Eating your tomato sauce with meatballs piled on top could have a surprising downside, new research suggests.
Some of the anti-cancer benefits of tomatoes, specifically those from a compound called lycopene, could disappear when they’re eaten with iron-rich foods, according to a new study from The Ohio State University.
Researchers analyzed the blood and digestive fluid of a small group of medical students after they consumed either a tomato extract-based shake with iron or one without iron. Lycopene levels in digestive fluid and in the blood were significantly lower when the study subjects drank the liquid meal mixed with an iron supplement, meaning there was less for the body to use in potentially beneficial ways.
“When people had iron with their meal, we saw almost a twofold drop in lycopene uptake over time,” said the study’s lead author, Rachel Kopec, an assistant professor of human nutrition at Ohio State.
“This could have potential implications every time a person is consuming something rich in lycopene and iron – say a Bolognese sauce, or an iron-fortified cereal with a side of tomato juice. You’re probably only getting half as much lycopene from this as you would without the iron.”
Iron is essential in the diet, performing such critical functions as allowing our bodies to produce energy and get rid of waste. But it’s also a nutrient that is known to monkey with other cellular-level processes.
“We know that if you mix iron with certain compounds it will destroy them, but we didn’t know if it would impair potentially beneficial carotenoids, like lycopene, found in fruits and vegetables,” Kopec said.
Carotenoids are plant pigments with antioxidant properties responsible for many bright red, yellow and orange pigments fou