Could a dollop of tomato ketchup really be saving your heart?

Rain, rain, rain!

I am getting fed up of it now.

There was so much rain last week that my garden looked more like a marshland!

So I am really glad to see the back of February and the onset of marvellous March!

And I’m itching to get out into the garden and start preparing for this year’s crops. Hopefully the weather won’t ruin my plans!

Last year, I had the most amazing results with tomatoes that I’d love to repeat.

There’s a patch out the front where I made a raised bed last spring, and it gets the perfect amount of sunshine for tomatoes.

I grew so many, I was almost overwhelmed…

I ended walking up and down our road with a massive basket of them, dishing them out to neighbours like a Summer Santa.

Of course, you can never have too many tomatoes.

The huge volume of tomatoes in the diets of those who lived in the early civilisations around the Mediterranean have been identified as one of the reasons for their longevity and success.

In the UK we consume about 500,000 tonnes of tomatoes a year, mostly as fresh salad vegetables with the market growth being driven by premium versions such as vine tomatoes.

Some even see it as a medicine.

For instance, a company called CamNutra from Birmingham that once launched a pill containing the concentrated chemicals found in tomatoes.

The active ingredient is known as lycopene, a carotenoid antioxidant, which acts on cells in the body called macrophages and stops them ingesting LDL cholesterol.

This is important as it is these cholesterol-gorged macrophages which form the plaques that block off our blood vessels and lead to coronary heart disease and atherosclerosis (blockages).

In 2002 a research team from the University of Toronto published a paper in the Journal of Experimental Biology & Medicine which made a very strong case for using lycopene to help prevent the formation of plaques in blood vessels.

One of their findings does help explain though why much of the world has missed the benefit from eating tomatoes – and why fresh Italian pizza, rich Spanish tomato soup and Greek meatballs with tomato sauce may hold the key to long life.

Could tomato ketchup help you live longer than a fresh salad?

According to the Canadian research it seems that you might be as well eating ketchup rather than fresh fruit still on the stem.

You see, they found that the bioavailability of lycopene was significantly higher in processed fruit than in fresh:

“In general, circulating and adipose tissue levels of lycopene seem to be better indicators of disease prevention than dietary intake data. Lycopene has been shown to be better absorbed from processed tomato products than from fresh tomatoes.”

Maybe this is why the true Mediterranean diet is so healthy, rather than the one the style magazines would have us believe.

You see, far from fresh tomato salads dominating the dinner tables our enlightened friends are more likely to be found with a deep red fish stew, tomato-rich paella or steaming spiced tagine.

In each of these the tomatoes will be slowly cooked to release the full flavour and improve the quality of the finished sauce – however, by a happy and healthy coincidence this method of preparation increases the release of absorbable lycopene.

So, next time you are looking at your greenhouse groaning with ripe fruit don’t worry about having to eat them in one sitting…

Cook them down to a rich paste and freeze them in handy portions.

These can be added to curries, soups and casseroles at a later stage safe in the knowledge that your heart will be singing in delight.