Eat red for lycopene

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.


Food Serving Lycopene (mg)
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:  

Eating Well –

The Florida Tomato Committee –

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.



Jen Kim, RDN

About Jen Kim, RDN

Jennifer is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN). She completed her Bachelor's of Science degree at the University of Illinois, and holds a Master's Degree in Business Administration (MBA) from San Diego State University. Jennifer also has a Certification in Adult Weight Management. She has worked in hospitals as a Clinical Dietitian, done obesity research and worked as a Corporate Dietitian for a national weight loss company. Jennifer is passionate about helping people live healthier lives. She believes in a balanced approach to nutrition - where all foods can fit - centered around a natural, plant-based diet. Jen lives in San Diego with her husband and two boys - where she enjoys playing soccer and tennis, hiking, playing on the beach, playing board games and shooting pool.

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