Spaghetti, Hold the Meatballs, for Cancer Prevention

The anti-cancer benefit associated with the consumption of lycopene, which can be found in tomato sauce, may be negated when eaten with iron-rich foods, such as meatballs, according to researchers from The Ohio State University.

“When people had iron with their meal, we saw almost a twofold drop in lycopene uptake over time,” the study’s lead author Rachel Kopec, PhD, an assistant professor of human nutrition at The Ohio State University, said in a press release. “This could have potential implications every time a person is consuming something rich in lycopene and iron – say a Bolognese sauce or an iron-fortified cereal with a side of tomato juice. You’re probably only getting half as much lycopene from this as you would without the iron.”

Combination of food types influences cancer prevention benefit

Researchers analyzed the blood and digestive fluid of seven French medical students after they consumed either a tomato extract-based shake with or without iron. Lycopene levels in digestive fluid and blood were significantly lower when the participants drank the liquid meal mixed with an iron supplement. It’s unclear why this impacts the uptake of lycopene, but it could be that the meal with iron oxidizes the lycopene, creating different products of metabolism than those followed in the study, according to the researchers

Research has shown that lycopene can have potential anti-cancer benefits for prostate, lung, and skin cancers.

Nutrition can play an important role in disease prevention, but it’s important for us to gather the details about precisely how what we eat is contributing to our health so that we can give people reliable, science-based recommendations,” said Dr. Kopec.