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Lycopene- what you need to know

1. Lycopene is found in many forms

Your body works many wonders, but it can’t produce lycopene by itself. Instead, it must be introduced to your body from foods and/or supplements. Since it is a pigment, it can be found in a select number of fruits and veggies like tomatoes, watermelon, pink grapefruit, guavas and papayas. The best source of lycopene comes from tomatoes and tomato products.

2. Boost the benefits with olive oil

Both all-trans lycopene and tetra-cis are best absorbed by the body when mixed with oil because lycopene is fat-soluble (it binds to fats easily). To get the best bang for your buck, make a tomato salad with a drizzle of olive oil. Not only does is help absorb lycopene faster, the combination of lycopene and oil may reduce the risk of coronary heart disease.

3. Eating raw tomatoes may not be enough

There are no recommended dietary intake values for lycopene, but health organisations like the NHS recommend eating at least five servings of fruits and vegetables per day to help ensure that individuals get enough of the beneficial carotenoids in their diets. If you are looking to get the full affects, you may be surprised to find that the best sources are prepared tomato products. When eating raw tomatoes, the body goes through a long process to break down the cell walls of the food to separate the lycopene and convert it into a form that it can use and benefit from. In the nutritional world, we would say that the Lycopene in raw tomatoes isn’t as “bioavailable” to the body as processed sources. The magical benefits of lycopene occur when tomatoes are either 1) heated up or 2) the lycopene is extracted or 3) eaten with olive oil, because the cell walls of the plants are broken down and lycopene is fat soluble. The most bioavailable sources are prepared tomato products like tomato sauce, tomato soup, salsa, ketchup, and tomato puree.

4. Lycopene can be found in orange products too

A common myth is that only red tomatoes contain Lycopene, when in fact tomatoes do not have to be a deep red color to be an outstanding source of lycopene. Lycopene from orange and tangerine colored tomatoes have lycopene too and may actually be better absorbed than the lycopene from red tomatoes since they contain a different type of lycopene called tetra-cis (instead of trans-lycopene). One study showed that tetra-cis is most efficiently absorbed by the body.

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