For lunch or dinner, you plan a delicious salad filled with cherry tomatoes, carrots and maybe even some chunks of watermelon. Perhaps you choose a different route and go for some pasta with tomato sauce or a burger slathered in ketchup. No matter which option you select, you will be getting plenty of lycopene, an important nutrient with lots of health-inducing qualities.
We all know the benefits and rules for eating healthy (even if we don’t always follow them) but exactly what we should be eating for maximum effect can be confusing and it seems to change all the time. One nutrient with benefits that is easy to fit into your diet, is lycopene. When you learn about the numerous rewards from this key antioxidant, you will be eager to consume even more of it into your meals and your life.
What exactly is lycopene?
Lycopene (C40 H56) and its benefits were first discovered in 1959 by Ernst. You can find it in tomatoes and tomato products like paste and juice, watermelon, papaya, apricots, goji, guava, carrots and pink grapefruit.
Lycopene is the naturally-occurring chemical that gives a red color to many fruits and vegetables. It is one of the pigments that make up a group called carotenoids. There are more than 600 of these fat-soluble plant compounds.
As a carotenoid, it contains organic pigments that are easily converted to vitamin A. It is also a phytonutrient, meaning it’s an organic nutrient found in plants, so it also presents anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. Antioxidants are compounds which help counteract the negative effects of free radicals and prevent damage to DNA.
After consumption, lycopene is released into your lymphatic system and then travels throughout your body, such as your liver, colon and adrenal glands. It has a unique molecular design which is responsible for its red color and easy absorption.
Your body does not naturally produce lycopene so you have to get it from foods and supplements. Many consider it a more effective antioxidant than any other nutrient, like beta-carotene.
How does lycopene improve your health?
The main benefit of lycopene is that it helps protect your body from cell damage. Research shows this may make it especially helpful in cancer prevention. It helps to enhance the strength and thickness of cell membranes. The cell membrane is what protects the cells from toxins and other junk, but lets the good stuff pass through.
It also aids in communication and connectivity between cells. Tough, hearty cells are the key to disease prevention.
How much lycopene do you need in your diet?
Health experts recommend getting 10 servings of tomato products each week. Which will give you approximately 6-15 milligrams of lycopene every day. Most of us get about 80 percent of our intake from tomato products like pasta or pizza sauces. Just one cup of sauce provides more than 20 milligrams of lycopene.
Tomato extract has become a popular supplement for lycopene consumption. You can also get it from fresh, uncooked tomatoes and certain fruits. However this provides only a small amount due to the indigestible fiber on the skin of these foods which prevent easy absorption. How much you should take or consume depends on several factors, such as your age and overall health.
You should always follow dosing directions on any supplements. Too much lycopene could result in skin pigmentation, allergies and immune system imbalances, but this is rare and only happens when you greatly exceed the recommended daily allowance over an extended period of time. There has been no research suggesting any serious side effects from lycopene supplements or a diet rich in the nutrient. So enjoy these foods and reap the health benefits.