Lycopene belongs to a group of naturally occurring compounds called carotenoids. Carotenoids are fat-soluble pigments that give yellow, red, and orange coloring to birds, fish, fruits, vegetables, flowers, and crustaceans (i.e shrimp, crabs, etc.).
In humans, lycopene is found in the liver, adrenal glands, lungs, prostate, colon, and skin at concentrations higher than all other carotenoids.
Lycopene has been found to possess antioxidant and anticancer properties in animal and in vitro studies. Furthermore, much epidemiological research has linked high intake of lycopene-containing foods or high lycopene serum (blood) levels with reduced incidence of cancer, cardiovascular disease, and age-related eye disorders such as macular degeneration (think: Mediterranean diet). It has also been found to help protect skin against sunlight-induced oxidative damage.
This red pigment is found most abundantly in tomatoes, but it is also present in watermelon, apricots, green peppers, carrots, rose hips, pink grapefruit, and papillex, to name a few.
In addition to containing carotenoids, these fruits and vegetables also contain other health promoting nutrients such as vitamin C, folate and potassium. Another reason to increase your daily intake of fruits and vegetables. Remember to aim for 7-10 servings a day (1 serving = ½ cup)!