I thoroughly enjoyed the Total Health show this past weekend; I listened to some excellent speakers, learned about some new Canadian Natural Health products and ate some pretty delicious food from the healthy venders at the show. Aside from the show, I have been so busy with work this past week that I still haven’t been able to enjoy the amazing weather we’ve been having- hopefully that will change this coming week! My leg and ankle is also feeling better than I imagined it would feel. I guess between all the yoga, leg workouts and walking I’ve been doing, I’ve been doing something right! Hopefully, with my leg feeling so good and all of the gorgeous weather, I’ll be able to get outdoors to climb within the next few days! Speaking of outdoors, I am seriously contemplating spending the month of May in Kentucky again .
Here’s a picture of me enjoying a good book (Game of Thrones number 1- who’s watching the new season?!), beautiful weather and my favourite lookout in Lions Head!
Lycopene, the major carotenoid in tomatoes, is an up-and-coming power house nutrient with an impressive spectrum of health benefits. Evidence is accumulating on lycopene’s protective effects on many chronic diseases, including heart disease and cancer; it is currently a hot area for modern nutritional research. Want to know more about why tomatoes and tomato products are such a great addition to your diet?
What is Lycopene?
Lycopene is a fat-soluble red pigment carotenoid that is found in many plants, primarily tomatoes but also (to a lesser degree) in guava, pink grapefruit, watermelon, and papaya. The small structural variations in lycopene compared to other carotenoids give it both its incredible antioxidant activity (higher than other carotenoids) and its associated deep red color. Lycopene readily absorbed to make it the most predominant carotenoid in human blood among the other most common carotenoids, including zeaxanthin, lutein, b-cryptoxanthin, and b-carotene.
What are the health benefits of Lycopene?
High concentrations of blood lycopene levels have been linked with lower risks for age-related macular degeneration, lower cancer risks, lower risks for heart disease, and reduced inflammation. The consumption of 30 mg of lycopene per day, through processed tomato products like juice or spaghetti sauce, has been demonstrated to significantly enhance blood lycopene levels and total antioxidant capacities as well as diminish oxidative stress. The most exciting research on lycopene surrounds its cancer fighting actions. Lycopene has been demonstrated to prevent cancer cell growth in a dose-dependent manner for a number of tissue locations including the mammary gland, endometrium, lungs, and blood. It seems to be particularly strong at preventing sex hormone-dependent cancers, perhaps due to the accumulation of lycopene in sex related tissues.
What makes lycopene such a powerhouse nutrient?
The cancer fighting potential of lycopene can be partially explained by its antioxidant capacity which exceeds other carotenoids and may be based on its chemical structure. Antioxidants effectively quench free radicals that may otherwise cause oxidative damage by reacting with other molecules. Free radicals are important components of the development of chronic diseases, inflammation, and cancer. Research has also demonstrated that lycopene may promote the regeneration of other non-enzymatic dietary antioxidants (vitamin E and C) as well as boost our internal detoxification systems (phase 2 metabolism enzymes).
How can we get the most from tomatoes in terms of lycopene?
Like other carotenoids, the ones in tomatoes (lycopene, phytoene, and phytofluene) are located in the food matrix and are more efficiently absorbed after processing and cooking, which breaks down the food matrix. Since lycopene is lipophilic, it is also best absorbed when it is consumed with fat (e.g. olive oil). Take home point: cook or blend your tomatoes with an oil to get the most bang for your buck in terms of lycopene.
Since lycopene has such great health benefits, should you consider supplementing?
Unlike other carotenoids, lycopene at supplemental doses has not been associated with a pro-oxidant effect at an increased oxidative stress level (e.g. from smoking or drinking). Therefore it would likely be a safe option for a supplement. There is convincing evidence that lycopene alone, in either a synthetic or natural form, can prevent cancer. However, when consumed in a food complex with other phytonutrients, lycopene has significantly improved health benefits, likely through a synergistic modulation of transcription. Benefits can therefore be gained by simply adding more tomato or tomato products to your diet, but particularly by cooking tomatoes with oil. If you still want to supplement, make sure that the tomato extract is in an oil suspension.
Tomatoes are not only a nutritious addition to your diet, but they are also delicious! What gets better than sides of salsa, tomato sauce, or one of my favourites’, bruschetta? Here are some delicious recipes that include this powerful super food!
Kelkel M, Schumacher M, Dicato M, Dederich M. (2011) Antioxidant and anti-proliferative properties of lycopene. Free Rad Research 45(8): 925–940
Sharoni Y, Linnewiel-Hermoni K, Zango G, Khanin M, Salman H, Veprik A, Danilenko M, Levy J. (2012) The role of lycopene and its derivatives in the regulation of transcription systems: implications for cancer prevention. Am J Clin Nutr 96(suppl):1173S–8S.
Wang X. (2012) Lycopene metabolism and its biological significance. Am J Clin Nutr 96(suppl):1214S–22S.