Lycopene is an antioxidant pigment that gives certain foods their reddish color. Studies have shown that eating foods rich in it may help reduce the risk of cancer, macular degeneration, and cardiovascular disease. Tomatoes, grapefruits, and watermelons are the best known sources of lycopene.
Considered a strong antioxidant, lycopene has a high oxygen-quenching capacity. It is powerful at neutralizing free radicals, which protects cells from deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) damage. Other attributes include aiding cell-to-cell communication and controlling cell growth.
Experts recommend incorporating 25 to 75 milligrams of this antioxidant a day into a healthy diet. Tomato products have the greatest amount. It is easier to absorb the antioxidant from cooked tomatoes, so spaghetti sauce is a good option for people seeking at least 20 milligrams of it. Drinking tomato juice also provides a high dose of it — one cup has more than 20 milligrams.
When shopping for tomatoes, experts recommend purchasing those fruits that are reddest in color. They contain the highest amounts of lycopene. Cooked tomato products, such as tomato sauce, tomato paste, and ketchup, also have high amounts of the antioxidant. Health experts warn, however, that a person should stay away from the varieties that have high levels of sugar and salt.
Serving tomato products in oil is said to increase the benefits of the antioxidant. It is fat-soluble, so the oil helps with absorption. The oil typically increases the assimilation of the antioxidant into the bloodstream.
Watermelon is another great source of lycopene. A slice of the fruit can contain about 13 milligrams and is also rich in potassium, vitamin C, and vitamin A. Although not as rich a source as watermelon, pink grapefruit contains about 2 milligrams along with vitamin A and vitamin C. Other fruits rich in the antioxidant include apricots and pink guavas.
Some studies have shown that lycopene can help reduce the risk of certain cancers, such as prostate, lung, and breast cancer. It may also help reduce the incidence of digestive cancers, such as those of the mouth, esophagus, stomach, colon, and intestines. Other benefits include helping prevent macular degeneration, cardiovascular disease, and osteoporosis. Some allergy sufferers experience reduced symptoms thanks to diets rich in it.
There are some scientists who are not convinced of the benefits, however. They argue that the health benefits that have been observed come from the interaction of it with other micronutrients in foods. These scientists believe the antioxidant plays a role, but is not solely responsible for achieving such health benefits.