June 8/London/Huffington Post U.K.-- According to research led by Newcastle University, the red tomato helps protect the skin from sunburn and skin aging caused by sunlight exposure thanks to the ingredient lycopene -- the natural pigment that makes tomatoes red.

The results of the study, due to be presented at the Royal Society of Medicine, claim that women who eat a diet rich in tomatoes have 33% more protection against ultraviolet (UV) exposure than those who do not eat the salad fruit.

During the study of 20 women aged between 21-47, half were asked to eat 5tbsp (55g) of processed tomato-based paste (thought to contain the highest levels of lycopene).

The other half ate a tomato paste containing 10g of olive oil. All participants consumed the tomato paste for 12 weeks.

Scientists said this paste acted as an equivalent to a sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 1.3.

Researchers discovered that those who ate the lycopene-rich paste (without olive oil) had higher levels of procollagen -- a molecule which gives the skin its structure.

“Eating tomatoes will not make you invincible in the sun, but it may be a useful addition to sun protection along with sunscreens, shade and clothing,” says professor Mark Birch-Machin, lead author of the study, in a statement.

Having a diet rich in tomatoes is, "likely to contribute to improved skin health, which in turn may have an anti-ageing effect," concludes Birch-Machin.

 From the June 8, 2012, Prepared Foods’ Daily News