Lycopene: Heinz tomato ketchup did a lot of promoting of lycopene, especially in the late 90s, but what is it?
Lycopene, is another phytonutrient! It is the bright red carotenoid pigment. It's usually associated with tomatoes, but it is also found in:
red bell pepper
Unfortunately for any raw-foodies out there, lycopene is more bioavailable after is is processed or heated. It is even better when consumed with a fat (such as olive oil). The processing is what makes ketchup and tomato sauces a good source of lycopene, whereas raw tomatoes, are not.
As per usual with antioxidants, there is a lot of missing or conflicting research. However, based on empirical data there is an inverse relationship between consumption of lycopene/serum lycopene levels and chronic diseases, including cancer.
Lycopene works it's magic by quenching free radicals on a mission to steal from your cells. In vitro, (like test-tube-lab-studies) lycopene has been shown to decrease DNA damage, decrease oxidative stress, decrease oxidation of LDL, and prevent lipid peroxidation.
In vivo, (in living creatures), lycopene's metabolism is much less understood, and its overall health benefits still remain controversial. More research is needed especially in the area of how lycopene interacts without metabolites and environmental factors.
Nonetheless, as with most antioxidants, the sources of lycopene are healthy overall. (tomatoes, watermelon, grapefruit?) If you are getting your lycopene from ketchup, just remember its sodium and sugar content, maybe try a no sodium or natural kind.
So…. how do you say tomato?