Karen Collins, MS, RD, CDN
American Institute for Cancer Research
Q: I’ve heard that watermelon is a good source of lycopene. Is watermelon as good a source of lycopene as tomatoes?
A: Watermelon is rich in lycopene, a phytochemical that is a carotenoid “cousin” to beta-carotene. Lycopene from watermelon seems to be well absorbed without the cooking or presence of fat that so markedly increases how much lycopene we absorb from tomatoes. Research is limited, but in one human study, lycopene from raw watermelon juice was absorbed as well as the lycopene from heat-treated tomato juice. Tomato juice has been used in many studies, because it’s been shown to effectively provide lycopene that may help reduce risk of prostate cancer. And in a laboratory study that tried to mimic human digestion processes to see how carotenoid compounds are affected, researchers calculated that in equal weight portions, more lycopene would be absorbed from raw watermelon than from raw tomatoes. When you bring it home, keep uncut watermelon at room temperature for up to a week or until fully ripe. Not only will the melon get better tasting, research on uncut watermelon shows that lycopene content may even increase during room temperature storage. Refrigerate the watermelon once it’s ripe or after you’ve cut it in pieces, and use within five days. Watermelon is also an excellent source of vitamin C, and it holds on to virtually all of its vitamin C and carotenoid compounds during this storage period.
The American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) is the cancer charity that fosters research on the relationship of nutrition, physical activity and weight management to cancer risk, interprets the scientific literature and educates the public about the results. It has contributed more than $96 million for innovative research conducted at universities, hospitals and research centers across the country. AICR has published two landmark reports that interpret the accumulated research in the field, and is committed to a process of continuous review. AICR also provides a wide range of educational programs to help millions of Americans learn to make dietary changes for lower cancer risk. Its award-winning New American Plate program is presented in brochures, seminars and on its website, www.aicr.org. AICR is a member of the World Cancer Research Fund International.