LYCOPENE is a bright red carotenoid pigment and phytochemical found in tomatoes and other red-colored fruits.
A terpene assembled from eight isoprene units and having a molecular formula of C40H56, it derives its name from the tomato’s species classification, Solanum Lycopersicum.
It is the most common carotenoid in the human body and one of the most potent carotenoid antioxidants.
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Carotenoids work to protect against cancer and aging-related diseases by counteracting the effects of so-called free radicals formed in tissues as a result of body cells burning oxygen for energy.
The reddish color of lycopene can be explained by its many conjugated carbon double bonds, each of which reduces the energy required for electrons to transform to higher energy states.
This in turn allows the molecule to absorb visible light at progressively longer wavelengths. Because it absorbs most of the visible spectrum, lycopene appears red.
Fruits and vegetables high in lycopene include tomatoes, watermelon, pink grapefruit, papaya, and rosehip. Americans source their lycopene mostly in tomato-based foods like juice, pizza, spaghetti sauce, catsup, and so on.
Lycopene-rich foods actually increase in content upon cooking unlike other fruits and vegetables containing vitamin C which diminish processing.
As such lycopene in tomato paste is four times more bioavailable than in fresh tomatoes and it follows that processed tomato products like tomato juice, soup, sauce, and catsup contain high concentrations of lyco-pene.
This can be attributed to lycopene’s insolubility in water and its tightly bounded to vegetable fiber.
Because it is not water-soluble, it instantly stains any porous material, including most plastics. As a result crushing and canning tomatoes and serving them in oil-rich dishes increase assimilation from the digestive tract into the bloodstream.
Lycopene is considered the most powerful carotenoid quencher of singlet oxygen. Sourced from ultraviolet light, singlet oxygen is a primary cause of skin aging.
Medical evidence suggests that the frequent and sufficient intake of lycopene-rich products leads to a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, some types of cancer (prostate cancer, oesophageal, colon, and mouth cancer), diabetes, osteoporosis, and even male impotency.
Due to its popularity, lyco-pene is being licensed for use as a food coloring. On the more practical side, the lyco-pene in a tomato stain can be easily removed from the fabric if the stain is fresh.
However, tomato-stained plastic can only be cleaned with bleach. Thus plastic products are susceptible to staining if heated, scratched, oiled, or pitted by acids like those found in tomatoes.
Being one of the major carotenoids found in human blood and tissues, lyco-pene can be found primarily in the testis, adrenal glands, liver, prostate, breast, colon, and lung.
Since it cannot be metabolized to Vitamin A, lyco-pene’s biological effects among people have been linked to other mechanisms.
Lycopene is considered among the more effective carotenoids in terms of protecting parts of the human cells like lipids, membrane lipoproteins, proteins, and DNA from the damage inflicted by free radicals.
As an antioxidant, lycopene helps keep the immune system healthy and reduces the risk of cancer and other diseases.
According to a 1995 study conducted by Harvard University on 47,894 men, researchers learned that participants eating 10 or more servings a week of tomato products reduced their risk of prostate cancer by 34 percent.
At the same time, men with the highest amount of lyco-pene in their body fat were half likely to suffer a heart attack as those with a low amount of lycopene in their body fat.
Researchers then stated that the lyco-pene level in a person’s body fat is an indicator of lycopene content in the diet.
Lycopene content in milligrams on food items
- Tomato Soup, 1 cup 24.8 mg
- Tomato or Spaghetti Sauce, « cup 19.4 mg
- Canned Tomatoes, « cup 11.8 mg
- Watermelon, 1 cup 7.8 mg
- Ketchup, 2 tablespoons 5.1 mg
- Fresh Tomato, 1 medium 3.7 mg
- Pink or Red Grapefruit, « cup 1.8 mg