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Fruits and vegetables provide important nutrients including antioxidants such as vitamin C, vitamin E, beta-carotene and lycopene. Lycopene is known to be the most potent of all antioxidants. A diet rich in Vitamin C from fruits and vegetables reduces the risk of cancer, heart disease, stroke, heart attack, and diabetes. Vitamin C lowers blood pressure and cholesterol levels, helps thin blood and protects it against oxidation. Fat-soluble vitamin A is involved in the formation and maintenance of healthy skin, hair and mucous membranes. It helps us to see in dim light and is necessary for proper bone growth, tooth development, and reproduction.

Antioxidants are a vital part of healthy diet.

  • Antioxidants have disease-fighting properties that protect cells from damage by substances called free radicals. Antioxidants work by neutralizing free radicals that are formed when body cells burn oxygen for energy. It is thought they accomplish this by protecting the body's cells from "free radicals," which are molecules that can disrupt cell membranes, oxidize body fats and attack DNA (the body's genetic material).
  • Antioxidants also may help keep the immune system healthy and reduce the risk for cancer and other diseases.


Tomatoes and lycopene - a hot connection!!!
One antioxidant in particular has received a lot of attention from researchers in recent years. Lycopene is a pigment that gives vegetables and fruits, such as tomatoes, pink grapefruit and watermelon, their red color.

Lycopene is not produced in the body, so you can only obtain its benefits by eating foods rich in lycopene. Tomato products, such as spaghetti sauce, tomato juice, ketchup and pizza sauce are, by far, the major sources of lycopene. Other fruits and vegetables such as watermelon and pink grapefruit also provide lycopene but in smaller amounts

Lycopene is better absorbed by the body when it is consumed in processed tomato products, rather than fresh tomatoes. The reason for this remains unclear. In one study lycopene was absorbed 2.5 times better from tomato paste than from fresh tomatoes. However, cooking fresh tomatoes with a little oil greatly increases lycopene absorption.

Food Item
Lycopene in milligrams
Tomato Soup, 1 cup
24.8 mg
Tomato or Spaghetti Sauce, ½ cup
19.4 mg
Canned Tomatoes, ½ cup
11.8 mg
Watermelon, 1 cup
7.8 mg
Ketchup, 2 tablespoons
5.1 mg
Fresh Tomato, 1 medium
3.7 mg
Pink or Red Grapefruit, ½ cup
1.8 mg
Source: USDA/NCC Carotenoid Database for U.S. Foods -- 1998 & Tomato Research Council

Convenient ways to increase your consumption of lycopene:
Now that you know about the potential health benefits from eating foods rich in lycopene, try some of the following tips to add it to your diet:

  • For a quick and simple dinner choice, open a jar of tomato-based sauce and pour over your favorite pasta. Top with steamed vegetables or grated cheese.
  • When making your own spaghetti sauce, include some tomato paste and a small amount of olive oil.
  • Enjoy tomato or vegetable juice as a refreshing and healthful snack.
  • When choosing soups…think tomato!
  • Watermelon makes a light, fat-free dessert.
  • Wake up your tastebuds with fresh pink grapefruit along with your favorite breakfast.


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