By: Nutrition expert- Vidula Kozarekar, Mumbai.
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Lycopene is a naturally occurring chemical that gives tomatoes, watermelons, red oranges, pink grapefruits, apricots, rose hips, guavas and other delicious fruits and vegetables their vibrant colour. It is one of the colour pigments called Carotenoids.
More than 80% of dietary lycopene intake in the U.S. is derived from processed tomato products such as ketchup, tomato juice, spaghetti sauce and pizza sauce. The amount of lycopene present in processed foods is often much higher than that found in fresh foods given that processing often involves concentration via water loss. For example, ketchup contains 9.9–13.44 mg lycopene/100 g, whereas fresh tomatoes contain anywhere from 0.88–7.74 mg lycopene/100 g wet weight (1), (2), (3).
Health benefits of Lycopene:
Over the past decade, lycopene-containing foods (primarily tomato products) and lycopene supplements have been reported to affect diseases ranging from cancer to heart disease to asthma. The consumption of tomatoes and tomato products has been associated with a reduced incidence of a number of different types of cancers, most notably prostate, lung, and stomach. Experimental and clinical studies have also confirmed lycopene’s positive effects on the skeletal system and on neuro-degenerative diseases, including Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. Of the diseases studied in relation to lycopene, prostate cancer is one of the well-researched. Various observational studies suggest that the consumption of lycopene or lycopene containing foods reduces the risk for developing prostate cancer (4).
Oxidative stress is considered to be one of the main causes of the diseases of civilization. However, antioxidants, including lycopene, are assumed to be able to limit or prevent the development of various conditions caused by ROS (Reactive Oxygen Species). Lycopene is about 2 times greater than B-carotene and 10 times greater than vitamin E in its potency to quench singlet oxygen and is one of the most potent antioxidants in food (5).
Lycopene may also lower your risk of developing heart disease. Its anti-oxidant properties help reduce total and LDL cholesterol and help increase good HDL cholesterol. It has been shown to increase life expectancy of people with metabolic syndrome (6).
A study found that; Lycopene protects against cataract development by virtue of its antioxidant properties, and it may be useful for prophylaxis or therapy against cataracts (7).
Lycopene is a powerful antioxidant with many health benefits like improved heart health and a lower risk of certain types of cancer. It can be obtained from supplements and it may be most effective when consumed from lycopene-rich foods like tomatoes and other red or pink fruits.