Lycopene is a cousin of beta-carotene, the antioxidant nutrient that’s plentiful in carrots, but lycopene is twice as potent as an antioxidant. Lycopene is found in red-colored fruits and vegetables. Tomatoes are the richest source of lycopene, but you’ll also find some in pink grapefruit, watermelon, guava and apricots.
Researchers have observed a relationship between the amount of lycopene in the blood and in body fat stores and the risk of heart disease. As an antioxidant, lycopene is yet another dietary defense mechanism against free radical damage to LDL cholesterol. Toronto researchers studied the effect of dietary lycopene in 19 healthy adults and found that a diet supplemented with tomato products doubled lycopene blood levels and significantly reduced free radical damage to LDL cholesterol.15 Lycopene may also lower the level of LDL cholesterol by hampering its production in the liver.
While the research on the role of lycopene in heart disease is just beginning, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t add this antioxidant to your diet. It appears that an intake of 5 to 7 milligrams offers protection.
FOOD LYCOPENE (MILLIGRAMS)
Tomato, raw, 1 small 0.8-3.8 mg
Tomatoes, cooked, 1 cup (250 ml) 9.25 mg
Tomato sauce, 1/2 cup (125 ml) 3.1 mg
Tomato paste, 2 tbsp (30 ml) 8.0 mg
Tomato juice, 1 cup (250 ml) 23.0 mg
Ketchup, 2 tbsp (30 ml) 3.1-4.2 mg
Apricots, dried, 10 halves 0.3 mg
Grapefruit, pink, half 4.2 mg
Papaya, 1 whole 6.2-16.5 mg
Watermelon, 1 slice (25 cm X 2 cm) 8.5-26.4 mg
Heat-processed tomato products provide a source of lycopene that is much more available to the body. To increase the amount of lycopene you absorb, add a little olive oil to your pasta sauce. Lycopene is a fat-soluble compound and, as such, it is better absorbed along with a little fat.
Lycopene supplements are available in health food stores and drug stores. If you opt for the supplement route, choose a brand that’s made with the Lyc-O-Mato™ or LycoRed™ extract. This source of lycopene is derived from whole tomatoes, and it’s the source that has been used in clinical studies. Most supplements offer 5 milligrams of lycopene per tablet.