Tomatoes are healthy for a lot of reasons! They are an excellent source of vitamins A and C and potassium. They are also high in water and low in calories, which is great for weight loss and hydration!
But the thing that makes tomatoes extra special, is…They are loaded with lycopene!
Lycopene is the red color pigment found in some fruits and vegetables, including tomatoes, pink grapefruit and watermelon. Lycopene is a powerful antioxidant, which helps your body fight free radicals and the damage they can cause, and it belongs to a large family of phytonutrients called carotenoids.
Lycopene and other carotenoids have strong cancer-fighting properties. The AICR (American Institute of Cancer Research) has tomatoes on their list of “Foods that Fight Cancer.” Lycopene may also have anti-inflammatory and immune system benefits and and may help protect against heart attacks.
Tomato-based products are the best sources of lycopene. According to the National Institutes of Health, we get about 85% of the lycopene in our diets from tomatoes and tomato products.
While raw sources of lycopene are good, cooked sources are even better. Cooking actually enhances the bioavailability of lycopene so that your body absorbs it better. Fat helps with absorption too. Therefore, cooked tomato products – especially those cooked with a little olive oil or other healthy fat – are the best sources of lycopene.
|Tomato paste, canned||1 cup||75.4|
|Tomato purée, canned||1 cup||54.4|
|Tomato soup, canned, condensed||1 cup||26.4|
|Vegetable juice cocktail, canned||1 cup||23.3|
|Tomato juice, canned||1 cup||22.0|
|Watermelon, raw||1 wedge||13.0|
|Tomatoes, raw||1 cup||4.6|
|Catsup (ketchup)||1 tablespoon||2.5|
|Pink grapefruit, raw||½ grapefruit||1.7|
|Baked beans, canned||1 cup||1.3|
There is currently not a recommended daily intake for lycopene. Research indicates, however, that including a variety of high lycopene foods may help prevent certain cancers and reduce the incidence of cardiovascular disease, among other health benefits.
If you are choosing prepared tomato products, be sure to check your labels. Some of these items are notoriously high in added salt and sugar. Look for lower-sodium and no-added-sugar options. Or, if you have the time, try your hand at a homemade marinara, tomato soup or bruschetta.
Note: not all red foods contain lycopene. For example, strawberries, raspberries and cherries do not contain lycopene. They get their red pigment from anthocyanins, another healthy antioxidant.
Want some tomato recipes? Check out these links:
The Florida Tomato Committee – http://www.floridatomatoes.org/recipes/
References and More Great Resources for Information on Lycopene
Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine. How Lycopene Helps Protect Against Cancer.
American Institute for Cancer Research. Heat, Shape and Type: Increasing Lycopene Absorption.
Oregon State University, Linus Pauling Institute. Micronutrient Information Center.
Dr. Weil. Vitamin Library.