Tomatoes are a great source of lycopene, a plant chemical, which is responsible for the beautiful red color of the tomatoes. Besides this, lycopene is an excellent antioxidant that has been effective in preventing cancer. Studies have found that the content of lycopene increases when tomatoes are cooked as compared to raw tomatoes. In other words, eating tomatoes in the cooked form is much healthier than raw tomatoes.
Why are cooked tomatoes BETTER?
The lycopene content of fresh tomatoes is 0.88-7.74 milligrams/100 grams, whereas tomato ketchup contains 9.9-13.4 milligrams of lycopene/100 grams.
Cooking or processing tomatoes causes loss of water, which increases the lycopene concentration. Tomatoes should always be cooked fresh to get its maximum benefits.
But, wrong processing and storage techniques can also lead to the loss of lycopene. Exposure of cooked tomato products to light and air (oxygen) can degrade the lycopene present in them, thus making and preserving the tomato product less desirable and unfit for consumption.
Lycopene is present in the bound form in tomatoes. When tomatoes are cooked, the bonds are opened, and lycopene is released from the bonds, thus, the bioavailability of lycopene increases. Hence, whenever you consume a cooked tomato, you benefit more because more lycopene becomes available to your body.
Lycopene is a fat-soluble compound. Besides cooking, the addition of fat to tomato products improves the availability of lycopene. For example- adding oil to tomato salads and soups increases the entry of lycopene into the blood as compared to tomato salads and soups without oil. An interesting study found that tomato salsa when consumed with avocado, led to a 4.4 folds increase in lycopene absorption as compared with salsa without avocado. This is possible because fat present in avocado enhances the availability and absorption of lycopene present in tomatoes. (1)
Cook your tomatoes to get your dose of lycopene. Make sure you combine it with foods that are naturally high in fat, like avocado or add some olive oil to your salads and soups.