Tomatoes are full of fiber, vitamins, minerals, and an array of antioxidants. One of these antioxidant compounds is called lycopene, which offers many benefits for your heart. If you’ve been wondering how to better support your heart health, you may want to add tomatoes to your diet.
What is lycopene?
Lycopene isn’t an essential nutrient, but it’s not made by your body and has to be found in food. It’s the primary carotenoid that gives plant foods like tomatoes their red pigmentation. Lycopene is also found in other red, pink, and orange foods like watermelon, grapefruit, and papayas.
Many studies have examined the health effects of consuming lycopene, and found that it has a lot to offer. One of the main areas of interest is heart health.
Heart health benefits of lycopene
Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death worldwide, and many people have at least one risk factor for developing it. There is a growing body of evidence suggesting that eating more lycopene is a great way to promote heart health through nutrition.
A 2017 review published in Atherosclerosis, which included 21 studies, examined the available evidence regarding how eating tomato products and lycopene influenced cardiovascular function.
The authors found that tomatoes helped significantly reduce LDL “bad” cholesterol levels and improve endothelial function. They also found that lycopene supplementation lowered systolic blood pressure. Overall, the authors suggested that there was promising evidence to recommend nutritional strategies to improve heart health using tomatoes.
More recently, a 2019 meta-analysis including 25 studies among adults looked at the associations between lycopene and tomato intake and cardiovascular disease risk. The researchers concluded that people who ate a lot of tomatoes also had high serum concentrations of lycopene.
They also found that people with high tomato intake or high blood levels of lycopene had a 26% lower risk for stroke, 37% lower risk for mortality, and 14% lower risk for cardiovascular diseases.
Lycopene appears to help heart health by targeting a few relevant risk factors for cardiovascular disease.
Lycopene has been suggested to play a role in preventing atherosclerosis, or the buildup of plaque in the arteries that can lead to blockages and heart disease. Some studies have even found that people with evidence of carotid atherosclerosis have significantly lower blood concentrations of lycopene.
Eating lycopene also improves endothelial function through its ability to reduce oxidative stress, something that has been observed in studies among both animals and humans. The endothelium is the lining of your blood vessels.
When your endothelial function is healthy, your blood vessels dilate and promote optimal blood flow, which supports heart health.
Lycopene has been observed to reduce systolic blood pressure. One 2013 meta-analysis found that at least 12 mg per day of supplemental lycopene may be effective for this purpose. For reference, one medium (125-gram) tomato contains around 3.2 mg of lycopene.
Another 2021 meta-analysis found that standardized tomato extract was effective in significantly reducing systolic blood pressure compared to a placebo.
While more studies are needed, lycopene may also be helpful in reducing potentially problematic cholesterol levels.
One 2011 review of 12 studies concluded that lycopene taken in doses of at least 25 mg per day is effective for reducing LDL “bad” cholesterol by approximately 10%. This influence is comparable to the effect of low doses of statin medications often prescribed to people with slightly elevated cholesterol.
How to boost lycopene intake
The bioavailability and intestinal absorption of lycopene is boosted by eating foods that contain it alongside dietary fats. Additionally, studies have shown that cooked tomatoes have more lycopene than fresh, raw tomatoes. To get the most lycopene out of your tomatoes, you might consider roasting them in the oven with a little olive oil drizzled over them.
Making tomatoes a regular part of your diet is an easy way to increase your intake of lycopene. Boosting lycopene in your bloodstream may prove beneficial for your heart, targeting things like blood pressure, cholesterol, and circulation that are involved in your risk for cardiovascular disease.