What is lycopene, and are there any health benefits associated with it? Dietitian Sharon Palmer explains this fascinating antioxidant and why you should consume more of it.
Maybe there’s a reason superheroes wear red capes! Lycopene [pronounced lie-kuh-peen], the naturally occurring compound that gives tomatoes their rich red color, has some pretty super powers. Natural chemical reactions in your body create free radicals, which move around the body setting off chain reactions that can damage cells and promote disease. Lycopene is an antioxidant compound in tomatoes that destroys these free radicals. Like other antioxidants, it has anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer effects.
According to the American Cancer Society, lycopene helps prevent damage to our genes. Eating plenty of lycopene-rich foods, like tomato products (canned tomatoes, marinara sauce, salsa, and tomato soup), may lower risk of lung cancer and could protect against aggressive prostate cancer. Studies also show that people who eat plenty of plant foods rich in carotenoid antioxidants like lycopene have a lower risk of heart disease.
While this powerful antioxidant can also be found in foods like pink grapefruit, watermelon and papaya, around 80% of the lycopene in the American diet comes from tomatoes and tomato products. Cooking tomatoes makes lycopene more available to the body, so marinara sauce and tomato soup actually have more lycopene than the same amount of fresh tomatoes (see chart). Eating your tomatoes with a little fat, like a drizzle of olive oil or a slice of avocado, also increases the amount of lycopene your body can absorb.
It’s better to get lycopene from food, not supplements. There are other compounds in foods like tomatoes that may help lycopene do its health-protecting work (every hero needs sidekicks!). So try these tips to get more mighty lycopene in your diet:
Enjoy red sauce, like marinara or spicy Arrabbiata, on whole grain pasta.
Pour salsa on burritos and tacos.
Add tomato puree to vegetable soups, stews or chili.
Serve tomato soup with a salad or sandwich for a quick, easy meal.
Try canned tomatoes in sandwich fillings, casseroles, dips, and curry dishes.
Drink a small glass of tomato juice with a savory meal.
Villainous free radicals are at work in your body every day. Call on lycopene’s antioxidant power to help protect your cells!
Toasted ravioli is a versatile dish that can be enjoyed as an appetizer, side dish, or the main course. Whip up this decadent and creamy Vodka Dipping Sauce, and it will taste just like going to a fancy restaurant, but from the comfort of your own home!
As with most Italian sauces, the main flavor comes from tomatoes. Not only do tomatoes offer sweetness and acidity to this recipe, they have important health benefits. Cooked tomato products (found in canned tomato products) contain an ingredient called lycopene, which is a powerful antioxidant that has been proven to protect the body against many chronic diseases. Similar to most nutrients, it’s more natural to obtain lycopene from foods rather than supplements. In order to achieve maximum health benefits associated with lycopene, it is recommended to consume tomato products with a heart healthy fat, such as olive oil or avocado. That’s why we recommend enjoying lycopene and its health benefits through delicious foods such as this recipe. So, what are you waiting for? Enjoy some canned tomato products today with this tasty recipe for Toasted Ravioli!
Toasted Ravioli with Vodka Dipping Sauce
Toasted ravioli is a versatile dish that can be enjoyed as an appetizer, side dish, or the main course. Whip up this decadent and creamy Vodka Dipping Sauce, and it will taste just like going to a fancy restaurant, but without the added cost.
Prep Time10 minutes
Cook Time30 minutes
Total Time40 minutes
1 (19 oz.) package four cheese ravioli
1 Tbsp. olive oil
1 shallot, minced
1 garlic clove, minced
1 ¼ tsp. red chili flakes
2 Tbsp. vodka
¾ cup tomato paste
½ cup tomato sauce
1 Tbsp. heavy cream
1 Tbsp. butter
salt and pepper, to taste
2 eggs, beaten
1 ½ cups Italian breadcrumbs
vegetable oil, for frying
Heat the olive oil in a pan over medium heat. Add in the shallot, garlic, and ¼ teaspoon of the red chili flakes.
When the shallots turn translucent, mix in the tomato paste and tomato sauce. Cook down for 5-10 minutes. Then add in the vodka and cook for another 5-10 minutes until the alcohol reduces. Mix in the heavy cream, butter, and salt and pepper to taste. Set the sauce aside.
Fill a pot with a few inches of vegetable oil. Heat it to 350˚F.
Add the beaten eggs and breadcrumbs into separate dishes. Dip the raviolis into the egg and allow any excess liquid to drip off. Then place them into the breadcrumbs. Fully coat the raviolis in breadcrumbs then gently place them into the hot oil. Fry until golden brown and toasted. Remove the raviolis from the oil and onto a baking sheet lined with paper towels to drain. Sprinkle them with salt.
Serve the toasted raviolis with the vodka dipping sauce and enjoy!
For other delicious pasta recipes, check out some of our favorites:
When it comes to weeknights, we are always looking for new quick, easy, and family friendly meals. This Chicken Burrito Bowl checks all of the boxes, and is especially great for those families that have a picky eater or have different dietary restrictions. It’s easily customizable to fit your needs and preferences, while still being nutritious!
