CHAPEL HILL -- People looking for a good guilt-free reasonto eat pizza might relish results of a major study that took place in nineEuropean countries.
The study involved analyzing fat samples taken from 1,379 men whosuffered heart attacks and comparing them with fat samples from healthy controlsubjects. Researchers found that an antioxidant compound called lycopeneappeared to have a protective effect against heart attacks.
The chief source of lycopene in the average diet is tomato sauce, andthe food many Americans get most of their tomato sauce from is pizza.
"Based on our findings, and other research showing lycopene can be anexcellent antioxidant, we recommend that people eat tomato-based cooked foods,"said Dr. Lenore Kohlmeier, professor of nutrition and epidemiology at theUniversity of North Carolina at Chapel Hill schools of public health andmedicine. "Tomato sauce on grains or pasta would be better than pizza, however,because cheese can carry a lot of fat."
The apparent protective effect of lycopene -- or another unknownnutrient closely associated with it -- was greatest among non-smokers, the studyshowed.
A report on the research appears in the Oct. 15 issue of the AmericanJournal of Epidemiology. Kohlmeier, a member of the UNC Lineberger ComprehensiveCancer Center, is chief author.
Researchers found that men whose fat samples revealed high consumptionof lycopene had about half the risk of heart attack as men whose samples showedlow lycopene consumption. This effect exceeded any protective effect of eitheralpha- or beta-carotene -- dietary carotenoid compounds similar to lycopene.
Other foods containing lycopene are watermelon, red grapefruit and, to alesser extent, shellfish, Kohlmeier said. People get more lycopene from cookedtomatoes than raw ones; apparently cooking releases the nutrient from the matrixthat binds it in raw tomatoes. The process appears to be similar to the waycooking releases beta-carotene from raw carrots.
"Again we are seeing that consuming protective substances through foodis much better and safer than turning to a supplement," the scientist said. "Infact, supplements may actually compete with and inhibit uptake of otherimportant products in our diet."
The study took place in Finland, Germany, Israel, the Netherlands,Norway, Russia, Scotland, Spain and Switzerland and was part of the EuropeanCommunity Multicenter Study on Antioxidants, Myocardial Infarction and BreastCancer (EURAMIC). It was financed by participating countries in part as aConcerted Action by the Commission of European Communities.
Co-authors of the new report include Drs. Jeremy D. Kark, EnriqueGomez-Garcia, Blaise C. Martin, Susan E. Steck, Alwine F.M. Kardinaal, JetmundRingstad, Michael Thamm, Victor Masaev, Rudolf Riemersma, Jose M. Martin-Moreno,Jussi K. Huttunen and Frans J. Kok.
Antioxidants are compounds that are believed to help protect the bodyagainst damage caused by charged particles of oxygen known as free radicals,Kohlmeier said. Such oxidative processes occur naturally, but external stressessuch as cigarette smoking and sun exposure add to them and can increase damageto cell membranes and body proteins. Many scientists around the world are tryingto identify antioxidants and understand how they work.
Low density lipoproteins, a form of cholesterol that circulates inblood, are believed to be particularly dangerous in promoting heart diseasethrough oxidation, she said. Lycopene -- or an unknown, closely associatedcompound -- may prevent their formation in the blood. Another recent studysuggested lycopene-rich foods might protect against prostate cancer.
The above story is based on materials provided by University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.
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