beneficial one," he said.

As a result of the study, Young said the company intends to reinforce the importance of tomato products as part of healthy eating. "We were always aware the tomato was important as a vegetable included as part of the daily diet – the important finding with this study is the role tomato juice can play in increasing lycopene in the blood," he said.

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Copyright © The Gazette 1997