If you catch me smiling, it’s probably because I’m a little giddy thinking about tomatoes. Sure there are other things to be happy about in August, like corn, peaches and a cool dip in the creek, but fresh tomatoes are what I get excited about.
There are many reasons to love tomatoes: BLTs, panzanella, Caprese salad and gazpacho to name a few. Recently I’ve been hearing that eating tomatoes, especially cooked ones, can provide skin protection from the sun.
I have been interested in sunscreen ever since my high school science fair project. I tested the effectiveness of the sunscreen, based on the photosynthesis of isopropyl alcohol benzophenone (I didn’t make this up). I added alcohol and benzophenone to test tubes, sealed them, brushed them with sunscreen and set them under a sun lamp.
After a few hours, crystals formed. I then weighed the crystals. The more crystals, the more sunlight that got through and therefore the less effective the sunscreen was. I’m sure my 11th grade experiment may not have been completely accurate, but with the help from the art department who did an excellent job painting my beachscape backdrop, my project won first prize.
Sunday, I accidentally conducted another sunscreen test. My husband and I went to his company picnic. It was hot and sunny and due to an oversight, we didn’t have on a drop of sunscreen. However, we did drink a glass of tomato juice that morning. I can’t say exactly how long we were out in the sun, since I did try to stay in the shade, but I burn easily and the more than an hour of sunlight we certainly got would have normally turned my skin rather pink if not right out red.
No red, no pink, no tan, no nothing.
I came home and did a little research. Seems like everyone from USA Today to AccuWeather sourced a Universities of Newcastle and Manchester study that showed eating tomato paste could help protect against sunburn.
Whenever I keep reading the same study cited over and over, I like to go to the source. PubMed (www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov) is the place to do this.
The study, titled “Tomato paste rich in lycopene protects against cutaneous photo damage in humans in vivo: a randomized controlled trial” was tiny, comprised of only 20 particpants. Over a 12-week period, one group ate 5 teaspoons of tomato paste a day and the control group did not. The people who ate the tomato paste were a third better protected against sunburn than the control group. According to the study, the conclusion was “Tomato paste containing lycopene provides protection against acute and potentially longer-term aspects of photo damage.”
Another study showed that using lycopene topically provides UV protection. I personally, would rather eat a tomato.
Raw and cooked tomatoes both contain the phytonutrient lycopene, but cooking seems to increase the amount of lycopene that can be absorbed by the body. Vitamin C decreases with cooking, so I like to include both cooked and raw tomatoes in my diet.
I wouldn’t take this study to mean that you can replace the sunscreen in your beach bag with a bottle of tomato juice, but it looks like eating tomatoes can boosts your skins own sun-protection.
My sun strategy: stay in the shade, wear a big hat, and eat plenty of tomatoes!
Fresh Homemade Salsa
No need to grab a jar of salsa this summer with all the fresh produce available. Throw in a ripe peach if you are feeling adventurous.
4 large tomatoes, chopped (I add a few yellow cherry tomatoes for color)
1-2 garlic cloves, minced
1 jalapeño or serrano peppers, stemmed, seeded and finely chopped
1/2 large onion, chopped (I like to use a sweet onion, but any will do)
2-3 tablespoons lime juice (about one lime)
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
In a bowl, combine all ingredients. Let sit for about an hour for the flavors to meld.