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What is lycopene?

Lycopene is a phytochemical that gives numerous fruits and vegetables their red color. Lycopene has antioxidant-like properties and may benefit the body by providing heart health and protection of cells from oxidative stress or certain cancers. Lycopene can be more easily absorbed by the body if it has been gently cooked.

What are the benefits of lycopene?

Most benefits of lycopene are due to its action as an antioxidant. Antioxidants help protect the body from free radicals. Free radicals occur naturally in the body, but when they occur in too great an amount compared to antioxidants, they may create damage leading to oxidative stress. Oxidative stress has been linked to many chronic conditions such as heart disease and certain cancer. As an antioxidant, a diet rich in lycopene has been linked with helping prevent these conditions. Additionally, lycopene may help protect bone, brain, and eye health. 

What foods are high in lycopene?

Lycopene is found in many fruits and vegetables that have a natural red or pink color. Tomatoes, whether fresh, dried, or canned, are one of the foods with the highest amount of lycopene. Other great sources of lycopene include watermelon, red bell peppers, pink grapefruit, guava, papaya, and red cabbage. 

Why should I eat foods with lycopene?

Lycopene is important in the diet because of its antioxidant properties. It helps protect against certain cancers, heart disease, and other effects of oxidative damage. Consuming lycopene from food, rather than from supplements, may offer the most benefit. Talk with your doctor if you are considering a lycopene supplement, as it may interact with certain medications and it is not recommended for those pregnant or breastfeeding.

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Photo of Kristin Ricklefs-Johnson

Medically reviewed by:

Kristin Ricklefs-Johnson, Ph.D., RD

Kristin is an RDN who also earned her Ph.D. in Nutrition from Arizona State University with an emphasis on insulin resistance, lipid metabolism disorders, and obesity. She completed her post-doctoral fellowship at Mayo Clinic where she focused on nutrition-related proteomic and metabolic research. Her interests include understanding the exact mechanism of action of various genetic variations underlying individual predispositions to nutrition-related health outcomes. Her goal is to help all individuals prevent chronic diseases and achieve long, healthy lives through eating well.

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