COLUMBUS , Ohio Deep red tomatoes get their rich color from lycopene, a disease-fighting antioxidant. A new study, however, suggests that a special variety of orange-colored tomatoes provide a different form of lycopene, one that our bodies may more readily use.
Researchers found that eating spaghetti covered in sauce made from these orange tomatoes, called Tangerine tomatoes, caused a noticeable boost in this form of lycopene in participants' blood.
"While red tomatoes contain far more lycopene than orange tomatoes, most of it is in a form that the body doesn't absorb well," said Steven Schwartz, the study's lead author and a professor of food science and technology at Ohio State University.
"The people in the study actually consumed less lycopene when they ate sauce made from the orange tomatoes, but they absorbed far more lycopene than they would have if it had come from red tomatoes," he said. "That's what is so dramatic about it."
The tomatoes used for this work were developed specifically for the study these particular varieties aren't readily available in grocery stores. The researchers suggest that interested consumers seek out orange- and gold-colored heirloom tomatoes as an alternative to Tangerine tomatoes, but caution that they haven't tested how much or what kind of lycopene these varieties contain.
Lycopene belongs to a family of antioxidants called the carotenoids, which give certain fruits and vegetables their distinctive colors. Carotenoids are thought to have a number of health benefits, such as reducing the risk of developing cancer, cardiovascular disease and macular degeneration.
"The tomato is a wonderful biosynthetic factory for carotenoids, and scientists are working on ways to enhance the fruit's antioxidant content and composition," Schwartz continued.
The findings appear in a recent issue of the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry.