Pasta and sauce is not only easy and cheap to whip up, the heated marinara sauce offers an attractive added health benefit. Researchers in Finland recently discovered that men with the highest amounts of lycopene in their blood, an antioxidant found in tomatoes, and at even higher potency in heated tomato sauce, had an overall 55 percent lower risk of stroke compared to men with the lowest amounts of lycopene in their blood.

The study, published in the journal Neurology, involved just more than 1,000 men (ages 46 to 65) who were followed and had their blood tested by researchers for 12 years.

When researchers looked only at the most common of the two types of stroke, known as ischemic and caused by blood clots blocking or plugging a blood vessel in the brain, men with the most lycopene in their blood were 59 percent less likely to have a stroke compared to men with the lowest amounts.

The antioxidant lycopene is thought to reduce inflammation, prevent blood clotting, and protect cells from damage.

While the most concentrated food source of lycopene is the tomato, lycopene is also found in:

  • Apricots
  • Pink Grapefruitarthritis and heart disease ad
  • Mango
  • Papaya
  • Red Peppers
  • Watermelon

Interestingly enough, lycopene is found in its most powerful form in cooked tomato sauce or cooked tomato puree compared to raw tomatoes. According to the USDA national nutrient database, one whole medium-size raw tomato (123 g) contains about 3,165 micrograms of lycopene compared to one serving (one-half cup; 132 g) of ready-to-serve spaghetti/marinara pasta sauce which contains a whopping 16,718 micrograms of lycopene.

“The results support the recommendation that people consume more than five servings of fruits and vegetables a day, which would likely lead to a major reduction in the number of strokes nationwide, according to previous research,” said study author Jouni Karppi, PhD, of the University of Eastern Finland, in a statement.

One serving of fruit or vegetables is about one-half cup, or one whole piece of fruit. The US dietary guidelines recommend getting at least 2.5 cups (five servings) of fruits and veggies a day. That’s the amount linked to lowering stroke risk.

Do You see yourself eating more tomatoes now?