With all the warnings to wear sunscreen and cover up, worries about skin cancer can cast shadows over even the nicest beach day. Now scientists researching how to prevent skin cancer have good news—at least for all the tomato lovers out there: Eating the red fruit may greatly reduce your risk of developing skin cancer.
In a study on mice at Ohio State University, researchers found that male mice fed a diet of 10 percent tomato powder every day for 35 weeks before being exposed to ultraviolet light had a 50 percent decrease in skin cancer tumors compared to mice who didn’t get the tomato powder.
According to Jessica Cooperstone, co-author of the study and a research scientist in the Department of Food Science and Technology in the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences at Ohio State, the crucial link between tomatoes and cancer is dietary carotenoids, which give tomatoes their color and may protect skin against UV light damage.
The findings, published online in the journal Scientific Reports, reveal that the tumors were higher for female mice compared to the males. “This study showed us that we do need to consider sex when exploring different preventive strategies,” says the study’s senior author, Tatiana Oberyszyn, a professor of pathology and member of Ohio State’s Comprehensive Cancer Center. “What works in men may not always work equally well in women and vice versa.”
This isn’t the first study to highlights the humble tomato’s ability to protect against UV light damage. Previous clinical trials suggest that eating tomato paste might help prevent sunburn. Researchers at the University of Manchester and the University of Newcastle in the U.K. found that the effect of eating tomatoes over a 12-week period was equivalent to slapping on low-powered SPF sunscreen. Again, this is down to those carotenoids: “Lycopene, the primary carotenoid in tomatoes, has been shown to be the most effective antioxidant of these pigments,” says Cooperstone.
Other tomato health benefits are plentiful. They’re loaded with calcium and vitamin K, to help keep bones healthy. They also boast high levels of vitamins A and C, which help strengthen immunity and eliminate harmful free radicals from the body.
We all want to know how to prevent skin cancer, and eating a healthy diet should be at the top of the list. “Foods are not drugs, but they can possibly, over the lifetime of consumption, alter the development of certain diseases,” says Cooperstone. According to the American Institute for Cancer Research, eating a variety of plant foods ensures the most protection against cancer development. So carry on adding tomatoes to everything you cook, but make sure you stock up on more of the healthiest fruits for your body too.