ShareTomatoes contain lycopene, a red carotenoid pigment and phytonutrient that is also found in watermelon, pink grapefruit, pink guava, and papaya.
Lycopene is responsible for the red color of tomatoes. In the tomato plant, lycopene helps in the process of photosynthesis and protects the plant from excessive light damage. Lycopene is a potent antioxidant, one of the estimated 600 naturally occurring carotenoids.
Although lycopene is not an essential nutrient for humans, it can accumulate in certain tissues and high intakes of lycopene may protect against some cancers and cardiovascular disease1. There are many mechanisms by which lycopene may protect against cancer. Lycopene is a potent antioxidant and can eliminate damaging free radicals in the body’s tissues, in addition to increasing production of the body’s own antioxidant enzymes2.
Lycopene has received the most attention for its possible protection against prostate cancer in men2. Many studies have found that men with higher intakes of tomatoes and tomato products have a lower risk of prostate cancer. Based on these studies, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved a qualified health claim regarding the relationship between tomatoes and prostate cancer, stating “very limited and preliminary scientific research suggests that eating one-half to one cup of tomatoes and/or tomato sauce a week may reduce the risk of prostate cancer”.
Several studies have examined the relationship between lycopene levels in the body and the risk of cardiovascular disease. Lower levels of lycopene in the body tend to be associated with early atherosclerosis and a higher risk of heart attack.