Research ripe for picking

ENGLISH backpackers Susan Roberts and Kate Olingschlaeger like to eat them raw in salads and minced in spaghetti.

Now they could just have come up with another reason to love juicy, red tomatoes.

New English research shows eating tomatoes could help protect against sunburn and sun-induced skin aging.

Experts at Manchester and Newcastle universities found the fruit improved the skin's ability to protect itself against ultraviolet light.

The researchers calculated the protection offered by eating tomatoes was equivalent to a sunscreen with a sun protection factor of 1.3.

They are now hoping to carry out more research to find out if eating tomatoes can protect against cancer.

Susan and Kate, who were soaking up the sun at Byron Bay's Main Beach this week, said they would definitely be keen to eat more tomatoes, if the research panned out.

"I eat them like an apple anyway," Kate said.

Professor Lesley Rhodes, a dermatologist at the University of Manchester, said there was no need for people to over-indulge in tomatoes.

Prof Rhodes said even a tomato-based diet, with plenty of things like spaghetti and pizza toppings, would do the trick.

Researchers studied the skin of 20 people, half of whom were given five tablespoons of standard tomato paste, with 10g of olive oil. The other half of the sample only received olive oil.

The results found significant improvements in the skin's ability to protect itself against UV in the group which had been eating tomato paste.

The study suggested the antioxidant lycopene was behind the apparent benefit. This component of tomatoes has already been linked to a reduced risk of prostate cancer.

But Cancer Council NSW nutritionist Kathy Chapman has cautioned tomato eaters not to be hasty. Ms Chapman said while tomatoes were part of a healthy diet, they were no replacement for sensible sun safety behaviour.

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