(Phoenix) March 13, 2007 - We all know fruits and vegetables like tomatoes are good for you. But now researchers are working to make tomatoes even better.
We've all heard the benefits of lycopene, that it can reduce the risk of some cancers and cardiovascular disease.
Scientists are now searching for a way to pump up tomato plants with a little extra lycopene.
Tomatoes may change the way we eat in the future.
"This just opens the door for improving nutritional quality of other produce as well," says researcher Julie West.
Scientists at the University of Arizona are studying how to boost lycopene in your diet.
"We want to see if we can demonstrate an increased amount of lycopene in the blood after they're eating three weeks of high lycopene tomatoes," says West.
In their green house, scientists are growing tomatoes that have a higher concentration of lycopene. They're adding salt to the soil, which causes the tomatoes to "stress out."
To fight off the unwanted stress, the tomatoes produce more lycopene as a defense mechanism.
"Under high stress or high EC level, we get about 30% greater lycopene concentration than that in the standard tomato," says Dr. Chieri Kubota.
Is the taste any different?
"If you eat our tomato under high stress, you can tell it's very flavorable, condensed flavor. So you can tell the difference between our stress tomato and also standard tomato," says Kubota.
In the 18-week study, participants gave up tomato products, except for the tomatoes grown by the scientists. They ate two lab grown tomatoes a day, kept a food journal and gave urine and blood samples to test for lycopene levels.
"If we can demonstrate an increased amount of lycopene in the blood, can we also demonstrate an increased anti-oxidant and or anti-inflammatory effect," asks West.
They hope the results of this study will change the way food is grown in the United States.
The study wrapped up in December 2006 and the scientists are now analyzing the data. If their results prove to be beneficial, they hope to expand their research into partnerships with the produce industry.