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The Secret Power of Red Foods

Karen Alexander, Licensed Registered Dietitian Nutritionist

January 13, 2021

Lycopene is the phytonutrient (carotenoid), with potent antioxidant properties, which is responsible for the red to pink colors seen in foods such as tomatoes, watermelon, guava, and pink grapefruit. Lycopene availability is better in cooked tomatoes compared to raw, and the presence of fat in the diet improves lycopene absorption in the duodenum (1). For this reason, processed tomato products such as tomato sauce or ketchup are the primary dietary source of lycopene in the United States (2). On the other hand, Latino American, Caribbean, Spanish, and Mediterranean cuisines, use tomatoes to prepare “sofrito:” a sauce with lots of lycopene made out of tomato, oil, garlic, onions, peppers, and fresh herbs. This sauce is a fundamental dish in many of these countries. 

Below a list of food sources of lycopene:

Product

Serving Size

Lycopene (mg)

Tomato paste 

¼ cup

18.84

Pasta with meatballs in tomato sauce canned entree

1 cup 

18.14

Tomato sauce 

½ cup

17.12

Spaghetti sauce 

½ cup

15.82

Minestrone soup 

1 cup

15.33

Tomato puree 

¼ cup

13.60

Tomato soup 

1 cup

13.04

Vegetable juice cocktail 

½ cup

11.69

Tomato juice 

½ cup

10.98

Stewed tomatoes 

½ cup

5.21

Watermelon 

½ cup

3.44

Salsa 

2 tbsp

3.36

Tomatoes packed in tomato juice 

½ cup

3.32

Catsup 

1 tbsp

2.51

Raw tomatoes 

½ cup

2.32

Grapefruit 

½ grapefruit

1.75

 

Lycopene Content per Serving in Tomato Products, Tomato-Based Foods, and Fruits. From the US Department of Agriculture National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference, Release 22. (3)

Lycopene, in capsule or natural form, reduces inflammation and can aid in the reduction or management of many diseases with an inflammatory component. We now know that the onset and progression of many non-communicable diseases, including heart diseases, neurodegenerative diseases, and diabetes type II, are (partly) related to or affected by low-grade chronic inflammation (4). 

Below some of the most common health benefits from lycopene:

Lycopene and cardiovascular disease

Lycopene reduces cholesterol synthesis, lipid peroxidation, and oxidation of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) with up-regulation of high-density lipoprotein (HDL) (1). It has also been found to have anti-atherosclerotic, antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antihypertensive, antiplatelet, anti-apoptotic, and protective endothelial effects, as well as the ability to improve the metabolic profile, and reduce arterial stiffness (5).

Lycopene for semen quality in healthy men

A randomized, controlled trial found that supplementation with 14 mg/d lactolycopene improves sperm motility and morphology in young healthy men (6).

Lycopene and bone health

Lycopene reduces the inflammation that adversely affects bone health. Through its antioxidant activity, lycopene maintains bone equilibrium by regulating activities of osteoclast and osteoblast (bone resorption versus bone formation) (5). 

Lycopene and memory

Lycopene is involved in the improvement of memory through the acceleration of the brain antioxidant defense mechanism by down regulating nitric oxide pathways in neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s disease (5).

Lycopene and skin protection

Beta-carotene and lycopene protect one’s skin against sunburn by increasing its defense against ultraviolet light-induced erythema, damage, and modulating skin responses like inflammation (7,8).

Lycopene and Benign Prostate Hyperplasia (BPH)

A pilot study on forty patients with BPH who received lycopene for 6 months showed higher lycopene levels, decreased PSA levels, slower cancer progression, and smaller prostate size (9).

Lycopene and eye health

The continuous exposure of the eyes to light and oxygen produces a high level of phototoxic and oxidative stress. Due to their antioxidant properties, carotenoids help prevent light and oxygen damage, as well as age-related cellular and tissue deterioration in the eye (8).

