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What are the Best Sources of Lycopene?

By Liz Fernandez
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Lycopene is an antioxidant pigment that gives certain foods their reddish color. Studies have shown that eating foods rich in it may help reduce the risk of cancer, macular degeneration, and cardiovascular disease. Tomatoes, grapefruits, and watermelons are the best known sources of lycopene.

Considered a strong antioxidant, lycopene has a high oxygen-quenching capacity. It is powerful at neutralizing free radicals, which protects cells from deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) damage. Other attributes include aiding cell-to-cell communication and controlling cell growth.

Experts recommend incorporating 25 to 75 milligrams of this antioxidant a day into a healthy diet. Tomato products have the greatest amount. It is easier to absorb the antioxidant from cooked tomatoes, so spaghetti sauce is a good option for people seeking at least 20 milligrams of it. Drinking tomato juice also provides a high dose of it — one cup has more than 20 milligrams.

When shopping for tomatoes, experts recommend purchasing those fruits that are reddest in color. They contain the highest amounts of lycopene. Cooked tomato products, such as tomato sauce, tomato paste, and ketchup, also have high amounts of the antioxidant. Health experts warn, however, that a person should stay away from the varieties that have high levels of sugar and salt.

Serving tomato products in oil is said to increase the benefits of the antioxidant. It is fat-soluble, so the oil helps with absorption. The oil typically increases the assimilation of the antioxidant into the bloodstream.

Watermelon is another great source of lycopene. A slice of the fruit can contain about 13 milligrams and is also rich in potassium, vitamin C, and vitamin A. Although not as rich a source as watermelon, pink grapefruit contains about 2 milligrams along with vitamin A and vitamin C. Other fruits rich in the antioxidant include apricots and pink guavas.

Some studies have shown that lycopene can help reduce the risk of certain cancers, such as prostate, lung, and breast cancer. It may also help reduce the incidence of digestive cancers, such as those of the mouth, esophagus, stomach, colon, and intestines. Other benefits include helping prevent macular degeneration, cardiovascular disease, and osteoporosis. Some allergy sufferers experience reduced symptoms thanks to diets rich in it.

There are some scientists who are not convinced of the benefits, however. They argue that the health benefits that have been observed come from the interaction of it with other micronutrients in foods. These scientists believe the antioxidant plays a role, but is not solely responsible for achieving such health benefits.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Discussion Comments
By SarahSon — On Mar 23, 2012

If somebody doesn't eat many foods that contain lycopene, is there some type of lycopene supplement you can buy?

The only food mentioned, that has this in high amounts, that my kids and husband will eat is watermelon. My kids might get some when they have spaghetti or pizza, but my husband doesn't even like very much sauce on his pizza.

I switched from drinking fruit juice in the morning to tomato juice. The biggest reason I did this was to consume less calories and get another serving of vegetables in my diet.

At the time, I never even gave it a thought that I was consuming more lycopene as well. It does have quite a bit more sodium than fruit juice does, but about 2/3 less calories.

By honeybees — On Mar 22, 2012

It sounds like it would be easy for me to get the recommended amount of lycopene in the summer time. I enjoy the foods of all the lycopene sources mentioned in this article.

I have a big garden, and always plant a lot of tomatoes and make sure I have plenty of watermelon. Whatever tomatoes we don't eat fresh, I will freeze to make my own sauce or add to soups later on.

There is nothing tastier than picking a bright red tomato, or ripe watermelon that has been warmed by the sun and eating it right away.

I don't live in an area where I can grow my own grapefruit, but always look forward to this when it is in season. In the winter, we have grapefruit for breakfast many mornings of the week.

Most of my sources of lycopene are from fresh fruits, but hopefully I eat enough of them to get as much as I need.

By golf07 — On Mar 22, 2012

I never realized that your body absorbed more lycopene when it was from cooked tomatoes, than when they are fresh. I know when it comes to tomatoes and tomato products, everybody has different tastes.

I could sit down and eat a whole plate of fresh tomatoes right out of the garden. When it comes to ketchup and tomato paste or sauce, I am not that crazy about it.

On the other hand, my sister cannot stand fresh tomatoes, but will eat ketchup and sauce with tomatoes in it with no problem.

I would have never guessed she was probably getting more lycopene than I am by eating the fresh tomatoes. Since neither one of us care for watermelon, we can't rely on getting any lycopene from watermelon.

By sunshined — On Mar 21, 2012

I have noticed that many bottles of ketchup say something on the label about how much lycopene is in a serving.

After seeing this, I knew it must be important, but never really knew what the lycopene benefits were.

If ketchup is a good source of lycopene, my family should be getting quite a bit of it. My kids love ketchup on just about anything. My husband also has ketchup on his sandwich for lunch just about every day.

It seems like they are trying to make ketchup healthier, or at least make you aware of some benefits of using it. I have also noticed many of them don't contain high fructose corn syrup in them either.

Some brands have quite a bit more sugar than others do, so I guess that is one downside. I don't see how you would get as much lycopene from eating ketchup as you would eating fresh tomatoes.

By lighth0se33 — On Mar 21, 2012

You have to be careful if you are relying on grapefruit for your source of lycopene. If you are on any type of medication, eating grapefruit or drinking grapefruit juice could be dangerous.

When I enrolled in a clinical study involving a drug to treat kidney disease, the doctor told me to avoid grapefruit while on the drug. He said that grapefruit can cause your body to absorb more of a medication than it was meant to, and you could suffer an overdose. This is true for any type of medicine.

So, I've been relying on watermelon for lycopene when it is in season. During the other times of the year, I just drink tomato juice.

By OeKc05 — On Mar 20, 2012

I'm glad that a helpful amount of lycopene is in tomato sauce, because my husband refuses to eat big chunks of tomato. If it has been pureed, though, he is perfectly fine with it.

He just doesn't like the gooey texture of the inside of a tomato. He will actually pick the pieces out of a dish, and that made me worry about him getting enough lycopene and vitamins.

He will gladly eat tomato sauce on spaghetti and pizza, and that makes me happy. I will continue eating the chunks of tomato that he fishes out of my dishes so that I get some extra lycopene.

By seag47 — On Mar 19, 2012

@shell4life – Since dogs can get cancer too, I believe they can benefit from lycopene. Some of the higher priced dogfood brands contain tomato extracts because of their lycopene content.

While the leaves and stem of a tomato plant can be toxic to dogs, the fruit itself is pretty safe. I had asked my vet about this after I caught my dog eating rotten tomatoes that had fallen off the vine, and she reassured me that as long as he just eats a few of the fruits, he will be all right. She also told me that he was unknowingly giving himself lycopene!

I find it funny that animals will eat things like watermelon and tomatoes. It makes me wonder if they somehow intuitively know that they need the antioxidants and nutrients.

By shell4life — On Mar 19, 2012

I hope that dogs can benefit from this antioxidant, because my two Weimaraners get plenty of lycopene from watermelons. I can't seem to keep them from eating these in the summertime!

We grow them in our garden, and if any pop or become overripe, the dogs sniff them out. I have actually seen them pull the melons from the vines!

My parents and I eat plenty of watermelon during the summer months, so we are probably good with our lycopene levels. We toss out the rinds with some fruit still intact, and the dogs are thrilled to eat the leftovers.

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