The tomato (Solanum lycopersicum) is native to Peru.
Tomatoes belong to the Solanaceae or nightshade family. Other members of this group include tobacco, chili peppers and eggplant.
Tomato plants are grown worldwide for their edible fruits.
There are many different sizes, shapes and colors of tomatoes.
They range from the small cherry sized ones to large Beefsteak tomatoes.
Their colors run from light yellow to ruby red.
Tomatoes can be eaten raw, stewed or made into sauces. The San Marzano plum tomato, grown in the volcanic soil around Naples, is ideal for this purpose.
Lycopene is a carotenoid and is the principal pigment found in tomatoes as well as the bright spice, paprika and the pink grapefruit. Structurally, lycopene resembles, but is a much more powerful antioxidant than beta-carotene. Lycopene however lacks vitamin A activity.
Lycopene is considered cancer-preventive. Once lycopene enters the blood it preferentially targets the prostate gland, lungs and eye. Its antioxidant activity is thought to prevent prostate cancer.
Tomatoes are classified as fruits. Tomatoes are rich in the phytochemical pigment lycopene.
Lycopene is a red carotenoid and very powerful antioxidant. Lycopene is bound to the cell walls of tomato cells and is thus difficult to extract by the human digestive system.
Lycopene is unbound and released when tomatoes are heated. The amount of lycopene released increases dramatically in the process of making tomato sauce. This may help explain the good health experienced by Italians who eat some form of tomato sauce almost everyday. The heat energy from cooking is used to break down the cell walls of the tomato plant. Lycopene is now synthetically produced and routinely added to multi-vitamin formulas and dietary supplements.
Once lycopene enters the blood it preferentially targets the prostate gland, lungs and eye. Its antioxidant activity is thought to prevent prostate cancer, quench free radicals in the lungs and help prevent glaucoma.
There are other phytochemical present in tomatoes that aid lycopene in its role as preventer of cancer. They include phytoene, phytofluene, beta-carotene and tomato phytosterols. This supports the claim that the whole plant, not just an extract best supports health.