I Scream, You Scream, We All Scream For Lycopene!
By Alyssa Mitola, RD and the Laura Cipullo Whole Nutrition Services Team
What is Lycopene? Lycopene is a powerful antioxidant. Although chemically related to vitamin A, lycopene does not function in our bodies like the vitamin. Rather lycopene serves as the most powerful antioxidant of the >600 carotenoids, riding our body of harmful free radicals and oxidizing species. Lycopene is a red pigment found in fruits and vegetables. You may already know that tomatoes are a rich source of lycopene, but lycopene is also found in guava, papaya, watermelon, grapefruit, and apricots.
Lycopene is constantly being researched for its potential health benefits, most notably in relation to cancer and cardiovascular disease. The strongest research comes from lycopene’s role in preventing prostate cancer. Many studies have found that people with higher intakes of lycopene have reduced rates of prostate cancer (Giovannuci et. al 1995; Zu et. al 2011). In addition, a 2013 study published in the British Journal of Medicine showed people consuming higher amounts of lycopene had less incidences of cardiovascular disease. Researchers are also currently investigating lycopene’s role in sunburn, gingivitis, osteoporosis, asthma, and mental disorders.
The health benefits of lycopene are numerous and we should try to include sources of lycopene daily. However, this does not mean lycopene should be taken as a supplement. Rather lycopene should come from a diet rich in fruits and vegetables. Lycopene is actually more bioavailable (available to our bodies) when it is heated. Therefore foods like tomato puree, tomato sauce, tomato paste, and tomato juice are even richer sources of lycopene. When purchasing tomato-based products, be sure to look out for no sodium or low sodium products. Eating lycopene with a healthy, fat like olive oil, will also increase your body’s ability to absorb the lycopene. With tomatoes in season get your fill of lycopene. Serve your tomatoes with some olive oil or make some homemade salsa, a tomato salad, or a fresh pot of tomato sauce!
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