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A Lesson on Lycopene

(As published on TheTownDish.com, June 21, 2013)

Have you heard of lycopene?

Sure you have. Do you know what it is? Maybe not.

Read on and you will! Learn the potential health benefits and sources of lycopene along with some surprising powers of its antioxidants.

What is it?
Lycopene is a carotenoid found in orangey-red produce. What's a carotenoid, you ask? Carotenoids are the sources of color for fruits and veggies. The pigment that gives these foods their reddish color is the supplier of lycopene. The body processes carotenoids and morphs them into antioxidants to give your body more health benefits than you might expect.

Lycopene is a powerful source of antioxidants found in food, so eat up! Antioxidants are responsible for the health benefits you'll read about coming up. In case you missed our post all about antioxidants, here is an easy explanation of what they are and how they work:

"Antioxidants describe the 'stuff' that helps to protect your cells against the effects of free radicals. Free radicals are produced by the breakdown of food in your body or by environmental exposure like smoke or radiation. Cell damage from free radicals can wreak havoc on your skin by causing early signs of aging and may possibly prevent disease.

Think of free radicals as little particles bouncing around in your body looking for a match to pair up with. These lonely guys are constantly searching for a mate, and, when they can't find one, they steal electrons from your body - this is what causes damage to your cells. Now, enter antioxidants. When free radicals run into antioxidants, they decide that they're good enough of a match, and the two will pair up in healthy harmony, keeping them from causing damage."

Got it?

So what are some benefits of lycopene?
Research shows that a healthy lifestyle, including a diet full of fruits and vegetables, reduces your risk for developing these health issues. The jury's out on whether or not lycopene is the key component in the magical powers of fruits and veggies. Take this for what it's worth, and see if you can work more lycopene into your diet for better health.

Lycopene may also help reduce sunburn -- something we can all appreciate during the steamy months ahead. Studies inconclusively link lycopene to many health benefits but none are for certain. Some research shows that a high intake of lycopene can reduce the risk of cancer, eye disease and cardiovascular disease. Here are a few of the most widely talked about topics when it comes to lycopene and your health:

  • Exercise-induced asthma
  • Coronary artery disease
  • Cataracts
  • Macular degeneration
  • Cancer prevention

Where can I get it?
Lucky for us, lycopene is packed in some tasty varieties. Any naturally-occurring orangey-red produce contains lycopene. The biggest contender is the tomato, making up over half of dietary lycopene intake. Catch our last post all about the tomato here. Tomatoes help to bulk up sandwiches, salads, wraps and more, and they are especially delicious during the summer months.

While plain tomatoes are just fine, "fattened-up" tomatoes may provide more lycopene power. When combined with a healthy fat like olive oil, lycopene is more readily absorbed by the body. Top your salad with some oil and vinegar to soak up the goodness of lycopene.

Other notable lycopene-packed foods include watermelon, red bell peppers, chili powder and guava. These reddish fruits, veggies and seasonings can make their way into lots of dishes or can be eaten on their own. Add some sautéed peppers to your dinner dishes or enjoy fresh watermelon as an afternoon snack.

You've always heard that a colorful plate is a good thing for your health, so make sure you're eating some red each day. Which red food is your favorite?

 

Last Updated: 6/28/2013