A Tomato a Day May Keep the Doctor Away

By Skip Richter

Summer means fresh tomatoes, but the tomato has not always held its lofty position as queen of the vegetable garden. At one time they were considered poisonous, then they were touted as an aphrodisiac. The French even adorned them with the name pommes d'amour, 'love apples'.

Though there is no evidence of their "amour-enhancing" abilities, tomatoes are now back in the news as health food. Apart from being a rich source of vitamins A and C, folic acid, and potassium, tomatoes have an additional beneficial nutrient. The compound lycopene, present in tomatoes and some other fruits and vegetables, is a powerful antioxidant that may help prevent prostate and certain other cancers, heart disease, macular degeneration, and other serious diseases.

While fresh tomatoes are a good source of lycopene, processed products like tomato juice, sauce, and paste contain even greater amounts. Breeders are responding with new varieties selected for higher than normal lycopene levels. Among the new arrivals is 'Health Kick,' a very high-yielding, plum-shaped saladette tomato that produces large, vigorous plants. The fruits contain approximately 50 percent more lycopene than other tomato varieties.

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