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Can Tomatoes Help Lower the Risk of Prostate Cancer?
Prostate cancer is the most common cancer in men in the UK and more than a third of prostate cancer cases are diagnosed in men aged over 75. Public health advice to lower your risk of all cancers is to eat a balanced diet based on healthy eating guidelines, take regular exercise, stop smoking, and drink alcohol within the recommended limits. Research has investigated the links between different foods or nutrients and different types of cancer, recently tomatoes have hit the headlines with the suggestion that they reduce the risk of prostate cancer.
Tomatoes and prostate cancer
Tomatoes are a rich source of lycopene, a nutrient thought to protect against prostate cancer, and there has been much interest into whether eating tomatoes may reduce the risk of prostate cancer. A recent study found that men who ate ten or more portions a week had an 18% reduced risk of prostate cancer compared to men who ate less than ten. However, the study was based on dietary recall from men who were found to have prostate cancer and those who were clear after random prostate checks. The men had to then recall their dietary intake from the past 12 months. This type of dietary assessment is open to many errors as it is very difficult to remember exactly what may have been eaten for a whole year. However, although this study cannot prove a link between eating tomatoes, it does build on a body of scientific evidence linking lycopene with a reduced risk of prostate cancer. The World Cancer Research Fund in their 2007 report on cancer reduction concluded that there was probable evidence that foods containing lycopene may reduce risk of prostate cancer.
While we still don’t have definitive evidence that lycopene or tomatoes can reduce the risk of prostate cancer, the evidence does suggest an association and there may be other potential benefits of including plenty of tomatoes in your diet. Tomatoes are high in vitamin A, also contain vitamin C and using tomatoes as a base for sauces, stews or curries is a good way to avoid creamier versions, which can contain a lot of calories and saturated fat. In addition, it appears that your body may be able to absorb more lycopene from cooked tomatoes than from fresh so it doesn’t always follow raw foods are healthier than cooked.
The eight cancer prevention recommendations
In terms of reducing the risk of all cancers, the World Cancer Research Fund provides the following eight recommendations for cancer prevention:
- be as lean as possible without being underweight
- stay physically active every day
- limit consumption of energy-dense foods and avoid sugary drinks
- the diet should consist of foods mostly from plant origin
- limit intake of red and processed meat
- limit consumption of alcoholic drinks
- limit consumption of salty foods and foods processed with salt
- do not take supplements in an attempt to prevent cancer
Bridget Benelam - Senior Nutrition Scientist, British Nutrition Foundation – Guest Expert
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