Lycopene is a plant pigment that can be found in various fruits and vegetables. This nutrient gives some plants their colors, but what’s even more impressive are its antioxidant properties. Lycopene is an antioxidant compound capable of fighting free-radical damage to the cells.
Due to Lycopene’s properties, it offers a range of benefits, such as protection against sunburns and certain types of cancer. This article will explore the top sources of lycopene and the potential benefits of incorporating lycopene-rich foods into your diet.
Most natural foods with a pink or red color contain lycopene. In fact, it is responsible for the pink and red colors of fruits, vegetables, and flowers. Some foods that are rich in lycopene include:
Tomatoes are the biggest natural food source of lycopene. Although in most cases, fresh tomatoes are better for your health, when it comes to lycopene, processed tomatoes are better.
A 100-gram serving of fresh tomatoes contains 3 mg of lycopene. However, the lycopene content goes up to 45.9 mg and 21.8 mg in sundried tomatoes and tomato puree, respectively.
Research has shown that heating tomatoes for more than 2 hours at 100 Fahrenheit releases the lycopene, making it more accessible for the body. Canned tomatoes are also great alternatives if you want a high-lycopene diet.
Guava is another fruit that you can eat to increase your lycopene intake. A 100-gram serving of fresh guava fruit contains about 3.7 mg of lycopene. Generally, guava’s flesh is higher in lycopene than the skin, but both are good sources.
Guava's lycopene content varies slightly depending on factors such as ripeness and preparation method. To enjoy its lycopene content, allow your guava to fully ripen. You can juice your guava, make it into jam, or eat it fresh.
Watermelon has one of the highest lycopene levels among fruits. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, 100 grams of watermelon contain 4.5 mg of lycopene, 40% more than raw tomatoes.
Allow the watermelon to ripen before eating it to get the most lycopene. The redder the watermelon, the higher the lycopene content. The content of beta-carotene and phenolic antioxidants in watermelon also increases with ripeness.
Papaya is another rich dietary source of lycopene. Studies have shown that papaya provides highly bioavailable lycopene as well as other antioxidants such as beta-carotene and beta-cryptoxanthin.
100 grams of papaya contain 1.8 mg of lycopene. To enjoy your papaya, cut it open and scoop out the seeds. Although the skin and seeds are not poisonous, most people do not enjoy them.
Some other foods that contain some amount of lycopene include
Currently, there is no recommended daily amount for lycopene. However, various studies suggest taking between 8 and 21 mg daily is most beneficial.
Some of the health benefits of consuming foods rich in lycopene include:
Lycopene is a very potent antioxidant. Antioxidants are chemicals that protect your body from the damage caused by free radicals. When the free radical level exceeds the antioxidant levels in the body, it causes oxidative stress. Chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, and Alzheimer's disease have been linked to oxidative stress.
Lycopene's antioxidant properties may slow or prevent the progression of certain types of cancer. Test-tube studies show that the chemical may slow the growth of breast and prostate cancers by reducing the rate of tumor growth.
Furthermore, according to a recent review of several studies, high levels of lycopene reduce the risk of lung and prostate cancer. Researchers revealed that daily intake of 9 to 21 mg was most beneficial
Lycopene may also lower your risk of dying from heart disease because it reduces heart disease risk factors. Studies show that lycopene reduces free-radical damage, total and “bad” LDL cholesterol levels, and increases “good” HDL cholesterol levels.
Also, another study linked diets rich in lycopene to a 17–26% lower risk of heart disease. Lycopene's protective effects are most beneficial to people who have low blood antioxidant levels or high levels of oxidative stress.
Lycopene also provides some protection against the harmful effects of UV rays from the sun. A study found that people who consumed lycopene from tomato paste suffered less severe skin reactions to UV exposure than those who took a placebo.
Lycopene’s antioxidant properties also support vision. According to research, the chemical may help prevent or delay the formation of cataracts and lower your risk of macular degeneration. These conditions are among the leading causes of blindness in the elderly.
Lycopene is a potent antioxidant with numerous health benefits, ranging from improved heart health to cancer prevention. Although you can get this nutrient from a supplement, it is most effective when consumed from natural foods such as tomatoes, guavas, and watermelon.