There’s something about the color red that lights up the eyes and fires up the belly.
But more than stimulating your appetite, the color red happens to have several potent heart-healthy benefits…
And it’s all due to the pigment that gives pink and red-colored fruits and veggies their irresistible hue — the carotenoid known as lycopene.
1. Lycopene balances cholesterol levels
LDL cholesterol is a key player in the formation of plaque that can coat your arteries, especially small dense LDL particles. Plaque buildup stiffens and thickens the arteries and is responsible for the most common type of heart disease – atherosclerosis.
While keeping LDL cholesterol levels lower can help, having high enough levels of HDL cholesterol is equally important.
And it seems that lycopene may lend a helping hand in balancing both LDL and HDL…
Animal studies have shown that consumption of lycopene, in conjunction with a high cholesterol diet, leads to lower total cholesterol, lower LDL and higher HDL levels.
And when people increase their lycopene intake over a 12-week period, either by diet or supplementation, it leads to enhanced function of HDL cholesterol.
2. Lycopene supports great artery function
Free radicals in the body can lead to a higher rate of oxidized LDL. Oxidation of LDL is where risk of plaque increases and damage to the delicate cells in the artery walls occurs — increasing your risk of atherosclerosis with the possibility of eventuating in a deadly heart attack or stroke!
That’s where the antioxidant activities of lycopene come into play…
Lycopene scavenges free radicals and prevents LDL oxidation while at the same time providing a promising 53 percent improved artery function, especially in patients who already have a heart condition.
And when patients with atherosclerosis were given lycopene with lutein (another carotenoid), 20 mg per day each over 12 months, the results showed a reduction in artery thickness.
3. Lycopene prevents inflammation-induced heart issues
It is well known that atherosclerosis has a strong inflammatory component underlying its initiation and development.
Researchers have tested the effects of lycopene on several types of heart-related cells. Their explorations have found that not only does lycopene decrease the production of proinflammatory molecules, it prevents the proliferation of immune cells responsible for chronic inflammation, by as much as 40 percent!
As a consequence, artery damage and risk of plaque formation and development significantly decreases.
Lycopene’s anti-inflammatory effects have also been proven in human studies…
When participants were required to consume 29.4 mg lycopene for 30 days, via one can of V8 juice, they had a significant reduction in proinflammatory molecules.
So where can you find this incredible red jewel?
Tomatoes are the most common source of lycopene in the diet, accounting for 80 percent of most people’s intake. This includes fresh tomatoes, tomato sauce, tomato soup, tomato paste and tomato juice.
In fact, a tomato-rich diet may provide a 30 percent reduced risk of heart disease and up to 59 percent reduced risk of stroke — bring on the tomatoes!
Other lycopene food sources include watermelon, guava and pink grapefruit.
The suggested daily amount of lycopene is between 10-30 mg and you can easily meet this goal by enjoying a few servings of red and pink produce each day.
- Tomato paste (1/4 cup) = 18.8 mg
- Watermelon (1 slice) = 14.7 mg
- Raw tomato (1 medium) = 3.7 mg
- Pink grapefruit (1/2 fruit) = 4.9 mg
- Tomato juice (250 mL) = 25 mg
You can also purchase lycopene supplements.
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- Kumar R, et al. Evaluation of antioxidant, hypolipidemic, and antiatherogenic property of lycopene and astaxanthin in atherosclerosis-induced rats. — Pharmacognosy Research. 2017;9(2):161-167.
- How lycopene helps protect against cancer — Pcrm.org. (2012). The Physicians Committee. Retrieved 10 Aug, 2017.
- Thies F, et al. Conference on ‘Phytochemicals and health: new perspectives on plant-based nutrition’ Symposium 2: Phytochemicals and health benefits. — Proceedings of the Nutrition Society. 2017;76(1):122-129.