We all know that tomatoes play a big role in improving the flavour and colour of our food and, if we’re being honest, we probably consume them on a daily basis in some form or another. They not only taste nice but are able to offer many health benefits. One of the reasons that they are so good for us is because they contain large amounts of lycopene.
Lycopene is the red pigment which is found in tomatoes and watermelon, as well as other fruits, and it is classed as a carotenoid. Carotenoids are yellow, orange or red pigments which give plant-based food it’s colour and help the plant to photosynthesise. When we consume carotenoids they act as antioxidants in our bodies and help to protect our cells against damaging free radical compounds which can cause inflammation. Diets high in lycopene have been linked to a lower chance of developing cardiovascular disease, cancers and strokes.
This study done in 2019 assessed the prebiotic effects of both dark chocolate and lycopene and how they are able to affect the composition of the gut microbiome. The study used 30 participants between the ages of 40 and 68 and these were put into one of five groups. Group one received 10g of dark chocolate and 7mg of lycopene daily, group two were given just 7mg of lycopene per day , group three and four had variations of 30mg of lycopene daily and group five were given 10g of dark chocolate per day. All groups underwent this treatment for a total of four weeks. Gut microbiome composition analysis was conducted using stool samples from the participants before and after four weeks of treatment.
The results of this study showed that all treatment groups had a marked reduction in the number of bacteriodetes and an increase in the amount of Actinobacteria (species of Bifidobacterium) in stool samples after treatment. Groups three and four showed a greater increase in levels of Actinobacteria than group two, this is thought to be due to the higher doses of lycopene that those in groups three and four received. This suggests that the more lycopene we consume, the more it can increase the diversity of our gut microbiome. Although it remains unclear as to how the lycopene acts within our body to achieve these effects, it is clear to see that lycopene does display some prebiotic effects in how it alters the growth of bacterial species within our guts.
From the results of this study, we recommend trying to incorporate more tomatoes and dark chocolate into your sourdough bakes to help promote a more diverse gut microbiome. Why not make a Margherita sourdough pizza to help increase your tomato consumption?
WIESE, M., BASHMAKOV, Y., CHALYK, N., NIELSEN, D.S., KRYCH, ?, KOT, W., KLOCHKOV, V., PRISTENSKY, D., BANDALETOVA, T., CHERNYSHOVA, M., KYLE, N. and PETYAEV, I., 2019. Prebiotic Effect of Lycopene and Dark Chocolate on Gut Microbiome with Systemic Changes in Liver Metabolism, Skeletal Muscles and Skin in Moderately Obese Persons. BioMed Research International, 2019, pp. 4625279.