What makes this meal so delicious (and nutritious) is the combination of lean protein and canned tomatoes. The chicken add a heafy dose of protein, while the canned tomatoes provide a plethora of antioxidants (such as lycopene) that play an integral role in the reduction of certain types of diseases and cancers. In fact, numerous studies have linked lycopene consumption with prostate cancer protection. While lycopene is present in other fruits such as watermelon and pink grapefruit, tomatoes, which are the second most consumed vegetable (second to potatoes) in the U.S., account for more than 85% of the lycopene in the American diet. Interestingly, cooked tomato products—as in processed tomatoes, including tomato sauce and canned tomatoes—may hold particular significance. The lycopene from cooked and processed tomatoes is more bioavailable than that of fresh tomatoes. Heating or processing breaks down the tomato cell matrix and promotes isomerization of lycopene from all-trans isomers to the more bioavailable form of cis-isomers. Research shows that single daily servings of processed tomato products produce significant increases of lycopene concentrations in blood and buccal mucosal cells in healthy adults.
So, what are you waiting for? Try out this Chicken Burrito Bowl for a recipe that’s easy, delicious, and sure to be a family favorite!
Chicken Burrito Bowl
When it comes to weeknights, we are always looking for new quick, easy, and family friendly meals. This Chicken Burrito Bowl checks all of the boxes, and is especially great for those families that have a picky eater or have different dietary restrictions. It's easily customizable to fit your needs and preferences, while still being nutritious!
Prep Time5 minutes
Cook Time8 hours
Total Time8 hours5 minutes
1 ½ lbs boneless skinless chicken breasts
1 (14.5 oz) can diced tomatoes
1 cup chicken broth
2 tsp. chili powder
2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. ground cumin
1 (15 oz.) can black beans, drained and rinsed
1 cup uncooked brown rice
1 cup frozen corn
shredded cheese, for serving
chopped cilantro, for serving
sour cream, for serving
sliced avocado, for serving
salsa, for serving
jalapeno slices, for serving
Add the chicken, diced tomatoes with the juice, chicken broth, chili powder, salt, and cumin into a slow cooker. Make sure the chicken is fully covered by the broth. Add more broth if necessary. Cover and cook on low for 3-4 hours.
Uncover and add in the black beans, rice, and corn. Cover and continue cooking for another 3-4 hours. In the last hour of cooking, mix the rice two times to ensure it is cooking evenly. If the crock pot gets too dry and the rice is not fully cooked, add more broth. If the rice is cooked but there is still a lot of broth, cook on high to allow it to evaporate.
Use two forks to shred the chicken. Taste and adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper if necessary. Serve with shredded cheese, cilantro, sour cream, avocado, or salsa. Enjoy!
For other dinner dishes, check out some of our favorites:
Take a trip to Italy without ever leaving the comfort of your kitchen! This recipe for Creamy Tomato Basil Chicken is a delicious Italian dish that will have your taste buds singing its praises.
Your weeknights just got a whole lot tastier with this recipe for creamy tomato basil chicken! If you are looking to incorporate more global flavors and nutrition into your dinners, then this is the dish for you. Filled with fresh basil, minced garlic, and creamy tomato sauce, you’re sure to enjoy every bite. Plus, it’s kid-friendly and easy to make, so what’s not to love?
One of the other key ingredients in this nutrient-packed recipe is canned diced tomatoes—another fan favorite food found in various dishes around the globe. The incorporation of canned tomatoes enhance the flavor and juiciness of the meal itself, making it something the whole family will enjoy. Since this dish contains canned tomatoes (which are a wonderful source of the antioxidant lycopene) and other vitamins and minerals from the vegetables, you have a great source of nutrients and protein for your next meal!
Not only is this tomato basil chicken healthy and delicious, but it can be easily prepared in no time at all thanks to the use of a slow cooker. So, what are you waiting for? Go ahead and whip up this Italian-inspired recipe this week and let us know what you think!
Meatless Monday just got a whole lot tastier! If you are looking to incorporate more plant-based foods into your diet, this Vegetarian BBQ Walnut Meatloaf recipe is sure to impress any meatloaf lover.
Including more plant-based meals and foods in your diet is a great way to incorporate more vitamins, mineral, and phytonutrients. For example, the lentils and walnuts present in this recipe provide protein and healthy fats to keep you full and satisfied. Plus, you won’t even miss the meat! One of the other key ingredients in this nutrient-packed meatloaf is canned diced tomatoes—another fan favorite food found in various dishes around the globe. The incorporation of canned tomatoes enhance the flavor and juiciness of the meal itself, making it something the whole family will enjoy. Since this dish contains canned tomatoes (which are a wonderful source of the antioxidant lycopene) and other vitamins and minerals from the vegetables, you have a great source of nutrients and protein for your next meal!
Not only is this meatloaf healthy and delicious, but it can be easily prepared in no time at all. The best part about this dish is that those who aren’t huge fans of mushrooms will be able to genuinely enjoy it because they are hidden. This goes to show that adding more plants to your diet is not as difficult as you may think it is!