Tomatoes, with their wealth of antioxidants and potassium, may help control blood pressure.

The tomato, long beloved for its juiciness and rich flavor, is quietly earning a place in disease prevention. Beyond its celebrated role in warding off prostate cancer, the garden favorite can now add mild hypertension to the list.

The news comes from a recent study at Ben Gurion University in Israel where for 16 weeks investigators measured the effects of daily tomato extract supplements on 31 volunteers with mild hypertension. The extract reduced systolic blood pressure (the top number) by an average of 10 points and diastolic (the bottom number) by an average of four points, a significant decrease, according to the researchers.

More studies are needed to determine whether results could be sustained for a long period of time, but the tomato extract is particularly appealing because, unlike some medications for hypertension, it has no side effects. The researchers suggest that it may be the tomato's antioxidants, including lycopene, beta carotene and vitamin E, that cause the benefits. Potassium, also found in tomatoes, has been associated with improved blood pressure as well. According to Thomas D. Giles, M.D., president of the American Society of Hypertension, "Artery walls are subject to oxidative stress—we are all rusting away. Anything with antioxidants may be helpful."

Lyc-O-Mato capsules are available in health-food stores, but a half-cup serving of tomato sauce contains a similar dose of antioxidants. Commercial tomato sauces can be high in sodium, though, a problem for anyone with hypertension. Giles suggests choosing low-sodium products (with 140 milligrams or less sodium per serving) or making homemade sauce from "good fresh tomatoes."