Lycopene and why we should top up on tomatoes!

by Sue Bedford Msc Nutrtional Therapy

So what is lycopene, what connection does it have with tomatoes and why is it so beneficial for us? We turned to leading nutritionist, Sue Bedford, to tell us more!

Lycopene is a naturally occurring carotenoid. The main food source of lycopene for many being the tomato.

Carotenoids are such powerful antioxidants and provide red, yellow and orange colour to fruit and vegetables.  They have an important role in that they protect the cells of the body from damage caused by free radicals.

There have been various studies conducted into the benefits of lycopene in the prevention and treatment of various cancers, atherosclerosis and heart disease.

As far as fertility, there have also been some studies into the beneficial effects of lycopene on male fertility 

Research has been carried out to examine the effect of the antioxidants in lycopene in helping to protect developing sperm from free radical damage and possible DNA damage.

‘Our work shows that a diet rich in lycopene can promote fertility in men struggling with infertility. In part we can conclude that men who have poor quality sperm can benefit from lycopene, and should consider a balanced diet as part of their strategy to reproduce, especially a diet including tomatoes’ said Dr. Narmada Gupta, Head of the Urology Department at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences in New Delhi, India. Further studies have now found that antioxidants can elevate sperm count, morphology, motility and concentration.

In women, recent research has indicated that lycopene may be useful in reducing the abnormal activity of cells and as a result may reduce the adhesion effects of endometriosis

Dr Tarek Dbouk, from Wayne State University in Detroit, Michigan, said  ‘What we found in our laboratory study is that lycopene can help with the adhesions that these conditions cause. One of the major complications of endometriosis is that it causes inflammation which induces adhesions. The inflammation basically causes scarring. What we did was to look at protein markers that could help us trace the activity of the abnormal cells that cause these adhesions. The lycopene worked to reduce the abnormal activity of these cells. So, hypothetically speaking, we might be able to reduce the adhesion effects of endometriosis.’

Dr Dbouk also added that ‘It is certainly possible that you could get the amount you need from your diet.’ More research is to be conducted into the amount of lycopene required.

Research has also discovered that cooked tomato products provide a more readily available source of lycopene as compared to raw tomato

This is due to the fact that the cooking process releases lycopene from the cell walls of the tomato. Other good food sources of lycopene are pink grapefruit, watermelon, guava and rosehip.

So what are the top tips on ways to get the most out of your tomatoes!

  • Buy ripe tomatoes as they have a considerably higher lycopene content than was thought to be the case as ‘under ripe’ tomatoes have considerably less lycopene in them.
  • Try growing your own!
  • Cook using tomato puree as it has a lower water content than fresh tomato, so the nutrients are concentrated. In recent studies it has been discovered that lycopene is more bio-available from tomato paste than from fresh tomatoes.
  • Enjoy your tomatoes with a little olive oil as this will increase how much lycopene your body absorbs.

Click here for a fantastic recipe to get the most out of your tomatoes and for more fantastic recipes too

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