Nutrient to Know: Lycopene by Dana Angelo White in Nutrients to Know, Tomatoes, July 28, 2009
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We already filled you in on antioxidants like vitamins A, C and E, but there are hundreds more of these beneficial nutrients, and some have crazy names! Case in point: lycopene. Find out why this antioxidant does your body good and which lycopene-rich foods pack the biggest punch.
What Is It?
Lycopene is what gives tomatoes, watermelon and other red fruits (yes, tomatoes are fruits) their ruby hue. Along with providing produce their gorgeous color, this antioxidant helps protect our healthy tissues from being wounded by cell-damaging substances known as free radicals.
Why Is It Good For You?
Regularly chowing down on foods with lycopene have been linked with a lower risk of cardiovascular disease, prostate cancer and macular degeneration (that is, poor eyesight as you get older). It’s important to note that the studies that found these positive effects studied people eating actual tomatoes and not popping lycopene supplements. This tells me that it’s the combo of nutrients found in tomatoes (like lycopene, vitamin C and folate) that may be more effective than lycopene alone.
Where Can I Find It?
Tomatoes are by far the best sources of lycopene (as all our ketchup bottles like to tell us!), but you can also get it from pink grapefruit, watermelon, apricots and guava. Cooked tomatoes and tomato products like canned tomatoes, tomato soup, tomato paste, spaghetti sauce and ketchup actually contain more lycopene than fresh tomatoes. One medium tomato contains about 4 milligrams, but one cup of tomato soup contains close to 25 milligrams — that’s 6 times more!
There’s currently no standard recommendation for a daily dose of lycopene, but here are a few more examples of how much is in some foods. (Remember one fresh tomato has 4 milligrams.)
1 cup tomato juice = 20 milligrams
1/2 cup tomato or spaghetti sauce = 19.4 milligrams
1/2 cup canned tomatoes = 11.8 milligrams
1 cup watermelon = 7.8 milligrams
1/4 cup salsa (with cooked tomatoes) = 7 milligrams
2 tablespoons ketchup = 5.1 milligrams
1 cup pink or red grapefruit = 3.6 milligrams