The research team found that turning up the heat while processing tomatoes increases the absorption of lycopene molecules found in the veggie, which are linked to the prevention of the deadly diseases.
Lycopene belongs to a family of antioxidants called carotenoids, which give certain fruits and vegetables their distinctive colours. Carotenoids' antioxidant properties are associated with protecting cells and regulating cell growth and death, all of which play a role in multiple disease processes.
The average structure of molecule in the average red tomato seems to hinder its absorption through intestinal walls and into the blood.
Most of the lycopene that is found circulating in human blood is configured in a bent molecular form.
This means that either the human body somehow transforms lycopene molecules through reactions that have yet to be identified, or that the bent molecular structures of lycopene are much more likely to be absorbed into the blood and transported to tissue - a necessary step in preventing disease.
During the study, the tem led by Steven Schwartz, an investigator in Ohio State's Comprehensive Cancer Centre and a professor of food science and technology at Ohio State devised a way to process red tomatoes into a sauce that contains bent molecular forms of lycopene.
The study involved twelve people and all ate both kinds of sauce over the course of the study.
After each meal, researchers took samples of participants' blood seven times during the following 9 1/2 hours to measure lycopene levels.
They used a special testing method to analyze lycopene levels in the blood associated only with the tomato sauce meal, avoiding any other possible sources of those compounds in the bloodstream.
The participants had a 55 percent increase in total lycopene absorption after eating the specially processed sauce when compared to their lycopene blood levels after eating the regular sauce.
Schwartz said this finding reinforced the expectation that the bent forms of lycopene are more easily absorbed into human blood,
The study is published in the British Journal of Nutrition in 2007.