The tomato in pizza and spaghetti Bolognese could protect the skin from harmful UV rays, thus preventing premature ageing and even skin cancer, according to a study.
A research team found adding five tablespoons of tomato paste to the daily diet of 10 volunteers improved the skin's ability to protect against harmful UV rays, better equipping it to fight against sunburn and wrinkles.
The study presented at the British Society for Investigative Dermatology, attributed the apparent benefit to antioxidant lycopene found in tomatoes.
Antioxidant lycopene found at its highest concentration in cooked tomatoes has already been linked to a reduction in the risk of prostate cancer.
Researchers at the universities of Manchester and Newcastle have now suggested it may also prevent skin damage by providing some protection against the effects of UV rays.
The study involved 10 volunteers in a group, who were given around 55g of standard tomato paste - which contains high levels of cooked tomatoes - and 10g of olive oil daily. Another group of 10 participants received just the olive oil.
After three months, skin samples from participants in the tomato group showed they had 33% more protection against sunburn (the equivalent of a very low factor sun cream) and much higher levels of procollagen, a molecule that gives the skin its structure and keeps its firm.
Professor Lesley Rhodes, a dermatologist at the University of Manchester said, "The tomato diet boosted the level of procollagen in the skin significantly. These increasing levels suggest potential reversal of the skin ageing process."
"These weren't huge amounts of tomato we were feeding the group. It was the sort of quantity you would easily manage if you were eating a lot of tomato-based meals," Prof Rhodes added.
The research team warned however that tomatoes should be viewed as a "helpful addition" rather than an alternative to sun cream.
The current study was both small and short, and the team is now planning to elaborate the study by carrying out fresh research into the benefits of lycopene for the skin.
Dr Colin Holden of the British Association of Dermatologists said, "While the protection offered by lycopene is low, this research suggests that a diet containing high levels of antioxidant rich tomatoes could provide an extra tool in sun protection".