Does the Aussie “pie and sauce” protect against sunburn?

The classic Australian meat pie advertisement shows tough men in shorts eating a pie with tomato sauce (similar to ketchup) in the blazing sun.

But could this quintessential Down Under delicacy help to protect Aussie skins from the harmful effects of UV radiation?

Sunlight can cause the formation of free radicals in the skin cells. Free radicals are atoms which exist with an unstable number of electrons in an electron shell. Ultraviolet (UV) radiation can “force” electrons from atoms such as oxygen and create free radicals. Since the electron state of a free radical is so unstable, they are likely to react with anything they touch in the cell – be it a protein or DNA strand. This can lead to temporary damage (such as sunburn) or permanent damage including cataracts – and even to cancers such as melanomas.

Tomatoes contain caretenoids such as lycopene. These are the chemicals which give tomatoes their rich colour. Lycopene is perhaps the most powerful of the anti-oxidants found in any fruit or vegetable.

Anti-oxidants react with oxygen (and other) free radicals to neutralise them before they can harm biological processes. To some extent, the more anti-oxidant molecules in a cell, the more likely a free radical is to hit one of those before hitting a vital part.

Putting caretenoids – especially lycopene – onto the skin has been shown to help prevent and even partially reverse the damage done by exposure to UV light. But it’s not just an external form of sun block – leaving the sauce your pie provides benefits too.

A diet rich in tomatoes has been shown to reduce sunburn and the effects of UV exposure. In fact concentrated cooked tomato (such as tomato paste or sauce) is an even better source of such anti-oxidants than are fresh tomatoes. Forty grams (4 tablespoons) of tomato paste eaten daily has been shown to significantly reduce visible sunburn after only a few weeks.

While not a substitute for sunblock or sun-safe practices, eating a diet rich in tomatoes could thus provide some level of continuous protection. Indeed, it is likely that increasing tomato consumption in your diet may help protect not only against sunburn, but the visible signs of aging, cataracts and skin cancer.

Perhaps in the “sunburnt country” of Australia, it is no coincidence that tomato sauce became the condiment of choice.


Aust O, Stahl W, Sies H, Tronnier H, Heinrich U (2005) Supplementation with tomato-based products increases lycopene, phytofluene, and phytoene levels in human serum and protects against UV-light-induced erythema.
Int. J. Vitam. Nutr. Res. 75(1):54-60.

Fazekas Z, Gao D, Saladi RN, Lu Y, Lebwohl M, Wei H (2003) Protective effects of lycopene against ultraviolet B-induced photodamage Nutr. Cancer 47(2):181-7.

Stahl W, Heinrich U, Aust O, Tronnier H, Sies H (2006) Lycopene-rich products and dietary photoprotection. Photochem Photobiol Sci. 5(2):238-42.

Stahl W, Heinrich U, Wiseman S, Eichler O, Sies H, Tronnier H (2001) Dietary tomato paste protects against ultraviolet light-induced erythema in humans. J. Nutr. 131(5):1449-51.



Filed under Curious Science, Kitchen Science, Science

4 responses to “Does the Aussie “pie and sauce” protect against sunburn?

  1. I think any positives are quite outweighed by the negatives of pie and sauce 🙂 Only thing more lethal is sausage roll and sauce.


  2. Surely that depends on the pie or possibly the proportion of pie to sauce. Though I may have to agree with you about the sausage rolls.

  3. Thanks for the tip. I’ve got an itchy sunburn right now and I’m going to add eating some tomato paste to my desperate regiment of treatments.

  4. My friend on Facebook shared this link with me and I’m not dissapointed at all that I came here.

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