I say "tomato," my dad says "tamater," but no matter how you say it, these precious fruits have got one thing going for them that just about everybody knows how to say: lycopene. You've heard of it, I'm sure. Lycopene has its own publicity team, complete with sponsored studies, TV commercials and a dedicated website.
So, what is lycopene anyway? It's the bright red pigment found most abundantly in ripe red tomatoes and, in lesser amounts, in pink grapefruit, pink guava, red carrots and watermelon. Lycopene is a potent antioxidant - a prominent member of the carotenoid family. It gained fame when studies showed that having a higher intake of tomatoes or higher levels of lycopene in the blood correlated with cancer protection.
Additional studies showed that unlike many other nutrients that are destroyed by cooking, lycopene becomes more available for your body to absorb and use. That's good news for spaghetti, lasagna and pizza lovers! Cooking, processing, canning and serving with oil (think olive!)
boosts the assimilation of lycopene into your bloodstream. Why oil? Lycopene is fat soluble. That means oil helps your body grab onto the nutrient. According to the USDA, a fresh tomato contains 3.7 mg of lycopene, a 1/2 cup of canned tomatoes has 11.8 mg, and 1/2 cup of spaghetti sauce has 19.4 mg.
Do you love to toss some raw tomatoes into a salad or simply pop those lovely cherry tomatoes in your mouth as a healthy snack? Go right ahead! While lycopene is more available when cooked, there's a lot to love about raw tomatoes, like the fact that they're an excellent source of vitamin C and a good source of vitamin A.
Itching to get cooking with tomatoes? Here are some ideas.
Of course, there's no limit to the uses for canned tomatoes, tomato sauce and tomato paste. Here are just a few recipes to get you started:
So, how do you like your lycopene? I'll take mine with some dark green olive oil, fresh basil and a sprinkling of Manchego cheese from Spain.