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It is thought around one in two people in the UK will develop cancer in their lifetimes.
While there are certain risk factors for the disease that are beyond our control, such as genetics, there are others that we can take ownership of.
This includes diet, which can have an affect on many aspects of our health.
For years health bodies have recommended eating a healthy, balanced diet full of fruit and vegetables, and avoiding ultra-processed foods, as a way to lower the risk for cancer.
But one expert has shared there is a specific food that could help protect against the deadly disease.
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According to TV personality Doctor Michael Mosley, eating more of a certain salad staple could do just this.
The founder of the Fast 800 diet and advocate of the 5:2 diet revealed that we should all be eating more tomatoes, especially cooked tomatoes, due to their “anti-cancer properties”.
On his BBC Sounds podcast, Just One Thing, Dr Mosley explained that tomatoes are full of an anti-cancer antioxidant known as lycopene.
Cooking tomatoes can help break down cell walls within the fruit, making the lycopene more accessible to your body.
He said: “One of the things I bang on about is prostate cancer because I’m at the age where your risk begins to rise, and there is some decent evidence linking tomato consumption, particularly cooked tomatoes, with reduced risk of prostate cancer.”
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During the podcast, Dr Mosley spoke to Professor Richard van Breemen from Oregon State University in the US.
Prof van Breeman explained: “Lycopene as an antioxidant is so potent that it might help prevent cancer at the start.”
The expert also said the fruit could help protect against both prostate and breast cancer.
“Over the last 20 years, there’s been quite a few investigations about whether lycopene has anti-cancer properties,” he said.
“I learned about a connection between cancer and lycopene from a long-term study with male physicians where the men who ate the most lycopene in the form of tomato sauce, tomato paste, and fresh tomatoes had the lowest incidence of prostate cancer.
“There has also been some very good data which suggests lycopene might benefit women in the prevention of breast cancer.”
He added: “The prostate is an organ which is relatively deficient in DNA repair. Many organs in the body have an extremely efficient way of checking the DNA, repairing it and maintaining the proper DNA code, the prostate is a little bit less able to repair DNA damage.
“This damage accumulates over time. Lycopene can help prevent that initial DNA damage, reducing the load that the body has to bear and the repairs that have to be made.”
The experts discussed the best way to consume tomatoes, concluding that cooking them – even in the form of a pasta sauce – will ensure you are exposed to more lycopene.
But eating them raw, as part of a salad, is still beneficial.
Prof van Breeman said: “Eating a tomato salad might give you five to 10mg of lycopene, but 100 grams of tomato sauce has about 50mg.
“You cannot overdo it, lycopene is an extremely safe molecule. Obviously, you need a balanced and varied diet that is rich in fruit and vegetables, including lycopene-rich foods like tomatoes.”
Their advice was backed by a study published in Nutrients journal in 2022.
This concluded there was a link between lycopene and cancer, particularly in protecting against prostate cancer.
However, it added that more research is needed to determine how much lycopene should be consumed daily to prevent cancer.
“Most in vivo studies have confirmed the anti-cancer activities of lycopene, particularly in prostate cancer,” the study said.
“Human and animal studies have confirmed the influence of lycopene on some hallmarks of cancer, but the contributions of particular mechanisms seem to depend on the tumour organ localisation.”
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