Foods that contain lycopene provide a concentrated form of disease prevention. The antioxidant is more effective per milligram than both beta-carotene and vitamin C, according to lycopene researcher Rui Hai Liu, an associate professor of food science at Cornell University. Antioxidants like lycopene neutralize free radicals that cause age-related diseases, such as prostate cancer, Alzheimer's and atherosclerosis. Consider adding lycopene-containing foods to your diet to improve your health. The recommended dose of lycopene is 4 to 8 mg daily.
For a full daily dose of lycopene, turn to tomatoes. One cup of fresh tomatoes contains 6.7 mg of lycopene. Cooked tomatoes contain even more lycopene. The heating process raises levels of the nutrient by up to 35 percent, according to Liu, because heat releases lycopene from the tomato's cell walls. For even higher levels, add fresh tomato sauce or paste to your diet. These products are tomatoes with the water removed, or concentrated forms of lycopene.
Papaya is a tropical fruit cultivated widely in warm regions of the world, including Florida, Mexico and Hawaii. Lycopene is a compound found in the ripe, red flesh of the fruit. Papayas are seasonal from April to October, and are often found green and unripened in the grocery stores. To ripen a green papaya, place it in a cool, dry place for several days until the flesh darkens and emits a fragrant aroma. Papayas are not only high in lycopene, they are also low in calories. Try dried papaya for a snack. Papaya contains 2.6 mg of lycopene per cup.
For the best source of lycopene, reach for a wedge of watermelon. The fruit has about 40 percent more lycopene than fresh tomatoes. Be sure to select a ripe watermelon to obtain the optimum level of nutrients. Choose an uncut watermelon with a brown, dried stem. The fruit should have a hollow sound with a slight ring when firmly tapped. Cut melon is easier to choose; red, ripe flesh indicates the most nutritious watermelon. The seeds further indicate its readiness. White or streaked seeds, mean the fruit needs more time to ripen. When the seeds are solid and dark, the fruit is ready to eat.