Lycopene is a super star when it comes to good health and cancer prevention.  We find it in the news regularly. So what is it?

Lycopene what gives red fruits and vegetables their bright red colour.   You will find lycopene in red foods like tomatoes, watermelon, apricots, red grapefruit, guava, red carrots, papaya and rose hips.

Lycopene is a powerful antioxidant that inhibits free radicals, which are a destructive substance in the body.  Free radicals are molecules that move around in the body damaging cells and promoting disease.

This antioxidant, lycopene destroys free radicals by binding to them.  Thus the free radicals are unable attach create cell damage that can result in diseases such as cancer and heart disease.

Lycopene has been found to help reduce prostate, lung, pancreas, colon and rectum, esophagus, oral cavity, breast, and cervix and stomach cancers according to Scientific studies

Food Sources of Lycopene

Product                            Serving Size (mg)     Lycopene

Tomato juice                          250 mL (1 cup)            25.0

Tomato ketchup                     15 mL (1 tbsp)               2.7

Spaghetti sauce                      125 mL (1/2 cup)        28.1

Tomato paste                         30 mL (2 tbsp)             13.8

Tomato soup (condensed)    250 mL prepared         9.7

Tomato sauce                         60 mL (1/4 cup)            8.9

Chili sauce                              30 mL (2 tbsp)                6.7

Cocktail sauce                         30 mL (2 tbsp)              5.9

Watermelon                           368 g (1 slice)                14.7

Pink grapefruit                       123 g (1/2)                      4.9

Raw tomato                            123 g (1 medium)           3.7

Papaya                                                1 cup                      2.6

Source: Heinz Institute of Nutritional Sciences

As you can see above tomato products are high sources of lycopene.

“The best sources of lycopene are tomatoes and tomato products, which is where about 80 percent of lycopene in the average American diet comes from.”  says the Physician Committee for Responsible Health

According to the Oxford Journals, consuming tomatoes and tomato-based products have been shown to lower risk of a variety of cancers. The cancers which responded the most were the lung, stomach, and prostate gland Also, research indicated that it maybe preventive for cancers of the breast, cervix, oral cavity, colorectum, esophagus, and pancreas.  They also go on to say that it is important to consume tomatoes and tomato products rather than purified lycopene supplements.

Cancer and Tomatoes

  • Here is a bit of information that has been found.
    Tomatoes reduce breast cancer due to high amounts of carotenoids (alpha-carotene, beta-carotene, lutein, zeaxanthin, lycopene and total carotenoids), according to research from the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.
  • Tomatoes may help prevent prostate cancer. This study found that men who ate more than 10 portions of tomatoes or tomato products per week have an 18 percent reduced risk of prostate cancer compared to men who ate less than ten.
    ThinkstockPhotos-177440010

The best way to get lycopene seems into the body is to cook the tomatoes and eaten in a meal that provides a small amount of fat.  It was shown in a study that when oil was added to heated tomato juice, the blood lycopene levels increased more than when plain, unheated tomato was consumed.  Now that does not mean you should eat lots of chips with ketchup thinking you are doing cancer prevention. Too much oil can causes damage to the arteries by clogging them.

Close up of watermelon slices

As said above lycopene supplements extracts do not work well and this is most likely because there are other phytochemicals in tomatoes that may be needed to do the job.  Eat real food:  eat your fruits and vegetables!

Here are a couple of recipes to get some lycopene into your diet today:

Tomato Salad Dressing

Bloody Mary – Alcohol Free and Healthy