Researchers with Ohio State University have found that consuming tomato products, such as a red sauce or salsa, with certain foods will neutralize the fruit’s anti-cancer effect. Tomatoes contain a number of compounds that may help protect heart health and lower one’s risk of developing cancer, but these same compounds may ‘disappear’ if the tomato product is eaten with a food high in iron.
Tomatoes contain many compounds, one of which is called lycopene, a carotenoid that gives tomatoes their signature red color. Lycopene consumption has been linked to a number of potential health benefits by past research, including lowered cholesterol, blood pressure, and cancer risk.
Eating tomatoes for their potential health benefits is great…unless you happen to eat them with many commonly available foods that are high in iron, that is. Ohio State University researchers found that lycopene levels in the blood of participants who had consumed a tomato extract shake were ‘significantly lower’ if they’d also consumed an iron supplement.
Iron, of course, is an essential supplement; for this reason, many food products are fortified with the nutrient, often including the cereal grains used to make some types of bread and pasta. Some non-fortified food products often consumed with tomatoes may also contain high amounts of iron, such as the meat used for meatballs and spinach for salads.
Lycopene is found in many other plant foods, as well, including red carrots, papayas, and watermelons, though not all pink and red foods contain the carotenoid. The study indicates that if you’re hoping to benefit from the lycopene found in tomatoes, you should consume the fruit with other foods that are low in iron.