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It is present in the human body and it is found in foods like tomatoes (especially tomato sauce, paste, and juice) watermelon, pink grapefruit, and guava. Carotenoids are a group of pigmented compounds, powerful antioxidants,that protect cells from the harmful effects of free radicals. Free radicals are unstable molecules that are thought responsible for many chronic diseases. They challenge the body's natural defense mechanisms, leading to tissue damage and aging.

Lycopene garnered much attention when we learned that eating pizza (in moderate amounts of course) may not be such a bad idea since tomato sauce/paste contains relatively high amounts of lycopene. Early enthusiasm for studies that suggested that diets high in lycopene may help protect against prostate cancer has waned in recent years with research reviews that have yielded uncertain results. Unfortunately when many people hear that eating pizza may actually be good for us they interpret that as license to consume an entire pie at one sitting, several times per week. Factor in the saturated fat from cheese (and meat) plus carbohydrate overload from the crust and all of a sudden those antioxidants in the tomato sauce are busy fighting off the damage from all of the toppings. Nonetheless, take that same tomato sauce, load it with veggies and serve it atop quinoa or brown rice and now we're talking about putting lycopene to work for us.

Current research supports the following:

-Lycopene may increase survival in people with heart failure

-Lycopene has shown possible benefit in cognitive performance and protection of nerve cells

-Lycopene intake is associated with a lower prevalence of metabolic syndrome

-Lycopene may have a protective effect against coronary artery disease

-Lycopene consumption may help lower total cholesterol and improve the total cholesterol:high cholesterol ratio.

-Higher lycopene concentrations in the blood have been linked to decreased risk of stroke in men

-Lycopene may have a beneficial effect on oxidative stress in individuals with type 2 diabetes

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