Although lycopene may offer numerous health benefits, a recommended intake for this plant pigment has not been established. According to MayoClinic.com, most clinical studies have focused on the amount of lycopene-containing foods that participants ate rather than on the specific quantities of lycopene they consumed. Eating a variety of brightly colored fruits and vegetables each day may be a more effective way to prevent chronic disease than taking lycopene in supplement form, the American Cancer Society notes.
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Lycopene gives tomatoes, pink grapefruit, watermelon, apricots and other red, pink or orange fruits and vegetables their vivid colors. This pigment belongs to the class of carotenoids, antioxidant compounds that counteract the cellular damage that can lead to heart disease, cancer, macular degeneration and other diseases. Eating a diet rich in tomatoes, grapefruit and other foods that are high in lycopene may protect you against some forms of chronic disease, MayoClinic.com notes. However, research has not confirmed that lycopene offers greater preventive benefits than potassium, vitamin C or other nutrients found in these foods.
In 2000, the Food and Nutrition Board of the Institute of Medicine determined that clinical evidence did not justify the need for a recommended dietary allowance or an adequate intake for lycopene or other carotenoids. Because the specific role of lycopene in disease prevention has not been established, the American Cancer Society advises that you eat at least five servings of deeply colored fruits and vegetables each day to receive the health benefits of lycopene and other antioxidants.
Tomato-based foods offer the highest concentrations of lycopene, according to the Linus Pauling Institute. Because carotenoids are fat-soluble nutrients, cooking tomatoes with oil or eating cooked tomatoes with small amounts of fat increases the amount of lycopene that your body can absorb. Tomato sauces, pastes, soups and juices contain more lycopene than the fresh vegetable. One cup of canned tomato paste provides 75 mg of lycopene, compared to 5 mg in one cup of raw tomatoes, the Linus Pauling Institute notes. Watermelon, pink, grapefruit, guava, apricots and papaya contain lycopene. These nutritious foods also provide vitamin C, potassium, folate and other antioxidant pigments.
Clinical research has not verified that taking lycopene in supplement form can reduce your risk of cancer or heart disease. According to MayoClinic.com, recommended doses of lycopene generally range from 2 to 30 mg per day for up to six months. Although dietary lycopene may offer protection against cancers of the lung, breast, bladder, stomach, mouth or prostate, supplemental lycopene may worsen the effects of prostate cancer in men who already have the disease, MedlinePlus notes. Lycopene supplements may have unknown side effects or medication interactions when taken in high doses. Consult your health-care provider before taking lycopene in supplement form.