Eating pizza topped with tomato paste can help prevent sunburn and premature wrinkles, new research suggests.
A study found that volunteers who ate helpings of ordinary tomato paste over a 12-week period developed skin that was less likely to burn in the sun.
Researchers at the University of Manchester found that the test subjects were 33 per cent more protected against sunlight than another group who were not given tomato paste.
The effect of eating tomatoes was equivalent to slapping on a factor 1.3 sunscreen. Changes were also seen within the skin of the volunteers that counteract the appearance of ageing.
Scientists think an antioxidant, lycopene, which gives tomatoes their colour, can neutralise harmful molecules produced in skin exposed to the sun's ultra-violet rays. Damage inflicted by the free radical molecules on skin structures and DNA can lead to premature ageing and skin cancer.
Previous research has shown that cooked tomatoes contain higher levels of lycopene than raw tomatoes. Tomato paste of the sort used to make pizza toppings is rich in lycopene. Skin levels of procollagen, which helps the skin stay supple and youthful, were also boosted by the tomato diet.
At the same time tests at the University of Newcastle showed that lycopene reduced sun damage to mitochondrial DNA in the skin – DNA in tiny powerplants in cells called mitochondria. Its disruption is also associated with skin ageing.
Professor Lesley Rhodes, at Manchester University, said: "The tomato diet boosted the level of procollagen in the skin significantly. These increasing levels suggest potential reversal of the skin ageing process."