Properties and Benefits of Lycopene: The name derives from the Latin scientific name of tomatoes (Solanum lycopersicum) and refers to a natural red pigment found in numerous fruits and vegetables. The scientific community has classified lycopene as a carotenoid, which is a natural red pigment highly beneficial for human health because of its impressive antioxidant properties.
Tomatoes, watermelons, red bell peppers, pink grapefruit, guava, goji, papaya, rosehip and red carrots are all rich sources of lycopene. Consuming them on a regular basis, preferably when they are in season and grown naturally, can supply the body with wonderfully healthy nutrients, lycopene included.
Why should we include lycopene-rich foods in our diet? First of all, lycopene is a powerful natural antioxidant capable of counteracting the harmful effects of reactive oxygen molecules called free radicals. The latter are responsible for oxidative stress which engenders a myriad of health problems from premature aging to cancer.
Numerous scientific studies suggest that lycopene can efficiently inhibit tumor growth and significantly reduce the risk of developing oxidation-related diseases such as cancer, cardiovascular problems and macular degeneration (loss of central vision mostly due to old age).
In addition to this, a high intake of lycopene appears to have beneficial effects on systolic blood pressure. Preliminary studies have come to the conclusion that regular consumption of lycopene-rich foods can offer protection against heart disease. However, research is ongoing and it may take some time until we are presented with irrefutable proof of the amazing properties of lycopene.
Although it is not considered fundamental for human health, lycopene can be found almost anywhere in our body. After consuming foods containing it, the carotenoid is absorbed at the intestinal level. Lycopene is also stored in the liver, from where it enters the blood stream.
Other areas of the body where it is deposited include organs such as the prostate, the colon and the adrenal glands situated above the kidneys. Small amounts can be found in the ovaries and skin as well. Considering its wide distribution and storing, it is safe to assume that our body has serious plans with this carotenoid.
A healthy and varied diet should supply the body with sufficient lycopene. The best dietary sources include tomatoes, watermelons, goji berries, papaya, rose hip, red carrots, papaya, guava and the deliciously sweet red bell peppers. Tomato sauce is a rich source of lycopene as well.
However, the pulp and skin contain more lycopene than the juice so, when cooking with tomatoes, always crush them and use them whole in order to get the best of what they have to offer. For this reason, canned tomatoes and tomato paste are a better choice than tomato juice.
And here is a tip: the riper the tomato, the more lycopene it contains. Although it is a red pigment, lycopene can be found in very small amounts in parsley, asparagus and basil. Nonetheless, red fruits and vegetables such as the ones mentioned above are the best sources of lycopene. It is, after all, a natural red pigment with rather impressive health benefits.