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Lycopene is an antioxidant that fights the free radicals that can interfere with normal cell growth and potentially lead to cancer, heart disease and premature aging. Tomatoes are one of the best sources of lycopene. Lycopene is a bright red carotenoid pigment and phytochemical and is responsible for giving tomatoes their bright red color. While not an essential nutrient for humans, lycopene is commonly found in the diet in several foods, but especially in tomatoes. When absorbed from the stomach, lycopene is then transported in the blood by various lipoproteins and accumulates in the liver, adrenal glands, and testes. Of all the carotenoids, lycopene is thought to be one of the most potent antioxidants. Lycopene is particularly able to fight singlet oxygen and peroxyl radicals, both of which are thought to be responsible for damaging DNA in a process that can lead to the formation of cancer. Due to this ability, lycopene is being researched as a potential agent for the prevention of certain types of cancers, especially prostate cancer.

Unlike other fruits and vegetables, where nutritional content is diminished upon cooking, processing tomatoes actually increases the concentration of lycopene. Lycopene in tomato paste is four times more bioavailable than in fresh tomatoes. Thus, the best sources of lycopene are pasteurized tomato juice, tomato soup, tomato paste, tomato sauce and ketchup. Cooking and crushing tomatoes and serving in oil-rich dishes (such as pizza) greatly increases assimilation of lycopene from the digestive tract into the bloodstream. Lycopene is a fat-soluble substance, so the oil helps absorption.

Tomatoes are also high in vitamin C, potassium, iron, phosphorus, vitamin A and vitamin B.



 

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