5 Foods That Are Full of Lycopene

One of the beauties of summer is the simplicity of the food you eat. Summertime meals are often light, fresh, and colorful, as well as easy to prepare. Picking a fresh salad from the garden or exploring the local farmers market to find seasonal produce can inspire a simple, healthy meal to share with loved ones.

What Is Lycopene?

But the seasonal food of summer isn’t just light and fresh; it also provides an array of beneficial nutrients like lycopene. Known as one of nature’s most potent phytonutrients and antioxidants, lycopene is found in many of summer’s bountiful crops.

Lycopene is part of a family of plant-based, fat-soluble antioxidants called carotenoids, which includes other common phytonutrients such as beta carotene, alpha carotene, lutein, and zeaxanthin.

How much lycopene you need to thrive is debatable. According to a recent study by the Journal of Nutrition, there is a need for improved methods to assess lycopene intake within a range of populations as well as more controlled and monitored studies. A professor of nutrition and epidemiology at the Harvard School of Public Health recommends at least 10,000 mg or 1,000 μg per day of lycopene from food.  

This may sound like a lot, but it’s not hard to get this daily recommended amount from the foods you eat regularly. Just look for those colorful foods of summer. It turns out that lycopene is responsible for the red pigment in many foods.

Do you love fresh summer tomatoes and watermelon? You will be glad you do after hearing about the plant nutrition that might already be growing in your garden. One cup of tomatoes has 3,834 μg of lycopene and a cup of pink watermelon has close to 7,000 μg.

Benefits of Lycopene

Recognized for its cancer-fighting and heart-strengthening properties, lycopene has also been found to have anti-fungal characteristics to go after candida and reduce inflammation in moderately overweight, middle-aged people.

Here are five lycopene rich foods that will leave you feeling vital and strong—all the way to your cells.

1. Watermelon

You may know watermelon as the sweet, hydrating, and cooling summer fruit found at neighborhood barbeques and family picnics. Even better, watermelon is good for your health!  One study showed that red-fleshed watermelon is the highest (per density) source of lycopene in the edible plant world—with a 40 percent higher lycopene content than tomatoes—at 6,979 μg (divide by 1,000 to calculate mg; here it equals 6.9 mg). 

Researchers have also found that watermelon is one of the few sources of lycopene that is readily available to the human body without heating or cooking.

How to enjoy: Enjoy watermelon as a wonderful cooling summer snack or in a green smoothie or summer salad (see recipe at the bottom of this page for a watermelon salad!). Watermelon makes for a great juice or try adding a slice to your water for a sweet and cooling beverage. 

2. Tomato

There is nothing that says summer more than a ripe tomato fresh from the garden. Processed tomatoes are the most popular lycopene-dense food in the U.S.According to Harvard Medical School Raw tomatoes have 3,833.8 μg. One cup of sun-dried tomato contains approximately 24,787 μg of lycopene and one cup of canned tomato purée contains 54,385 μg.  

One study showed that cooking tomatoes gently with a little bit of healthy fat, such as olive or coconut oil, increases the lycopene’s potency and makes it more absorbable on a cellular level.

How to enjoy: Tomatoes have been a culinary dream for cultures far and wide for centuries. From pasta sauce to pizza sauce, to a fresh Caprese salad, enjoy tomatoes in all your favorite varieties.

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3. Pink Grapefruit

While grapefruit has been primarily known for its high levels of vitamin C, there are many more health benefits to this juicy, succulent, sweet fruit. Not only is pink grapefruit high in lycopene at 2,610 μg (the brighter pink the better), it is also low in sugar compared to most fruits (25 on the glycemic index scale). The health benefits are vast when it comes to grapefruit, including benefits beyond those of lycopene, such as metabolic enhancement and antioxidant protection.

How to enjoy: Cut grapefruit into fresh slices as a snack, include it in your favorite salad, fresh juices, or use grapefruit essential oil or grapefruit seed oil for more potent medicinal value. 

4. Asparagus

The Roman emperor Augustus dedicated an entire fleet of ships to hauling asparagus. He was on to something.

You may be a surprised that asparagus is on the list of high-potency lycopene foods, but not all lycopene-rich foods are red! While media focuses mainly on tomatoes with regards to lycopene-rich foods, this dark green vegetable is also a good source of lycopene.

How to enjoy: Roast with a dash of avocado oil and sea salt, grill with a little lemon zest and olive oil, blend into a vegetable bisque, or even steam and toss on top of your favorite salad. Asparagus is a versatile and tasty addition to any meal.

5. Red Cabbage

Need a different spin on your summer salads? This purple crunchy, cruciferous delight is a great addition to any meal. Red cabbage is also a source of lycopene (along with many other phytonutrients) and is easy to doctor up for a delicious summer meal. This dynamic antioxidant-rich food has been featured in hundreds of studies on cancer prevention and cancer treatment.

How to enjoy: Try shredding some red cabbage and tossing with sesame oil and rice vinegar for an Asian-style coleslaw. Add some fermented red cabbage as a condiment to your meal in the form of sauerkraut or kimchi (for a probiotic boost), or toss red cabbage into a stir-fry or soup.

Including the above five foods in your meals on a regular basis will ensure you are getting your daily dose of lycopene. Lycopene benefits almost every system in your body and, most of all, nourishes your cellular chemistry, protecting your cells from toxic stress and keeping you in tip-top shape. Remember, when your cells are happy, you are happy!

Recipe: Watermelon Arugula Salad with Goat Cheese and Pistachios in a Balsamic Glaze

Try this simple salad for a fresh summertime taste and a lycopene infusion.

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups cubed watermelon
  • 8 cups baby arugula
  • 1 cup goat cheese, crumbled
  • 1 cup shelled roasted pistachios
  • 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon raw honey
  • Dash sea salt
  • Dash black pepper
  • Red onion (optional)
  • Your favorite protein topping (optional)

Directions:

For the balsamic reduction: Pour balsamic vinegar, honey, salt, and pepper into a sauce pan and bring to a simmer on low. Simmer and stir until the balsamic is at about half the original amount (30-40 minutes).

Add the arugula to a large salad bowl and toss/roll gently with olive oil until evenly coated and gently wilted. Add watermelon, goat cheese, and red onions. 

Drizzle the dressing over the salad, and top with roasted pistachios and your protein of choice. Enjoy!

Serves 4

*Editor’s Note: The information in this article is intended for your educational use only; does not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Chopra Center's Mind-Body Medical Group; and is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health providers with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition and before undertaking any diet, supplement, fitness, or other health program.


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About the Author
SueVanRaes

Sue Van Raes

Functional nutritionist and Food Psychology Specialist
Sue Van Raes is a functional nutritionist, food psychology specialist, and author in Boulder Co. As founder of Boulder Nutrition , Sue helps people navigate how to make sustainable changes in their health and make peace with their plate. Sue uses a combination of science-based testing, clinical nutrition, holistic nutrition, natural medicine, functional medicine, homeopathy, and metabolic typing to guide folks in experiencing clarity, vitality, and body-positive living. She works with clients locally, remotely, online, and on her local and international health and yoga retreats....Read more