Lycopene is an antioxidant found in a lot of red foods. It’s been around for ages, but only recently has it been getting a lot of rep as a powerhouse antioxidant. (Those are the nutrients that clean your body of harmful free radicals that oxidize and cause damage to your cells, arteries, organs—basically destroying you from the inside out!) Lycopene is particularly powerful when it comes to neutralizing free radicals created by exposing your skin to the sun. This also helps it to protect your skin from the aging process.
Protects Against Disease
One lycopene benefit is that it can help prevent some really nasty conditions, from the aging of your skin to osteoporosis, diabetes, heart disease, and even cancer! Lycopene is especially known for its powerful effect in preventing prostate cancer. For this reason, men are encouraged to take a supplement if they don’t get enough lycopene through their diet!
Lycopene is also thought to help protect against lung cancer, asthma (particularly asthma induced by exercise), and cardiovascular disease.
As stated above, lycopene is the red antioxidant. The primary source for most Americans is tomatoes, and tomato-related products, like pasta sauce, pizza sauce, tomato soup, and ketchup. Other red foods have it, too, however; like watermelon, grapefruit, and papaya.
Get the Most Out of Your Lycopene
One way they say to increase the effect of lycopene is by cooking your foods. This is a little unusual; often, cooking food too much can cause it to break down, destroying its nutrients. Not with lycopene! If you’re going to have some pasta sauce or tomato, try heating it up a little first. Your cells will thank you!
Are There Side Effects?
Good news—there does not appear to be an overdose problem when it comes to lycopene intake. Of course, it’s a good idea to talk to your doctor, but you should feel pretty safe taking a regular lycopene supplement (especially if you’re a man). There might be additional benefits to getting your lycopene from natural sources, such as the presence of other vitamins and minerals in the food.
However, if you’re pregnant, it is recommended to avoid lycopene supplements (not foods) due to a lack of data. It’s probably fine, but better to be on the safe side. It may also interact with some cholesterol-lowering drugs and beta-carotene.