Ready for a light summer salad of fresh cut tomatoes, cucumbers, avocado and feta drizzled with extra virgin olive oil, lemon and a hit of salt and pepper? Or blend these fruits and vegetables for a quick cold soup topped with crumbled feta. This delicious refreshment may be better for you than you thought.
The Mediterranean diet’s balance of fruits, vegetables and healthy fats makes it a superstar cuisine for your heart and overall health. A recent study from the University of Cambridge and Cambridge University Hospitals National Health Service Foundation Trust found that a daily supplement made from tomato extract may help patients with cardiovascular disease. Eat those garden tomatoes!
People who follow the Mediterranean diet have fewer incidents of heart disease and stroke. Though incidents of cardiovascular disease vary around the world, in Southern Europe, where the Mediterranean diet is predominate, there are fewer incidents of cardiovascular disease.
The Tomato Advantage: Lycopene
The Mediterranean diet contains high amounts of lycopene, a powerful antioxidant that is 10 times more potent than vitamin E. Lycopene, with its bright red pigment, is found in many fruits and vegetables, including tomatoes, watermelon, grapefruit and red bell peppers. Its potency appears to be enhanced when it is pureed, in gazpacho or ketchup for example. How, exactly, it works to help the body when it comes to matters of the heart isn’t clear.
The study from the University of Cambridge identified at least one of the mechanisms in lycopene that prevents cardiovascular disease. The double-blind, placebo-controlled investigation looked at the effects of lycopene by measuring blood flow through the forearm, which is one of the ways doctors predict future incidents of cardiovascular disease. The 36 patients with cardiovascular disease and 36 healthy patients were given either Aternonon, an over-the-counter supplement containing 7 mg of lycopene, or a placebo. Since it was a double-blind study, both researchers and patients did not know who was receiving the supplement and who was receiving the placebo.
Help Your Blood Vessels and Boost Blood Flow
The patients with cardiovascular disease were all on statins, cholesterol-lowering medication, but still had impaired function of the endothelium, the inner blood vessels. This determined the response of blood vessels in the patient’s forearm to a naturally-occurring molecule called acetylcholine. These blood vessels are directly linked to incidents of heart disease; having healthy vessels is key to prevention.
The researchers found that just 7 mg of lycopene improved the function of the impaired endothelium, widening blood vessels by 53%. However, it had no effect on the healthy patients.
The study’s authors did note that taking supplements containing lycopene should not be a substitute for a healthy diet, but rather part of it.
Try eating more Mediterranean, consider supplements, get your daily exercise and rest—all great tips for your heart.
“‘Tomato pill improves function of blood vessels in patients with cardiovascular disease,” Science Daily, June 19, 2014, http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/06/140609205652.htm.