The end of the hot-weather months presents hot-colored offerings at the produce stand, most notably brilliant red tomatoes and watermelons. These fruits are as pleasing to behold as they are to eat. Better still, their beauty is much more than skin-deep. Ongoing studies suggest that lycopene, the natural pigment and antioxidant that gives these and some other foods their reddish hues, may offer protection against cancer and heart disease.
Lycopene first grabbed headlines in the 1990s, when studies indicated that men who consumed foods with high levels of it lowered their risk of prostate cancer by 35 percent to 50 percent. But women have their own good reasons for helping themselves to foods rich in lycopene. A 2004 study by researcher Howard Sesso at Harvard Medical School found that women with the highest blood levels of lycopene had a 50 percent reduced risk of heart disease compared with women with the lowest levels of the antioxidant.
There are no established guidelines for daily intake of lycopene, but cooks will do well turning to leading sources. Tomato pastes and sauces (including ketchup) are two. But with farmers' markets filled to overflowing now, there are many fresh red delights to be had -- and fresh ways to enjoy them.
Rosy Health News
Tomatoes, watermelons, and red papayas and grapefruits are all good sources of lycopene. Red grapefruit, which owes its blush to lycopene, makes a tangy platform for seared scallops; the shellfish are low in saturated fat and cholesterol.
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A little fat consumed with lycopene-rich foods -- a splash of olive oil drizzled over a tomato salad, for example, or a dollop of yogurt served with red grape-fruit -- helps the body absorb lycopene.
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