Shows Its Lycopene Stripes
By Rosalie Marion
June 4, 2002
Watermelon growers arent exactly
singing the new tune: Our lycopene is better than your lycopene.
But there is a new twist on the amount of healthful lycopene found in raw
watermelon versus raw tomato thats heating up discussions.
Besides sharing a pinkish-red color, watermelon and tomato are known sources
of the phytochemical lycopene--one of a host of beneficial compounds found in
plant foods. Phytochemicals have not yet been classified as traditional
nutrients, such as the vitamins and minerals considered essential for life.
Still, theyve been found to reduce the risks of age-related diseases and
many people call them phytonutrients.
Agricultural Research Service
scientists working to determine lycopene levels in varieties of watermelon have
found many have as much as--or more than--that found in raw tomato. But
lycopene content in food is different from bioavailability in humans.
Bioavailability is how well the body digests, uses and stores a given chemical.
ARS nutritionists Beverly A. Clevidence and Alison J. Edwards of the
Phytonutrients Laboratory in
Beltsville, Md., conducted a 19-week study with 23 volunteers to assess the
bioavailability of lycopene from watermelon. Tomato traditionally has been used
in lycopene research because of its established lycopene levels.
Now heres the rub: Past testing showed lycopene bioavailability to be
low from ingesting raw tomato, yet higher from ingesting heat-processed
products, such as tomato juices and sauces. Heating and homogenizing are known
to increase tomatos lycopene bioavailability.
Researchers wondered whether raw watermelon would echo raw tomatos low
bioavailability. Would watermelon also need to be heat-treated to increase its
available lycopene? It didnt. Thats good news for people who
dont like tomatoes but do like watermelon. They can eat their watermelon
and absorb their lycopene, too.
Read more about watermelons lycopene punch in the
June issue of
Agricultural Research magazine.
ARS is the U.S. Department of
Agricultures chief scientific research agency.