Americans celebrating the red, white and blue this summer may want to add a healthy splash of red to their next cookout -- the bright ruby hue of ketchup and other processed tomato products.

"There is increasing scientific evidence that lycopene, the naturally occurring pigment that makes tomatoes red, may help reduce the risk of cancer and other ailments," said Dr. Les Parducci, vice president for nutrition and technical affairs and chief scientist for H.J. Heinz Company.

Lycopene is a close cousin to beta-carotene, and like beta-carotene it is a very powerful antioxidant. Research increasingly suggests that antioxidants help fight some diseases by protecting the body's cells from "free radicals," which are molecules that can disrupt the body's cell membranes, oxidize body fats and attack the genetic material, DNA.

One great thing about this health news is that lycopene is found in some favorite summertime fruits, including tomatoes, watermelon and pink grapefruit. But, surprisingly, lycopene isn't found in some red foods, and the best source of lycopene isn't found in your garden or produce aisle.

Experts say that lycopene from packaged, heat-processed tomato products is actually more absorbable in the body than lycopene from garden-fresh red tomatoes. In fact, processed tomato products such as tomato juice, tomato sauce and Heinz Tomato Ketchup provide up to five times as much lycopene as a similar amount of fresh tomato.

Research Finds Lycopene Benefits

More than 70 published scientific studies show that consuming lycopene may help reduce the risk of prostate cancer, cervical cancer and other life-threatening diseases. For example, a Harvard Medical School report of 48,000 men showed that consuming tomato products twice a week, as opposed to never, was associated with a reduced risk of prostate cancer of up to 34 percent. Of 46 fruits and vegetables evaluated, only tomato products showed a significant relationship with reduced prostate cancer risk. The latest research shows that women consuming high levels of tomatoes and tomato products are less likely to suffer from breast cancer. The new study from the University of Toronto has found that breast cancer patients have very low levels of blood lycopene and high levels of oxidative damage. When it enters the blood stream, lycopene helps repair and lowers the damage caused by oxidative stress.

"These exciting studies have prompted continuing research to explore many other ways lycopene may help fight disease," Parducci said. "That doesn't mean that doctors have started prescribing lycopene. But the research on lycopene's health benefits does mean that people can feel good about adding a bright red splash of Heinz Ketchup to their favorite barbecue dish."

There is no recommended daily portion of lycopene yet. But today more and more people are recognizing that a healthy lifestyle and nutritious diet can help fight disease. Summer is a great time to indulge in outdoor sports and activities, and also to begin following the USDA's recommendation to eat three to five servings of vegetables and two to four servings of fruit a day, beginning with bright, zesty processed tomato products.

For more information on lycopene, consumers can log onto The world's largest maker of tomato products, H.J. Heinz Company, shares its tomato expertise in the free booklet "Unlock the Power of Lycopene." Consumers can get a copy by sending their name and address to: "Unlock the Power of Lycopene," c/o Direct Mail Service Inc., 930 Penn Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA 15222-3785.

Recipes featuring Heinz Ketchup -- America's No. 1 source of lycopene -- provide a healthful boost to traditional summertime favorites people already enjoy, such as hamburgers, hot dogs and other grilled delicacies. Here's another ketchup creation that will add color and flavor to any grilling feast.

Firecracker Red Barbecue Sauce

1-1/3 cups (14 oz.) Heinz Tomato Ketchup
1 can (6 oz) frozen orange juice concentrate, thawed
1/4 cup finely chopped onion
2 tablespoons Heinz 57 Steak Sauce or Heinz Worcestershire Sauce
2 to 3 teaspoons prepared mustard

In a small saucepan, combine all ingredients. Bring to a boil; reduce heat and simmer uncovered for 5 minutes. Brush sauce on chicken, ribs, fish, steaks or pork chops during last 10 minutes of grilling.

Makes 2-1/4 cups sauce.

Calories per serving: 70 Fat grams: 0

About H.J. Heinz Company

With sales over US$9 billion, H.J. Heinz Company is one of the world's leading marketers of branded foods to supermarkets and away-from-home eating establishments. Its 50 companies operate in some 200 countries, offering more than 57 hundred varieties. Among the company's famous brands are Heinz, StarKist, Ore-Ida, 9-Lives, Weight Watchers, Wattie's, Plasmon, Farley's, Smart Ones, The Budget Gourmet, Linda McCartney, San Marco, Go Ahead!, Bagel Bites, John West, Petit Navire, Skippy, Kibbles 'n Bits, Pounce, Wagwells, Nature's Recipe, Orlando, Olivine and Pudliszki.