While there are different types of carotenoids, lycopene is one form that gives some fruits and vegetables their vibrant red to bright pink color in foods, such as red tomatoes and watermelon. “Lycopene is an antioxidant that has been linked to improving blood pressure and cardiovascular health, reducing cholesterol, and fighting a variety of cancers,” says Laura Iu, RDN, CDN, CNSC, RYT, R.D., a registered dietitian and founder of Laura Iu Nutrition. Heart disease and cancer are two of the leading causes of death in the United States, and incorporating lycopene-rich foods can be one form of disease prevention. While there is currently no recommended daily allowance (RDA) for lycopene, Iu says eight to 21 milligrams per day is a good range for optimal benefits.
During the metabolism process, our bodies naturally produce unstable molecules called free radicals. “When these free radicals build up in the body, they can cause damage to cells. So by consuming foods that contain lycopene, we help fight free radicals and prevent further damage to healthy cells,” explains Iu. This process, in turn, combats symptoms of chronic inflammation associated with long-term health consequences, such as cardiovascular disease and Alzheimer’s disease.
Fresh, canned, and sun-dried fruits and vegetables can be great sources of lycopene. “In fact, different processing methods can actually enhance the bioavailability of lycopene in certain foods by breaking down cell walls,” says Iu. So even if you can’t get enough of the freshest produce, other options may provide higher sources of lycopene than you think.
Although there are currently no known risks or side effects of consuming lycopene from food, Iu suggests consulting with your healthcare provider before taking supplements and prioritizing your diet first to reap the many health benefits of lycopene.
8 foods rich in lycopene that can help extend your life
Since food labels don’t say which foods contain lycopene, Iu shared with us eight foods that are great sources of lycopene. If possible, try to consume fats with foods containing lycopene for optimal nutrient absorption.
Tomatoes and processed tomato products are great sources of lycopene, but surprisingly, processed tomato products have a higher bioavailability than fresh tomatoes. When looking at different tomato products, Iu says these options contain the most lycopene per 100g:
- Sun-dried tomatoes: 45.9 milligrams
- Tomato puree: 21.8 milligrams
- Fresh tomatoes: 3.0 mg
- Canned tomatoes provide 2.7 milligrams.
This fresh tomato galette recipe is rich in lycopene:
2. sweet potato
Sweet potatoes are known for being excellent sources of vitamin A, fiber, and glowing skin, but they are also great sources of lycopene. They can be a great post-workout snack, a side dish (all-day sweet potatoes, please), or added to a coconut curry.
You can also incorporate sweet potatoes into desserts, like this delicious chocolate cake recipe:
3. Pink grapefruit
Half of a grapefruit contains about a milligram of lycopene and is also a great source of vitamin C. We love how versatile pink grapefruit is; They can be added to both sweet and savory dishes or used in drinks like the refreshing mocktail recipe below. It can also be used to make frozen desserts, salads, or on its own for a morning snack.
Try adding pink grapefruit to this mood-boosting cocktail recipe:
4. Blood orange
Unlike regular oranges, blood oranges have a pink or sour flavor and darker color due to their lycopene content. This is also an example of a food that can work well in a range of dishes, from citrus salad or salmon dressing to smoothies and homemade ice cream.
Use blood oranges to make cranberry-orange compote to get key lycopene benefits:
Not only is watermelon a refreshing snack during the warmer months, but it can also contain as much or more lycopene than raw tomatoes, depending on the variety and growing conditions. One-and-a-half cups of watermelon contain nine to 13 milligrams of lycopene.
Name a more festive way to eat lycopene than watermelon cake. We will wait:
Not only does papaya help relieve indigestion and constipation, but it is also a good source of lycopene. Add papaya to your morning smoothie, have it as a hydrating snack, or add it to a fresh salsa.
Guava is a delicious tropical fruit with a yellow or light green peel and a fresh dark red or pink color. According to Iu, this powerful fruit contains more than five milligrams of lycopene per 100 grams, and contains vitamin C, vitamin A, and omega-3s. You can choose to eat guavas on their own or add them to a nice glaze for meat.
8. Red pepper
Cayenne pepper is versatile and can be added to almost any dish, from scrambled tofu and avocado toast to sandwiches, wraps, and cereal bowls. In addition to containing lycopene, they are also a hydrating snack since sweet peppers are 92 percent water.
Add sweet pepper to this vibrant peach and avocado salad:
minimum? There are plenty of ways to get your daily dose of lycopene, whether that’s through tomato products or sweeter options, like watermelon. The key is to find the options you like the most to add to your meals during the week.
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