Lycopene is a red pigment found in some fruits and vegetables, especially tomatoes. It has powerful antioxidant properties that give it many health benefits. By neutralizing free radicals(1)Lycopene helps fight cell aging and reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease(2) And some types of cancer(3). Let's take a closer look at the antioxidant role of lycopene and its beneficial effects on health.
- Lycopene is a carotenoid found in tomatoes and other fruits, and acts as a powerful antioxidant. It is beneficial for human health, especially by neutralizing free radicals and possessing other properties favorable to our well-being.
- Among its many benefits, lycopene has anti-cancer properties, especially the prevention of prostate and breast cancer. It also plays a role in heart disease prevention, skin health, eye health, and bone health.
- Tomatoes are the main source of lycopene in the diet, and are best absorbed when foods containing lycopene are cooked and eaten with a fat source.
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Mechanism of action of antioxidants
Lycopene is a fat-soluble antioxidant and belongs to the carotenoid family. Its special chemical composition gives it very powerful antioxidant properties.
Chemical structure of lycopene
Lycopene is a molecule consisting of 40 carbon atoms and 56 hydrogen atoms. Its structure is based on 8 isoprene units linked together to form a symmetrical carbon chain.
It is this long conjugated chain, rich in double bonds, that gives lycopene its exceptional antioxidant properties. Double bonds help delocalize electrons and stabilize free radicals.
Mechanism of neutralizing free radicals
Free radicals are unstable molecules that result from normal cellular metabolism but cause oxidative damage when in excess.
Lycopene can donate a hydrogen atom to these free radicals, thus stopping the chain reaction of oxidation of fats, proteins and DNA. Lycopene exists in the form of the lycopene radical, but this form is stable and does not cause any harm.
Lycopene also replenishes vitamin E, an important fat-soluble antioxidant, by donating a hydrogen atom. Hence these two antioxidants work in synergy.
Unlike other water-soluble antioxidants such as vitamin C, lycopene is fat-soluble. Therefore, it can act at the level of cell membranes composed of lipids.
Lycopene accumulates in membranes and protects them from lipid peroxidation. Maintains membrane integrity and fluidity.
Lycopene works in several ways to protect cardiovascular health(4) :
- It prevents the oxidation of bad LDL cholesterol and prevents the formation of atherosclerotic plaques in the arteries.
- Improves endothelial function and facilitates vasodilation.
- Reduces chronic inflammation associated with cardiovascular disease;
- It lowers blood pressure.
Several epidemiological studies have shown a relationship between a diet rich in tomatoes, a source of lycopene, and a reduced risk of developing some types of cancer, especially prostate cancer.(5)And the lungs and stomach.
Several mechanisms explain the anti-cancer action of lycopene:
- It protects DNA from oxidative damage and limits mutations that can lead to cancer.
- It regulates cell growth and death, and prevents uncontrolled cell proliferation.
- Reduces chronic inflammation associated with the development of cancers;
- It inhibits angiogenesis, the formation of new blood vessels that feed tumors.
In addition to cardiovascular disease and cancers, lycopene can provide other benefits:
- Protection against osteoporosis(6) ;
- Improve skin quality(7) ;
- Preventing age-related eye diseases such as macular degeneration(8).
Although these effects have not yet been confirmed, they may be explained by lycopene's antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. By neutralizing free radicals and pro-inflammatory molecules, lycopene can protect many tissues and organs.
Its regular consumption as part of a balanced diet therefore appears to have very positive repercussions on overall health!
Lycopene is found naturally in many fruits and vegetables, but not all food sources contain the same amounts. Here are the foods rich in lycopene:
Tomatoes are the queen of lycopene sources
Tomatoes and their derivatives such as ketchup, tomato sauce, coulis or tomato juice are the foods that contain the most lycopene. On average, 100 grams of raw tomatoes provide 3 mg of lycopene. But the content can vary greatly depending on the fruit varieties and their maturity. Processed tomatoes, such as ketchup or tomato sauce, contain more lycopene. Their content can reach 50 mg per 100 grams.
During cooking, plant cells are destroyed and the lycopene they contain is released. Therefore, the lycopene found in cooked tomatoes is more absorbed by the body. A study showed that the amount of lycopene absorbed by the body is 5 times greater with cooked tomato sauce than with raw tomatoes!
Watermelon, an often overlooked source of lycopene
After tomatoes, watermelon is the food that contains the most lycopene. An average of 100 grams of watermelon provides 2 to 5 mg of valuable antioxidants. Watermelon is characterized by being eaten raw, which preserves all the nutritional qualities it contains of lycopene. Contrary to popular belief, its red flesh is very rich in lycopene.
Pink grapefruit, an exception among citrus fruits
Most citrus fruits such as oranges or lemons contain a very small amount of lycopene. Pink grapefruit is an exception with an average content of 1 mg per 100 grams of flesh. Therefore, consuming pink grapefruit regularly is a good way to store lycopene.
Other exotic fruits rich in lycopene
Other exotic fruits such as guava, papaya, passion fruit or guava also contain interesting amounts of lycopene. 100 grams of red guava provides about 5 mg of lycopene. Papaya, passion fruit and guava contain about 1 mg per 100 grams.
Improve lycopene absorption
To improve the absorption of lycopene, it is recommended to eat foods that contain it with a little fat, such as olive oil for example. Cooking and chewing also make lycopene easier to release and absorb from food.
There is no official recommendation for consuming lycopene, as research on this nutrient is still ongoing. However, some studies suggest that consuming 10 to 20 milligrams of lycopene daily may benefit your health. It is important to note that this intake can be easily achieved by regularly eating foods rich in lycopene, such as tomatoes and watermelon.
It is also worth noting that although lycopene is generally considered safe, excessive consumption of lycopene can lead to skin discoloration, a condition known as lycopeneoderma. Therefore, it is not recommended to take lycopene supplements without talking to your doctor.
Recipes rich in lycopene
If you're looking to increase your lycopene intake, here are some recipes you can try:
Tomato and watermelon salad : This refreshing salad combines two of the best sources of lycopene. Simply add sliced tomatoes and watermelon to a plate, drizzle with olive oil (which helps increase lycopene absorption), and sprinkle with fresh basil.
Homemade tomato sauce : Making your own tomato sauce is a great way to increase your lycopene intake. Start by sauteing the garlic and onions in olive oil, then add fresh or canned tomatoes and simmer until the sauce reduces and thickens.
Watermelon and guava juice : This refreshing juice is a blast of lycopene. Simply blend watermelon, guava, lemon juice and a little honey in a blender until smooth.
The last word
Lycopene is a true treasure of nature. This carotenoid, which gives tomatoes, watermelon, pink grapefruit and guava their red color, is much more than a simple pigment. It is a powerful antioxidant that, by neutralizing free radicals, can help prevent many diseases, from osteoporosis to cancer.
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(Tags for translation) Mechanism of action of antioxidants
The extremely powerful healthy antioxidants found in tomatoes!