In a development sure to hearten pizzeria owners everywhere, tomatoes have been found to reduce the risk of cancer. A six-year Harvard Medical School study of 48,000 male health professionals found that those who ate tomatoes or tomato products more than twice a week had a 21 to 34 percent lower risk of prostate cancer compared with those who didn't eat any. An Italian study involving 4,790 people produced a similar finding: that seven or more servings of raw tomatoes a week reduced the risk of various cancers from 30 to 60 percent. And researchers in Israel found that lycopene, the powerful antioxidant that makes tomatoes red and that is being focused on as the source of their anticancer potency, interfered with the growth of cancer cells.
However, having learned from the failure of beta-carotene, another antioxidant that promised health benefits, to perform in follow-up studies, scientists are resisting the old-fashioned instinct to reduce lycopene into a pill. It's now widely believed that nutrients work together with other nutrients in whole foods, not in isolation. Also, since lycopene is a fat-soluble substance, experts are advising that tomatoes be eaten with some fat, which allows the body to absorb the nutrient--for example, some olive oil. Vegan pizza, anyone? Just ask them to leave off the cheese. It works for us.
In another area of research pointing to the benefits of a plant-based diet--and, when you think about it, don't they all?--scientists have been crediting soy products with properties that reduce the risk of cancer, cardiovascular disease, kidney disease and osteoporosis. Soy consumption is even believed to lessen the frequency and severity of hot flashes in menopausal women.
A key ingredient in this protein-rich wonder food appears to be isoflavones, which are found only in soy. Another is a substance called genistein, which has been found to stunt the growth of prostate-cancer cells in tissue cultures. But the soybean also provides fiber; minerals, such as iron, calcium, phosphorus and magnesium; B vitamins, including trendy folic acid; and heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids.
Now, if mainstream Americans could just overcome their tofuphobia, they, too, would partake in the benefits that vegans (and members of Asian cultures) have been enjoying for years.
One note of caution: When choosing a soy product (or a tomato product, for that matter), it's best to look for organic certification, which most health-food-store varieties have. With Monsanto, the chemical giant, mucking up soybean genes (to make the plant more resistant to their Roundup brand weed-killer), you want to make sure you're getting your soy the way nature intended it.