Our Nutritionist Elizabeth Somer discussing lycopene

Want to stay healthy? Want to feel your best? Then include more lycopene-rich foods in your daily diet.

What is Lycopene?

Lycopene Leader LogoLycopene is an pigment that gives tomatoes, watermelon and pink grapefruit their red color.

Lycopene is one of hundreds of carotenoids in fruits and vegetables, beta carotene being the most well-known. Lycopene is the pigment that makes many of the juiciest and tastiest selections in the produce department a rich and vibrant red. While tomatoes have gotten the most press when it comes to their lycopene content, you might be surprised to hear that watermelon is also a source of lycopene with 15 to 20 milligrams for every two-cup serving. Other sources include papaya, pink grapefruit, and guava. (Strawberries are red, but they get their color from another compound other than lycopene.)

How Much Lycopene Is in That Food?

  • Canned Tomato Sauce
    6.2 mg

  • Canned Tomato Paste
    6.5 mg

  • Raw Guava
    5.4 mg

  • Fresh Watermelon
    4.1 mg

  • Raw Pink Grapefruit
    3.4 mg

  • Fresh Tomato
    2.9 mg

  • Fresh Papaya
    2.0 - 5.3 mg

  • Dried Apricot
    0.864 mg

  • Fresh Apricot
    0.05 mg

Why do we need it?

Adopting a diet rich in colorful fruits and vegetables is one of the best things a person can do to stay healthy, maintain a healthy weight, and lower disease risk. Adding lycopene-rich foods, like watermelon, to that mix is one way to reach that goal. Granted, lycopene cannot be converted to vitamin A like it’s cousin beta carotene, but it is a powerful antioxidant. This is just one of the reasons why it has been studied to identify it’s role in health promotion and disease prevention.

While more studies are needed, research in the past few decades show that increasing blood levels of lycopene might lower triglyceride and LDL-cholesterol levels, thus lowering cardiovascular disease risk. There is some evidence that boosting lycopene levels in the blood might help reduce the risk for hardening of the arteries. That’s a big deal, since heart disease is the number one killer disease in this country! Lycopene also has been investigated for it’s possible role in preventing or treating prostate cancer. (1- 12)

How Much Lycopene Do You Need?

Like all of the carotenoids in foods, the jury is still out on the exact amount of lycopene you need for health and possible disease prevention. What is known is that because this antioxidant-rich compound is fat-soluble, you can greatly improve its absorption by adding a little fat to any meal that contains a lycopene-rich fruit or vegetable. For example, one study found that adding avocado to salsa boosts lycopene absorption more than four-fold! So, combine avocado with watermelon, cilantro, peppers, and your other favorite salsa ingredients for a delicious and nutritious topping for fish or dip for chips. Of course, make sure that little bit of fat is healthy fats from olive oil, nuts, or fatty seafood. (13,14) For example:

  • drizzle a little olive oil on a watermelon and spinach salad,
  • snack on watermelon and low-fat (rather than fat-free) yogurt,
  • add a slice of watermelon to a salmon fillet sandwich,
  • add hunks of watermelon to chicken or shrimp kabobs, and
  • snack on watermelon slices and pistachios.

One thing is for sure: You can’t go wrong adding colorful produce, like watermelon, to your diet, for your health today and down the road!

1. Ford E, Li C, Cunningham T, et al: Associations between antioxidants and all-cause mortality among US adults with obstructive lung function. British Journal of Nutrition 2014;October 15th: 1-12.
2. Gloria N, Soares N, Brand C, et al: Lycopene and beta-carotene induce cell-cycle arrest and apoptosis in human breast cancer cell lines. Anticancer Research 2014;34:1377-1386.
3. Li Xinli, Xu Jiuhong: meta-analysis of the association between dietary lycopene intake and ovarian cancer risk in postmenopausal women. Science Report 2014:May 9th.
4. Biddle M, Lennie T, Bricker G, et al: Lycopene dietary intervention: A pilot study in patients with heart failure. Journal of Cardiovascular Nursing 2014;Mar 18th.
5. Wang X: Lycopene metabolism and its biological significance. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 2012;96:1214S-1222S.
6. Stahl W, Sies H: Beta carotene and other carotenoids in protection from sunlight. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 2012;96:1179S-1184S.
7. Sesso H, Liu S, Gaziano J, et al: Dietary lycopene, tomato-based food products and cardiovascular disease in women. Journal of Nutrition 2003;133:2336-2341.
8. Shen Y, Chen S, Wang C: Contribution of tomato phenolics to antioxidation and down-regulation of blood lipids. Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry 2007;55:6475-6481.
9. Bohn T, Blackwood M, Francis D, et al: Bioavailability of phytochemical constituents from a novel soy fortified lycopene rich tomato juice developed for targeted cancer prevention trials. 2013;65:919-929.
10. Medline Plus: Lycopene. Http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/druginfo/natural/554.html
11. Kristal A, Arnold K, Schenk J, et al: Dietary patterns, supplemental use, and the risk of symptomatic benign prostatic hyperplasia. American Journal of Epidemiology 2008;167:925-934.
12. Etminan M, Takkouche B, Caamano-Isorna F: The role of tomato products and lycopene in the prevention of prostate cancer. Cancer Epidemiology Biomarkers and Prevention 2004;13:340-345.
13. Unlu N, Bohn T, Clinton S, et al: Carotenoid absorption from salad and salsa by humans enhanced by the addition of avocado or avocado oil. Journal of Nutrition 2005;135:431-436.
14. http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/79/1/47

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