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The Tasty Tomato: An Antioxidant Power Blast

A juicy tomato has lots of antioxidants - but pair it with broccoli for the best health benefits.
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WebMD Feature
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Tomatoes are loaded with health-protective antioxidants such as lycopene, vitamin C, and vitamin A -- yet they have very few calories. If you don't have tomatoes in your summer garden, head to the local farmers market. Pick up some broccoli, too.

Research is homing in on broccoli's protective nutrients. It's steeped in important phytochemicals: beta-carotene, indoles, and isothiocyanates -- all cancer-fighting compounds. Broccoli also has phenethyl-ITC (PEITC), which is formed when the vegetables are either cut or chewed -- and has been shown, in lab experiments, to kill off cancer cells.

Both cooked tomatoes and cruciferous vegetables -- broccoli, cauliflower, and cabbage -- have been shown to help prevent cancer, especially prostate cancer. Now, research suggests that eating tomatoes and broccoli together has even more potent health effects.

A landmark study, published in Cancer Research, showed that prostate tumors grew much slower in rats fed both tomato and broccoli powder, compared to rats that ate either broccoli or tomato powder alone, or rats given lycopene as a supplement to their regular diet.

Cooking Tips for Tomatoes and Broccoli

It's a synergistic cancer-fighting effect we can all benefit from -- but for maximum effect, you've got to fix tomatoes and broccoli just right.

"The phytonutrients in tomatoes become more concentrated and bioavailable when tomatoes are cooked into a sauce or paste and are eaten with a little oil," writes Joseph Pizzorno, MD, host of WebMD's Integrative Medicine and Wellness blog.

With broccoli, it's just the opposite -- overcooking kills its nutrients. Steam or sauté broccoli lightly. Because broccoli's healthful compounds emerge only after it's been cut, chop florets into half or quarters; let sit for five minutes before cooking.

Fresh tomatoes should be firm and intensely colored when you buy them, advises Kathleen M. Zelman, LD, RD, MPH, WebMD's director of nutrition. Store at room temperature, and eat within a few days.

Canned diced tomatoes are a nutritious addition to salads, pastas, soups, casseroles, or dips -- so keep them on hand, Zelman suggests. Add dried tomatoes or roasted red peppers to these dishes, for even more color, nutrition, and taste.

To get the tomato-and-broccoli effect, Pizzorno suggests:

  • Enjoy a bowl of tomato soup, along with a salad featuring broccoli florets.
  • Add broccoli to the tomato-paste toppings on your favorite pizza.
  • Sauté broccoli florets, onions, and mushrooms to crown your pasta sauce.

Also, don't forget appetizers: broccoli florets, grape tomatoes, celery, carrots, crackers, and dips. Toast your good health with a glass of tomato juice!

Reviewed on April 25, 2007

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