Many of the fruits and vegetables we eat are endowed with rich, vibrant colors.
For many, the coloration of fruits and vegetables doesn’t signify much beyond being able to tell how ripe they are for example.
But the color of a plant tells a much deeper story nutritionally speaking.
In fact, the color, or pigment of many plants are themselves the very nutrients that characterize unique health benefits.
One such pigment is red lycopene.
Lycopene is the red pigment found in foods such as tomatoes, guavas, pink grapefruit, and watermelon. We’ll get more into those more.
But first, what is lycopene?
Aside from being the pigment that gives plants their red color, it’s a potent antioxidant.
It belongs to a group of plant-based chemicals called carotenoids.
As an antioxidant, lycopene helps protect your cells against oxidative stress, a condition where unstable molecules called free radicals to cause damage to your cell membranes
This leads to tissue degeneration and inflammation, increasing the risk of chronic illness.
Age-related neurodegenerative diseases such as dementia and Alzheimer’s are increased in risk due to oxidative stress.
Lycopene has also been shown to protect against the harmful effects of pesticides and herbicides used in commercial farming
The cardiovascular system also benefits from the health-boosting effects of lycopene.
That’s because it helps lower LDL cholesterol which is considered as “bad” cholesterol as opposed to HDL, which is considered “good”
By lowering LDL cholesterol, lycopene reduces the risk of chronic hypertension, which can lead to a litany of heart-related health issues such as atherosclerosis.
Lastly, lycopene has the potential to nourish the skin and protect it from solar ray damage.
It’s kind of ironic that eating tomatoes could possibly protect you from looking like one.
With that said, let’s look at which foods contain lycopene and what other compound health benefits they have.
The most popular lycopene source is by far the tomato.
There is a strange catch when it comes to tomatoes and lycopene containing foods in general.
Heating, cooking or mechanical processing increases the bioavailability of lycopene in a certain food.
So when it comes to tomatoes, you will get more from a marinara sauce that a whole fresh tomato.
That’s because lycopene is locked behind the tough walls of the plant cells it’s typically contained in.
By breaking down these walls through mechanical or heat processing, you unlock more of the antioxidant for free use in your body.
Tomatoes also contain fiber, and an abundance of vitamin C, vitamin K, and folate.
Guavas are a delicious, aromatic tropical fruit known for their juicy seed-filled pulp and pink/ruby color.
This color is of course, due to the presence of lycopene.
Guava lycopene bioavailability is boosted when you consume guava puree or dried guava fruit confections.
The fruit is also a great source of potassium, fiber and vitamin C.
Watermelons are amazing fruits, their 90% water content gives them the unique characteristic of being more of a hydration source than a food source.
However, they do contain lycopene, which is why they have their rich red/ruby color.
Watermelons are also a good source of magnesium, potassium and some B vitamins.
Pink grapefruit is one of the healthiest ways to start your day, it is an abundant source of vitamin C as can be expected from citrus fruit.
Its lycopene concentration is our main focus in this article, however, giving grapefruit all the same health-boosting qualities as other foods on this list.
It is also low in calories and contains thiamine, a nootropic amino acid, as well as potassium, magnesium, vitamin A and folate.
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Another tropical fruit, papayas have a deep pink/orange flesh packed with many healthy compounds including lycopene.
Papayas are also rich in fiber, which has a gut protective benefit as well as a blood-glucose-lowering effect.
Lastly, papaya seeds have been proven to treat gut parasites.
Lycopene is one of the best antioxidants you can benefit from in your diet.
By including these foods and more, you can unlock some of these potent qualities, allowing you to live and optimized, and perhaps longer life.
Just remember that lycopene requires some work in terms of processing to make it effectively bioavailable.
Cooking, pressing or pureeing should do the trick, then it’s Bon appetit!