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This Valentine's Day, share a meal with your loved one that’s rich in tomato sauce—your skin will thank you for it.

While it would be difficult for us to imagine Italian cooking without them, the “love apple—aka, tomato—is actually native to North America. After being introduced to Europe by the Spanish, the first record of its use was in what we know as Italy, in a cookbook dating back to 1692 found in Naples.

The tomato had a rough start in Europe. Because it’s a relative of the deadly nightshade, many people thought it was poisonous. However, marketing is not a modern concept, and someone got the idea to promote the fruit as an aphrodisiac because of it’s red skin, and gave it the name poma amoris or pomme d’amour (love apple) in French.

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Tomatoes are rich in lycopene, a phytochemical that is one of the most powerful antioxidants known. Lycopene is also found, in lesser amounts, in pink grapefruit, red peppers, watermelon and guava.

In most fruits and vegetables, cooking reduces their nutritional effectiveness. Not so with tomatoes. It has been found that processing increases the concentration of lycopene. This means that tomato juice and soup, and even ketchup, are better for you than fresh tomatoes. But the highest concentration of lycopene is found in tomato paste – up to four times as much as in fresh.

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Lycopene has been discovered to be the most potent combatant of something called “singlet oxygen." Singlet oxygen is produced during exposure to ultraviolet light, and is a primary cause of skin aging.

So, can eating processed tomatoes help protect your skin from sun damage? You don’t need to do the research – a British television show called "The Truth About Food" has done it for you.

For the study, they found 23 women who burn easily (though you only see them follow one woman during the broadcast program itself), and asked them to eat 55 grams of tomato paste every day for 12 weeks. Fifty-five grams is equal to slightly less than four tablespoons, and contains 16 milligrams of lycopene.

According to their website, the researchers “tested the lowest dose of UV needed to provoke a visible response on their skin. Then we exposed them to a range of UV radiation and compared the damage done to those who ate tomatoes and those who didn't.” After 12 weeks, it was discovered that the testers had a 30 percent increase in skin protection.

While this doesn’t mean that you can forgo sunscreen completely, it certainly can’t hurt to eat processed tomatoes on a regular basis. "The Truth About Food" website has a couple of recipes for you to consider. However, any lover of Italian cuisine is probably doing fine in getting enough lycopene in her diet.

Several pharmaceutical companies make lycopene available as a supplement along with other antioxidants. This is an ideal choice for those who are allergic to (or just don’t like) tomatoes.

And the rumored aphrodisiac qualities can’t hurt either!

(Source: www.BBC.co.uk – Science & Nature: "The Truth About Food")


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