Lycopene is a naturally occurring carotenoid that gives fruits and vegetables a red color. Lycopene can not be converted to vitamin A (retinol) as beta-carotene. Lycopene is found in particularly high amounts in tomatoes and tomato products. In North America, 85% of dietary lycopene comes from tomato products such as tomato juice or paste. One cup (240 ml) of tomato juice provides about 23 mg of lycopene. Processing raw tomatoes, using heat and/or crushing (in the making of tomato juice, tomato paste or ketchup, for example) actually changes the chemical structure of lycopene which improves absorption and bioavailability, i.e. processing tomatoes eases the uptake of lycopene which increases its beneficial effects.
Lycopene is a powerful antioxidant that has several health benefits that are scientifically substantiated. Studies have indicated that lycopene reduces the risk for certain types of cancer and it may prevent sunburn. There are also indications that it is involved in many inflammatory processes that can modulate the immune system, as a consequence of these characteristics, lycopene might be effective in reducing the risk for cardiovascular diseases.