There are few things as beautiful as a bowl of brightly-colored fruits and vegetables—and there are few foods that can better nourish you. Inside these gems are vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients that can fuel your body, help promote overall health, and even give your skin a radiant glow.
One such nutrient you ought to actively seek out on the regular? Carotenoids—uber-healthy plant pigments that give fruits and vegetables their hue.
Lycopene falls underneath this carotenoid umbrella and is appearing more and more in the limelight. For a good reason, too: The phytonutrient, which gives tomatoes their fire-engine red shade, has been linked to dozens of wellness benefits; after all, phytonutrients help maintain the well-being of the plant by shielding it against environmental elements such as toxins, the sun and insects.
Read on to learn more about lycopene—and why you may want to bring more of it into your diet.
What are some lycopene benefits?
Lycopene is considered the most effective antioxidant out of the carotenoid family. Meaning, it has the natural ability to support enhanced health by guarding your body against free radical damage—injury to your cells that can result in a host of complications, including cancer.†
First isolated in 1910—with its full chemical structure discovered in 1930—clinical studies indicate that the nutrient organically boosts cardiovascular health and normal immune function, while also aiding in the maintenance of a healthy prostate. What’s more, research published by the National Library of Medicine found that lycopene can not only help with infections, but also help mend the blood-spinal cord barrier in cases of spinal cord injury.†
Happen to be female? Phytonutrients themselves are especially valuable, in that research has linked them to less vulnerability to breast and ovarian cancer. Lastly, evidence demonstrates that lycopene helps protect skin from the damaging effects of ultraviolet light exposure.†
How much lycopene per day do I need?
While there are no known symptoms of a lycopene deficiency, some research demonstrates that an inadequate intake of carotenoids can set the stage for the development of several chronic diseases. In addition, there is no daily recommended value for lycopene; that said, studies suggest that intakes between 8-21 mg per day appear to be the most beneficial, Healthline reports. Moreover, a diet high in phytochemicals has been linked to a bunch of health pluses, including stronger bones, an enriched memory and protection against sunburn.†
What lycopene foods should I reach for?
Love fruits and vegetables? You’re in luck. While tomatoes are the richest source of lycopene, the nutrient is also found in guavas, watermelon, winter squash, carrots, grapefruit, sweet red peppers, papaya, persimmon, asparagus, red cabbage, mangoes and the Vietnamese fruit, Gac.
When selecting foods to increase your lycopene intake, do note that since lycopene is a fat-soluble nutrient, it’s absorbed best when it’s consumed with fats, such as olive oil, seeds and nuts. (It’s no wonder that the olive oil and tomato-heavy Mediterranean diet is deemed one of the healthiest in the world.)
Is it possible to have too much lycopene?
Eating a surplus of foods that contain carotenoids, such as lycopene, have no known deleterious side effects. However, the old saying—that eating too many carrots can cause your skin to take on an orange hue—holds true. As NDSU reports, “excessive consumption of lycopene can cause a deep orange discoloration of the skin, a harmless condition called lycopenodermia.”
There have also been several side effects associated with high-lycopene consumption, including diarrhea, gas, cramps, and a loss of appetite. Few of us could possibly eat that much lycopene-rich foods—also, the nontoxic reaction lycopenodermia can be abolished by going lycopene-free for a couple of weeks—but, as with everything, moderation is key.
Should I take a lycopene supplement?
Obtaining your nutritional needs from food is often the wisest choice. That said, lycopene supplements can help you increase your consumption of this superstar nutrient. Do note that lycopene should be avoided by women who are pregnant or breastfeeding. Furthermore, lycopene may up the risk of bleeding when taking certain medications, such as aspirin and blood thinners; the same goes for mixing lycopene with some herbs, including ginkgo biloba.
In sum: Evaluate your needs with your physician or health care professional to guarantee that lycopene is right for you, your current medications and supplements, and your needs; should you go with one, be sure to select a quality brand that delivers quality ingredients.
In the meantime, wash off that organic tomato and take a hearty bite, knowing you are doing your body a solid.
†These statements have not been approved by the Food and Drug Administration. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent disease.