Lycopene is a carotenoid pigment that gives fruits like tomatoes, watermelon, pink grapefruit and guava their red color. Unlike some common carotenoids, lycopene cannot be converted to vitamin A, but many of the foods that contain a good source of lycopene do in fact contain vitamin A outright, providing additional health benefits.
The Health Benefits of Lycopene
Diets high in carotenoid-rich fruits and vegetables are often associated with reduced risk of cardiovascular disease and some cancers. Some studies have found that high lycopene intake lowers the risk of developing aggressive forms of prostate cancer in men. While the scientific interest in lycopene’s potential to help prevent prostate cancer is significant, more research is needed to understand if the decreased risk is due to lycopene itself or other compounds associated with a lycopene-rich diet.
Dietary Sources of Lycopene
Tomato products – paste, purée, canned and condensed soup, and canned vegetable juice containing tomato, such as V8 – are the highest dietary lycopene contributors due to their processing and preparation. It is has been estimated that 80% of the lycopene in U.S. diets comes from these products.
Watermelon and whole-form tomatoes also are excellent sources of dietary lycopene and you can increase the bioavailability of their lycopene content by chopping, puréeing, and cooking them in oil. Tomato paste has an exceptionally rich lycopene content level, and it’s easy to make your own using the recipe below.
Additionally, it has long been thought that tomatoes need to be a deep red color to be an outstanding source of lycopene, however recent research suggests that this may be a common misconception. A small preliminary study has shown that the lycopene from orange- and tangerine-colored tomatoes may have an advantage over the lycopene from red tomatoes, through more efficient absorption. More research is needed in this area, but you can rest assured that no matter what the color of your tomatoes, you’ll be serving your health well by adding more of these fruits to your diet.
How to Make Your Own Tomato Paste
- Sauté a couple cloves of chopped garlic and 1 or 2 large onions, chopped, for a couple of minutes until they are translucent.
- Add 8 to 10 tomatoes, peeled and puréed, along with several teaspoons of fresh, chopped–or a teaspoon of dried–oregano, basil and any other herbs you enjoy, such as parsley or rosemary.
- Simmer for 30 to 45 minutes, or until thick. Then remove the mixture from the heat, drizzle with olive oil and add sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste.
How do you get enough dietary lycopene? Share in the comments below!
Carotenoids: Alpha-Carotene, Beta-Carotene, Beta-Cryptoxanthin, Lycopene, Lutein, and Zeaxanthin. Linus Pauling Institute. http://lpi.oregonstate.edu/infocenter/phytochemicals/carotenoids/.
Tomatoes. World’s Healthiest Foods. http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=foodspice&dbid=44.
Marz, Russell B. 1999. Medical nutrition from Marz: (a textbook in clinical nutrition). Portland, Or: Omni-Press.
Gaby, Alan. 2011. Nutritional medicine. Concord, N.H: Fritz Perlberg Publishing.