Elizabeth S. Reames | 4/19/2005 10:28:27 PM
Summer is a good time to enjoy fresh fruits and vegetables. Fruits and vegetables provide important nutrients, including antioxidants such as vitamin C, vitamin E, beta-carotene and lycopene, says LSU AgCenter nutritionist Dr. Beth Reames.
"Antioxidants have disease-fighting properties that protect cells from damage by substances called free radicals," Reames says, explaining, "Antioxidants work by neutralizing free radicals that are formed when body cells burn oxygen for energy."
The nutritionist adds that antioxidants may help keep the immune system healthy and reduce the risk for cancer and other diseases.
The antioxidant lycopene has received a lot of attention from researchers in recent years. Lycopene is a pigment that gives vegetables and fruits, such as tomatoes, pink grapefruit and watermelon, their red color. Several studies suggest that consumption of foods rich in lycopene is associated with a lower risk of prostate cancer and cardiovascular disease.
Reames offers ways to include lycopene in your diet: add sliced or diced tomatoes to your green salad; enjoy a sliced tomato sandwich; stuff tomatoes with tuna or chicken salad or with cottage cheese; cool off with a refreshing cold tomato or watermelon soup; choose watermelon for a light, fat-free dessert or snack.
Americans each eat more than 16 pounds of fresh tomatoes a year, but consume the equivalent of 79 pounds in processed tomatoes annually, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Canned tomatoes can be more nutritious than fresh because they’re picked ripe and processed in a manner that helps retain their nutrients.
Packaged, heat-processed tomato products, such as spaghetti sauce, provide more than six times more lycopene than the equivalent amount of fresh tomatoes. The heat used during processing breaks down tomato cell walls, allowing the lycopene to be better absorbed into the digestive tract.
Since lycopene is fat soluble, it’s more easily absorbed if eaten with fat. Add a little olive oil, cheese or meat to your tomato-based dishes to get the full benefit of lycopene.
In your everyday diet, Reames advises eating the recommended two to three servings of fruits and three to five servings of vegetables each day.
For information on related family and consumer topics, visit the FCS Web site at http://www.lsuagcenter.com/Inst
/Extension/Departments/fcs/ For local information and educational programs, contact an extension agent in your parish LSU AgCenter office.