Lycopene is commonly known as the antioxidant that is readily found in tomatoes, though it is also found in other fruits and vegetables including watermelons, grapefruit, and papayas. It belongs in a class of carotenoids called carotenes. Through several studies, lycopene has been shown to help reduce the risk of prostate cancer and heart disease. While not conclusive, there is growing evidence that lycopene benefits may also include cholesterol control.
With our modern diets and lifestyles, high cholesterol is becoming quite normal. There are effective statin drugs that can lower cholesterol levels but they do come with side effects. Therefore, many patients are looking for more natural methods to reduce cholesterol levels without having the side effects common to prescription drugs. This is where lycopene can fit in. While it has been shown in studies that lycopene can protect people from various cancers, macular degeneration and other illnesses, there is growing evidence that lycopene can also help lower cholesterol levels, specifically the ‘bad’ cholesterol (LDL).
A study conducted at the University of Adelaide in Australia found that when volunteers were provided with daily doses of lycopene their LDL levels dropped:
Our meta-analysis suggests that lycopene taken in doses ≥25mg daily is effective in reducing LDL cholesterol by about 10% which is comparable to the effect of low doses of statins in patient with slightly elevated cholesterol levels.
The researchers of this study found that drop in LDL levels was around 10% and they compared it to the drop you may see by starting a prescription of statins. This is great news for anyone considering prescription cholesterol medication but scared of the side effects.
The question now becomes –
What foods provide the highest amounts of lycopene?
It is important to note that the study in Australia provided volunteers with 25mg of lycopene daily. Therefore, when trying to incorporate foods that contain lycopene into your diet you will get the most lycopene benefits by adding at least 25mg per day.
The following is a list of some of foods with the highest concentration of lycopene:
- Tomato soup – serving size = 1 cup. Amount of lycopene = 24.8 mg
- Marinara or spaghetti sauce – serving size = 0.5 cup. Amount of lycopene = over 20 mg
- Tomato juice – serving size = 1 cup. Amount of lycopene = 20 mg
- Watermelon – serving size = 1 cup. Amount of lycopene = 13 mg
- Grapefruit – serving size = 1 half of a grapefruit. Amount of lycopene = 2 mg
Can I just take a lycopene supplement?
It is understood that if you don’t care for tomatoes or don’t regularly eat tomatoes you may have a hard time including them within your diet. Therefore, many people may be looking for an alternative, such as a supplement. Unfortunately, there is no evidence to suggest that any supplements containing carotenoids are usable by the body. You must get your dose of lycopene through the foods that you eat. Since tomatoes are the best way to get a full day’s worth of lycopene, make sure you try different varieties of tomatoes and foods containing tomatoes. While you may not like to eat a whole tomato by itself, you can easily get 25 mg of lycopene by adding some marinara sauce to a serving of whole wheat pasta. If it is in season, chop up a watermelon and have a couple pieces every day. Just start experimenting until you find the right foods that fit perfectly into your diet.
Many experts are still not ready to say that lycopene benefits include cholesterol control. If you don’t include the other benefits, such as the cancer fighting power of lycopene, there is growing evidence that it does help lower LDL cholesterol. So, have that extra serving of tomato soup or grab that glass of V8 and you may well be one step closer to having a normal cholesterol number.