Lycopene is a bright red phytochemical that is found in fruits and vegetables. While it is not an essential vitamin, it is a powerful antioxidant. Antioxidants can reduce the amounts of free radicals found in the body. Consuming lycopene may help to reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke, cancers of the prostate, stomach, lungs and breast and osteoporosis. Lycopene is non-toxic and can be consumed in large amounts, although eating too much lycopene can give the skin a temporary red tint.
These foods are some of the best sources of lycopene:
Tomatoes and Tomato Products
Tomatoes are one of the richest sources of lycopene in the average diet. They are a good source of lycopene when fresh, but will release up to three times more lycopene when consumed as a juice or cooked. Eating tomatoes in pasta sauce, ketchup or soup is an excellent way of increasing the amount of lycopene in your diet. Vine ripened, deep red tomatoes contain more lycopene than tomatoes ripened off the vine. Lycopene is fat soluble, so eating it with a small amount of oil can make it easier to absorb.
Red fleshed watermelon contains more lycopene per weight than fresh tomato and is also a source of vitamin C. Watermelon can be eaten fresh or in a salad, pickled or grilled.
Pink or red guava is a good source of lycopene. Guava is sometimes called a "superfruit," as it has many health benefits. It can contain up to four times the amount of vitamin C found in oranges as well as vitamin A, and guava seeds are a source of omega-3 and dietary fiber. Guavas can be grown indoors in temperate climates. They can be juiced, made into jams or eaten fresh.
Pink grapefruit usually contains roughly the same amount of lycopene as a fresh tomato. While the fruit is bitter, it is very healthy, and some studies suggest that it can help lower cholesterol levels. It is also a good source of vitamin C and contains fiber. However, drinking grapefruit juice may increase the chances of developing kidney stones.
This tropical fruit is usually eaten raw and contains about the same amount of lycopene as guava. Some people are allergic to it, so caution should be taken when eating it for the first time.
Rose hips have a relatively small amount of lycopene compared with the other foods listed here, but they have many other benefits. They are one of the richest sources of vitamin C and contain vitamins A and B, as well as essential fatty acids. They may also be effective in treating arthritis. Rose hips can be made into a jelly, or brewed as tea.
Increasing your consumption of lycopene can also help to protect you against cancer. It has also been shown to be an effective way to slow down the aging process by combating the effects of free radicals.