Tomatoes are a popular staple in the American diet. Not only are tomatoes regularly consumed, but so are foods derived from tomatoes: tomato juice, catsup, marinara sauce, and salsa. This is a good thing because tomatoes contain a powerful antioxidant that most people may have heard of called lycopene. This natural wonder has gained a reputation for its potential defense against cancer and strokes.
Lycopene is a carotenoid that is responsible for giving some fruits and vegetables their bright colors. In research conducted on animals, there is evidence that lycopene may help block the growth of cancer cells. Whether or not it has the same effect in humans is still debatable but worth noting because it is also regarded for its heart and eye healthy properties.
Some scientific studies imply that lycopene may be effective in preventing certain types of cancer: skin, cervix, lung, stomach, bladder, and prostate. Its anti-carcinogenic properties are not fully understood yet, but it springs into action against free radicals, (molecules that can damage the body’s cells).
Cooked tomato products have a slightly stronger defensive effect as heat may strengthen lycopene’s antioxidant powers (pour on the marinara). Lycopene is also fat soluble and can be better absorbed in the digestive tract by combining it with some fat (e.g. olive oil).
Not only is lycopene known for its ability to knockout free radicals, researchers think it may also help reduce inflammation, lower cholesterol, and prevent blood clots. It’s suggested anticoagulant properties help make it a strong defender against strokes.
One significant study followed over 1,000 middle-aged men for a period of 12 years. It found that men with the highest lycopene blood levels had a 55% lower chance of having a stroke. The chance of having a stroke due to blood clots (most common) was less likely at 59%.
Tomatoes are the best food source of lycopene, but never limit yourself when it comes to good nutrition. Other good sources of lycopene include watermelon, pink grapefruit, apricots, and papaya. Use this chart of the top lycopene-containing foods as a helpful guide to see how much lycopene you can get in your nutritional regimen.
The American Cancer Society recommends selecting foods from a variety of plant-based sources for optimal health. Think fruits, vegetables, seeds, nuts, beans, and whole grains. Try to aim for at least 5 servings of fruits and vegetables a day.
About 10,000 micrograms of lycopene per day is recommended.
So you can enjoy a few slices of tomato, some salsa, and a piece or two of watermelon and know that you are investing in your health.
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