what is lycopene
Lycopene and tomatoes – what’s the big deal, anyway? And for that matter…what is lycopene? Let’s talk about the tomato-lycopene connection, because there is a strong one.
What is Lycopene?
First, what exactly is lycopene? And did you know it was actually named after the humble tomato?
Lycopene is a powerful antioxidant, high in beta-carotene. Its name comes from the tomato’s Latin name, Solanum lycopersicum. Probably because tomatoes are pretty much the best source of lycopene!
Although there hasn’t been enough research as yet, there appears to be a correlation between a higher lycopene intake and the reduced risk of cancer, particularly of the prostate and testes. Guys, eat your tomatoes!
Ladies, don’t feel left out — there’s also a correlation between lycopene and a reduced risk of breast cancer.
As an antioxidant, lycopene has been shown in lab testing to be 100 times more effective than vitamin E — wow! And since the kind of oxidant that’s targeted is produced by ultraviolet light, lycopene is essential for anti-aging skin care.
Have I given you enough reasons for eating lycopene? Now let’s talk about the tomatoes.
Lycopene and Tomatoes
As I mentioned earlier, lycopene takes its name from tomatoes themselves. Are there special tomatoes that are highest in lycopene? Yes and no.
All tomatoes have lycopene, but certain colors have the highest amounts. The winners are the tomatoes with deep red flesh (which includes pink tomatoes because they really do have red flesh — read the tomato colors post for more info).
The paler (and farther way from red) the tomato, the less lycopene is found. So the white tomatoes have the least naturally occurring lycopene amounts.
So, what are some of the tomatoes with the deepest red flesh? Some of the more easily found heirloom tomatoes include:
- Brandywine (the pink and red versions)
- Eva Purple Ball
- Mortgage Lifter
There are also some hybrids which were developed to have a high lycopene component:
- Health Kick
A word on the Tasti-Lee tomatoes — you can often find them in grocery stores, but I would not suggest those — they are gassed to ripen them, and it’s the vine-ripened version that has the high lycopene. Grow your own Tasti-Lee if you want the extra lycopene.
So there you go with the tomato-lycopene connection. So that leads to the question…
…how many tomatoes can you eat before you have too much lycopene — and what are the side effects?
The side effects tend to be skin-related, as your skin can take on a yellowish or orangeish hue. Not to worry, it goes away if you cut down on your tomato indulgences! And you have to eat a lot of tomatoes to get that far — perhaps the equivalent of a dozen large (1-lb+) tomatoes a day, over a long period of time. As much as I love to eat tomatoes (and lots of ‘em), even I can’t manage that many a day, continuously. There are only so many tomato sandwiches, soups, salsas, salads and pasta sauces I can eat on a daily basis.
So eat your tomatoes! Enjoy them and know that by eating them, you are doing something wonderful for your body’s health.
It’s really best that you grow your own tomatoes, and let them vine-ripen naturally. Tomatoes from the grocery store are almost always picked green, and then gassed to look ripe; as a result, their lycopene content is quite diminished. If you’re new to growing tomatoes, check out the tomato growing tips page — it’s fun and you can do it!