It’s hard to imagine life without tomatoes, but did you know that they’ve only been part of European cuisine for 500 years? It wasn’t until the Spanish conquistadors arrived in South America that the tomato found its way into Spanish, French and Italian cuisine – and yes, it really is hard to imagine any of those cuisines without it today.
Spare a thought for how much nutrition the Europeans were missing out on, too. It might not be an everyday word, but tomatoes are packed with a nutrient called lycopene, and this superstar offers a myriad of health benefits.
1. The Antioxidant Dynamo
Lycopene is a member of the carotenoid family, which includes well-known compounds like beta-carotene, and that’s where tomatoes get their vibrant colours from. What you may or may not realise is that this colour isn’t just pretty, it also carries significant antioxidant properties.
Lycopene's robust antioxidant activity makes it a powerful guardian against oxidative stress, helping to neutralise free radicals and prevent cellular damage. By doing so, lycopene plays a crucial role in reducing the risk of chronic diseases and promoting overall well-being.
2. Heart Health Guardian
Another prominent health benefit associated with lycopene is its positive impact on heart health. Studies have shown that diets rich in lycopene are associated with a lower risk of cardiovascular diseases. Lycopene's ability to reduce oxidative stress and inflammation within blood vessels contributes to improved heart health by promoting healthy circulation and preventing the buildup of arterial plaque.
Additionally, lycopene has been linked to maintaining healthy blood pressure levels. Research has found that participants who consumed lycopene-rich tomato extract experienced a significant reduction in systolic blood pressure. This effect is attributed to lycopene's ability to relax blood vessels and enhance their flexibility.
3.. Cancer Fighter
Numerous studies have explored the potential role that lycopene can play in reducing the risk of various cancers, particularly prostate cancer. This comes down to the antioxidant properties that play a critical role in inhibiting the growth of cancer cells and preventing their spread.
4. Skin Health and Sun Protection
Lycopene doesn't just work its magic on the inside; it also offers benefits for your skin. As a potent antioxidant, lycopene helps protect skin cells from UV-induced damage caused by sun exposure. By reducing oxidative stress and inflammation, lycopene contributes to maintaining healthy skin and preventing premature aging.
Interestingly, some studies suggest that consuming lycopene-rich foods may provide a level of natural sun protection from within. Lycopene isn’t about to become a practical replacement for sunscreen, however making sure that you get enough lycopene into your can complement your sun protection routine and offer an additional layer of defence against harmful UV rays.
5. Eye Health Support
Finally, lycopene's benefits extend to supporting eye health as well. As a carotenoid, lycopene accumulates in the retina and other ocular tissues, where it plays a protective role against age-related macular degeneration (AMD) and other vision-related issues. AMD is a leading cause of vision loss in older adults, and lycopene's antioxidant properties are believed to help prevent or, at least, slow down the progression of this condition.
Cooking tomatoes for 5-30min significantly increases the lycopene content, particularly when cooked in extra virgin olive oil.
But I don’t like tomatoes! How can I get lycopene?
Tomato is such a versatile fruit, that it’s hard to imagine anyone’s diet not featuring it at some level. Whether that be simple sauces for pasta, or base ingredients in stews or curries, the tomato truly is a staple.
Still, if you are one of the people that avoids tomato, the good news is there are plenty of other fruits and vegetables that are rich in lycopene, including:
- Watermelon: Watermelon is another excellent source of lycopene. Its juicy and refreshing nature makes it a popular choice, especially during the summer months.
- Pink Grapefruit: Pink grapefruit contains lycopene along with other beneficial compounds like vitamin C and fibre.
- Guava: This tropical fruit is not only rich in vitamin C but also provides a substantial amount of lycopene.
- Red and Pink Papaya: Papaya is not only a delicious tropical fruit but also a source of lycopene that can contribute to your daily intake.
- Red Capsicum: While they may not be as red as tomatoes, the red variety of capsicum still contains a good dose of lycopene, along with other essential nutrients.
- Pink or Red Guavas: Guavas, especially pink or red varieties, are lycopene-rich and provide a unique flavour profile.
- Pink Persimmons: These fruits offer lycopene along with dietary fibre and other nutrients.
- Cooked Red Cabbage: Cooking red cabbage can enhance its lycopene content and make it a valuable addition to your diet.
- Asparagus: While not as well-known for lycopene content as some other foods, asparagus does contain this beneficial compound in smaller amounts. And it’s not red, so there’s some colour variety for you!
Lycopene's positive impact on overall health cannot be overstated and it’s important to make sure you get a good dose of it every day. Thankfully, with such a range of flavours and international cuisines that have adapted to have lycopene-rich produce in them, and with every box of Good & Fugly almost certain to have something to boost your lycopene in it, this should be one that’s easy to keep up with.