There's nothing quite like a vine-ripened tomato, bursting with juice, or a slow-simmered tomato sauce, thick and rich -- and now a new study suggests the red fruit and its products could be good for lowering the risk of stroke.
Researchers from the University of Eastern Finland in Kuopio found that men with the highest blood levels of lycopene were the least likely to have a stroke over 12 years.
Lycopene is an antioxidant that is found at high levels in fruits and vegetables like tomatoes, watermelons and guavas, according to the National Institutes of Health. For reference, a cup of tomato juice (240 milliliters) contains approximately 23 milligrams of lycopene.
"This study adds to the evidence that a diet high in fruits and vegetables is associated with a lower risk of stroke," study researcher Jouni Karppi, Ph.D., said in a statement. "The results support the recommendation that people get more than five servings of fruits and vegetables a day, which would likely lead to a major reduction in the number of strokes worldwide, according to previous research."
The Neurology study included 1,031 men between the ages of 46 and 65 who lived in Finland. Researchers analyzed the lycopene levels in their blood at the beginning and the end of the study (which lasted, on average, for 12 years).
By the end of the study period, 67 men had had a stroke. Fewer men with the highest lycopene levels had strokes than men with the lowest lycopene levels: Of the 259 men with the highest levels of lycopene, 11 had a stroke; meanwhile, of the 258 men with the lowest levels of lycopene, 25 had a stroke.
And when the researchers analyzed strokes that were caused solely by blood clots, they found that the men who had the highest levels of lycopene had a 59 percent decreased stroke risk compared with those with the lowest levels of lycopene.
Tomatoes aren't the only food that have been linked with a lower stroke risk -- click through the slideshow for more:
A Swedish study in the journal Neurology showed that eating chocolate is linked with a lower risk of stroke in men. The study, which included 37,103 men, showed that men who ate the most chocolate in the 10-year study had a 17 percent lower risk of stroke, compared with those who didn't report eating any chocolate during that time period.
Eating lots of whole grains could help to lower risk of ischemic stroke for women, according to a study in the Journal of the American Medical Association. The findings showed that women who ate the most whole grains in the study (like the amount you'd get by eating two or three whole grain bread slices every day) had a 30 to 40 percent lower stroke risk, compared with women who ate the fewest whole grains in the study (like the amount you'd get by eating just a half-slice of whole grain bread every day), according to ABC News.
An antioxidant found in citrus fruits could help to lower risk of stroke in women, according to a study of 70,000 women earlier this year in the journal Stroke. Researchers from Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women's Hospital found that women who consumed the most flavonoids over a 14-year period had a 19 percent lower risk of stroke than the women who consumed the fewest flavonoids during that time period.
While antioxidants aren't exactly a food on their own, fruits, vegetables and whole grains that are rich in them are linked with a lower stroke risk for women. Research published in the journal Stroke: Journal of the American Heart Association showed that women with no heart disease history who consumed the most antioxidants from food had a 17 percent lower risk of stroke, and women with a heart disease history who consumed the most antioxidants from food had a 57 percent decreased risk of hemorrhagic stroke. The researchers, from the Karolinska Institute in Sweden, speculated that the protection comes from antioxidants' ability to stop inflammation and oxidative stress in the body by neutralizing harmful free radicals. Antioxidants can also help to reduce blood clots and lower blood pressure and decrease inflammation, according to the American Heart Association.
Consuming low-fat dairy could help to lower the risk of stroke, according to a Stroke study. The research showed that the adults who consumed the most low-fat dairy over a 10-year period had a 12 percent lower risk of stroke compared with those who consumed the least low-fat dairy over the time period. "It is possible that vitamin D in low-fat dairy foods may explain, in part, the observed lowered risk of stroke in this study because of its potential effect on blood pressure," study researcher Susanna Larsson, Ph.D., associate professor of nutritional epidemiology at the Karolinska Institutet, said in a statement.
Foods loaded with magnesium -- like beans, nuts leafy greens and whole grains -- are linked with a lower risk of ischemic stroke, WebMD Reported. The findings, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, showed specifically that for each 100 milligrams of magnesium consumed each day, ischemic stroke risk went down by 9 percent.
Making sure to eat some fish every week could help to lower risk of stroke, according to a review of studies published in the journal Stroke. Reuters reported on the study, which showed that eating fish several times a week was linked with a lower risk of stroke, compared with non-fish eaters. "I think overall, fish does provide a beneficial package of nutrients, in particular the omega-3s, that could explain this lower risk," Dariush Mozaffarian, an epidemiologist at the Harvard School of Public Health, whose research was part of the Stroke analysis, told Reuters.
Learn the different symptoms of stroke, and what happens inside the body when you suffer a stroke.