Strangely, for such a valuable antioxidant, lycopene doesn’t appear in high concentrations in nearly as many foods as beta-carotene does. Fortunately, one that it does, tomatoes, are a popular food in American and European diets.
Processed tomatoes generally have a much higher lycopene content than fresh tomatoes as making them into tomato sauce, ketchup, tomato paste or tomato soup releases more of the lycopene from the cell walls and increases its bioavailability. Provided the tomato products aren’t filled with other unhealthy ingredients like high fructose corn syrup, it seems like this is one of the rare cases where the processed food is actually healthier than the fresh one.
Like other carotenoids, lycopene is fat soluble and requires dietary fat to be present, preferably within a meal, to help absorption. A low-fat diet may decrease your intake of lycopene, even if you are eating fresh tomatoes regularly.
Another very good source of lycopene are goji berries. Those little red berry really are a health-giving powerhouse covering so many nutritional bases. Amazon have high-quality organic goji berries full of antioxidants like lycopene and lutein and zeaxanthin for our eyes, as well as a broad range of vitamins and minerals.
Other reasonable sources of lycopene include watermelons, guava, papaya, pink grapefruit, red and orange bell pepper and apricots. Though you’d require a fair amount of these to get a beneficial intake of lycopene.
All in all, tomatoes and tomato products like tomato sauce, tomato paste, a good-quality organic ketchup (low in sugar and salt and especially no fructose syrup) and tomato soup eaten regularly seem like the simplest way to get a good intake of antioxidant lycopene.
There is currently no recommended daily allowance for lycopene but studies showing beneficial effects are generally around at least 6 to 10 mg per day and possibly as high as 20 mg and 30 mg for therapeutic levels. As with any high dosages of nutrients, it is always a good idea to discuss this with a knowledgeable health professional.
It is usually best to split the dosage morning and night and have it with meals that contain some dietary fat. Alternatively, eat lycopene rich foods or take lycopene supplements at the same time as healthy oils like avocado oil or flaxseed oil.
If you don’t like tomatoes or feel you might not be getting enough lycopene and think you could use the extra antioxidant protection, Jarrow Formulas make a high quality lycopene supplement with mixed carotenoids.
Lycopene supplements should ideally have mixed carotenoids from food sources or be taken with foods that contain other carotenoids like beta-carotene. Carrots, pumpkins and green leafy vegetables would be good examples of carotenoid rich foods. The bioavailability of lycopene has been shown to be much higher when taken with beta-carotene than when taken in isolation. Once again, these nutrients work together to provide their beneficial effects on the body.