Lycopene is a bright red pigment, a carotenoid, that is found in red fruits and vegetables such as tomatoes, red carrots, and watermelon. Surprisingly, it is not found in strawberries or cherries. Unlike other carotenoids it does not contribute to vitamin A production in the body. Lycopene is also to be found in non-red vegetables such as asparagus and parsley.
The concentration of lycopene in tomatoes increases as the fruit ripens, and when tomatoes are cooked to make tomato sauce or tomato paste, the lycopene is up to four times more absorbable by the body.1 Because, like other carotenoids, lycopene is fat-soluable, preparing it with a bit of olive oil, as popular ragu sauces, helps digestion and allows the nutrient to be absorbed from the digestive system into the bloodstream.
As a carotenoid, lycopene helps to fight free radicals. Quite a bit of research indicates that it helps lower the risk of macular degeneration2, 3 and cataract4. There is also some indication that it may help fight cancer, but the evidence is contradictory and needs more research.
1. E. Capanoglu, Home processing of tomatoes (Solanum lycopersicum): Effects onin vitrobioaccessibility of total lycopene, phenolics, flavonoids, and antioxidant capacity, Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture, 2014.
2. Lutein & Zeaxanthin ('90s, '00-'08, 2016): Macular Degeneration
3. Low Lycopene Levels related to ARMD
4. Antioxidants (1998, 2001-2, '05, 2013) and Cataract Prevention