Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Liking Lycopene

An interesting article by Bill Toland in the morning P-G looks at the demise of lycopene as a cancer preventative. I try to make a big deal out of antioxidants at home. "Look", I tell my kids, "ketchup has lycopene, an antioxidant for better health!" Kids seem to naturally gravitate towards the worst sort of foods available, thanks to bad eating habits on the part of their parents. Since my recent bout with hypertension, I've tried to make a few adjustments in my food intake, and it seems to be working for me. I encourage the little ones to eat more foods containing antioxidants; they do love tomatoes and fresh fruit, so it seems to be working. You want to eat yummy healthy food, little boy? Pour Heinz ketchup on everything! It has lycopene! That's an antioxidant! It can help to keep you from getting sick.

It also, Heinz has been telling us rather boldly for the last few years on product packaging, can help prevent cancer. However, as Mr. Toland tells us:

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration, in autumn 2005, ruled that food-makers could claim on their packaging that tomato products have the potential to reduce cancer risk -- so long as the assertion was qualified by a side warning saying there is little scientific evidence supporting the claim.
I'm not a nutritionist or a scientist, and any claim that some food, or a special ingredient in some food can prevent cancer is rather dubious. The best evidence comes not from laboratory conditions (under which the researchers presumably do their work) but from real-world experience. If I eat a lot of ketchup and never contract prostate cancer, does this validate the Heinz claim? Or, I I eat a lot of ketchup and get the cancer, does that prove that Heinz's claim is fraudulent? Neither, I should think. And I prefer not to spend a lifetime (however long that may be) using my body as some kind of cancer test lab. It should be enough to say that the ketchup contains a powerful antioxidant, and if you like, identify it by name. The whole "reducing the rate of prostate cancer" thing seems terribly tenuous.

For the record, I love Heinz ketchup. I never fell for that "eat this new W ketchup instead of Heinz because you're supporting John Kerry if you eat Heinz!" silliness. I have, however, had to stop eating regular Heinz ketchup due to the high salt content. With blood pressure like mine, that stuff might as well be called "Stroke In a Bottle". Lucky for me, Heinz caters to the health food crowd. I use Heinz No Salt Added Ketchup. You'd be amazed how much better the ketchup tastes when you eat it without the salt. The No Salt version also adds potassium, which is something that I just can't get enough of in my diet. It's delightful. It actually tastes like tomatoes. It's my condiment of choice, whether it prevents cancer or not.

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