Can Tomatoes Help Lower Your Lipid Levels?


Although there is some confusion by some over whether or not they are considered to be a fruit or a vegetable, tomatoes (Solanum lycopersicum) offer a delicious compliment to any dish –- from small salads to elaborate entrees. However, there is considerable evidence that tomatoes can provide a variety of health benefits, too. Tomatoes contain many nutrients and are especially high in the antioxidant, lycopene.

There has been a lot of research investigating tomatoes and their high lycopene content.  From these studies, the lycopene found in tomatoes have been shown to lower the incidence of certain medical conditions, including macular degeneration and certain cancers. Some studies have also shown that tomatoes can have a positive effect on your heart health – including lowering your lipid levels.

Do Tomatoes Really Lower Cholesterol?

The studies examining the effects of tomato products on cholesterol are small and looked at raw tomatoes, tomato juice, or a combination of tomato paste and tomato juice. The studies included healthy individuals and people with certain medical conditions, such as metabolic disease. One of the chemicals in tomatoes, lycopene, has had the most research associated with it and it is thought to be a major contributor to the health benefits provided by tomatoes. From these studies, it was noted that HDL cholesterol levels were increased by up to 15%.

The studies examining the effects of tomatoes on LDL cholesterol and triglyceride levels vary –- some studies indicate a slight decrease in these lipids (by at least 8%), whereas other studies did not detect a significant drop in LDL or triglycerides.

Another surprising finding was that the lycopene found in the tomatoes reduced the presence of oxidized LDL.

When LDL becomes oxidized, it can contribute to the formation of plaque on the walls of arteries.

A few studies have indicated that lycopene may interact with HMG CoA reductase, an enzyme in the liver that helps make cholesterol in the body. It is thought that this property may contribute to the positive effect tomatoes had on lipids  in some of these studies.

Including Tomatoes in Your Diet

The studies that examined the effects of tomatoes and/or lycopene didn’t require too many tomatoes to achieve this effect. In fact, these studies suggest that you would need two medium sized tomatoes to affect your cholesterol.

Tomatoes are a healthy food that contains a variety of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. Tomatoes are also high in other heart-healthy ingredients, such as phytosterols and fiber. Although a small number of studies suggest that tomatoes lower cholesterol levels, more studies are needed to establish this link. Therefore, tomatoes should not be the only thing you rely on in your plan to lower cholesterol.

Because of their high nutrient content and low saturated fat content, they would be a good food to include in your cholesterol-lowering plan.


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