tomatoweek2013The 3rd week of May marks British Tomato week and there’s no better time than summer to celebrate this versatile fruit, as they might just help your skin deal with those UV rays.

Forget the expensive skin creams, tomatoes may provide the best defence to keeping skin looking young and safe from sun damage. Tests show that eating tomato paste could help protect against sunburn and skin ageing caused by sunlight exposure. The age-defying ingredient is lycopene – the natural pigment that makes tomatoes red – with highest levels found in processed or cooked tomatoes used in ketchup, paste, soup and juice.

Research

In the study, women eating a diet rich in processed tomatoes had increased skin protection, as seen by a reduction in skin redness and less DNA damage from ultraviolet (UV) exposure.

Researchers compared the skin of 20 women, half of whom were given five tablespoons (55g) of standard tomato paste with 10g of olive oil every day for 12 weeks.

Tomatoes-on-vine The effects on their skin were compared with the remaining volunteers, aged between 21 and 47, eating just olive oil for the same length of time. The volunteers were exposed to UV rays found in sunlight at the beginning and end of the trial. The researchers found significant improvement in the skin’s ability to protect itself against UV among those eating tomato paste. Compared with the other women, the tomato-eating group had 33 per cent more protection against sunburn in the form of less redness.

The researchers calculated that protection offered by the tomato paste to be equivalent to a sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 1.3. Skin samples taken from groups before and after trial showed an increase in levels of pro-collagen, a molecule which gives skin its structure and loss of which leads to skin ageing and lack of elasticity. There was also less damage to mitochondrial DNA in the skin, which is also believed to be linked to skin ageing.

Eating tomatoes will not make you invincible in the sun but it may be a useful addition to sun protection along with sunscreen, shade and clothing. The protective effect of eating tomatoes on our mitochondria is important as they are the energy producers in all our body cells including skin.

Ratatouille

Banish all thoughts of ratatouille as a sludgy mess of vegetables. This recipe is skin friendly and delicious. Try it on toasted bruschetta for lunch or as a side dish at a BBQ.

  • Olive oil
  • 250g aubergine, cut into 2cm cubes
  • 250g small courgettes, cut into 1cm slices
  • 250g British tomatoes, left whole
  • 250g onions, in fairly thick slices
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • A handful of basil leaves, torn

ratatouillePut a pan over a medium heat, add a splash of olive oil and begin to fry the aubergines (these take longer than the rest of the vegetables, so start them off first).

Put three more small pans over medium heat and cover the base of each with a little olive oil, then put the courgettes, tomatoes and onions into their own pans.

Cook the courgettes until tender, then turn up the heat a little to brown them lightly. The tomatoes should be wrinkled and sweet, but just about holding their shape. And the onions should be soft, sweet and slightly caramelised. The aubergine, when finished, should be very soft and tender, almost creamy.

Season the vegetables towards the end of cooking, then remove each from the heat. When the vegetables are done, toss them gently together in a large pan and heat through for a few minutes with the garlic, then add the torn basil leaves.

Heat a grill or griddle pan, brush bread with oil and toast lightly on both sides. Spoon the ratatouille over bruschetta and serve.