Lycopene and cancer risk

High levels of lycopene in the blood are also associated with a lower risk of developing prostate, lung, uterine and breast cancer. Studies have shown lycopene can potentially inhibit proliferation of neoplastic cells, induce apoptosis and prevent metastasis (10).

Promising, but not conclusive findings on lycopene and prostate cancer.

Lycopene intake and circulating lycopene are associated with a reduced risk of prostate cancer in some studies. A recent meta-analysis suggested a 3% reduction in prostate cancer incidence per mg/day increase in dietary lycopene intake (11). Multiple reports support an association between daily lycopene supplementation and reductions in prostate-specific antigen (PSA), tumor size, oxidative damage to DNA, and reduction in IGF-1 levels (1,6). Insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1) plays an important role in cancer formation, progression and metastasis. Lycopene has shown to reduce IGF-1 levels in a dose-response manner (12).  

The recipe of the week comes via How to feed a Loon 

Slow cooker Provencal Chicken Stew

Ingredients:

8 chicken pieces (bone-in, skin removed)

1 cup all-purpose flour

2 tsp Kosher salt divided

1 tsp black pepper

2 tbsp olive oil divided

1 medium onion yellow, chopped

1 medium carrot sliced, about 1/4-inch thick

2 stalks celery sliced, about 1/4-inch thick

2 cloves garlic minced

8 oz. mushrooms button, quartered

1 tbsp herbs de Provence dried

½ cup white wine dry

½ cup chicken stock

1 14 oz. can crushed tomatoes

1 bay leaf

1 cup black olives pitted

2 tbsp flat-leaf parsley fresh, chopped for garnish

Directions:

Sprinkle salt and pepper all over the chicken pieces. Add the flour to a large platter or bowl and drench the chicken pieces until fully coated. Shake off excess and set aside.

In a large skillet, or Dutch oven, heat 1 tbsp. of the oil over medium-high heat. Add the chicken and sear until browned on both sides, about 8 minutes total. You will probably need to do this in batches. Add a little more oil for the second batch, if necessary. Set aside.

In the same skillet, heat another tbsp. of oil and add the onion, carrots, and celery and sauté until starting to soften, about 4 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for another minute. Stir occasionally with a wooden spoon, scraping up the chicken pieces at the bottom of the pan.

Add the mushrooms and herbs de Provence and cook until mushrooms start to release liquid. About 4 more minutes. Add the white wine and simmer for 3 minutes until slightly reduced. Add the chicken stock and tomatoes and simmer for another 3 to 4 minutes. Stir in 1 tsp of salt and a ½ tsp. black pepper.

Place the seared chicken in the bottom of the Crock-Pot and the pour the tomato mixture all-over the top. Nestle in the bay leaf. Cook on the Low setting for 4 to 5 hours. Stir in the olives in the last 10 minutes of cooking. Taste and stir in more salt, if desired. Remove the bay leaf and discard.

Garnish with chopped parsley.

All my best!

References

  1. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/322068055_A_Systematic_Review_on_Lycopene_and_its_Beneficial_Effects
  2. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/51842005_An_Update_on_the_Health_Effects_of_Tomato_Lycopene
  3. (file:///C:/Users/kareng/Downloads/BurtonFreeman_Reimers2011%20(1).pdf
  4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7582666/
  5. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5974099/
  6. https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s00394-019-02091-5
  7. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/254075429_Tomato_Consumption_and_Health_Emerging_Benefits
  8. https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Arrigo-Cicero/publication/313508118_Effects_of_Carotenoids_on_Health_Are_All_the_Same_Results_from_Clinical_Trials/links/58d175b7458515b8d285d957/Effects-of-Carotenoids-on-Health-Are-All-the-Same-Results-from-Clinical-Trials.pdf
  9. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/5693630_Lycopene_Inhibits_Disease_Progression_in_Patients_with_Benign_Prostate_Hyperplasia
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