A wonderful combination of tangy taste and crunchy texture, bell peppers are the Christmas ornaments of the vegetable world with their beautifully shaped glossy exterior that comes in a wide array of vivid colors ranging from green, red, yellow, orange, purple, brown to black. Although peppers are available throughout the year, they are most abundant and tasty during the months of August and September.
Sweet peppers are plump, bell-shaped vegetables featuring either three or four lobes. They usually range in size from 2 to 5 inches in diameter, and 2 to 6 inches in length. Inside the thick flesh is an inner cavity with edible bitter seeds and a white spongy core. Bell peppers are not 'hot'. They contain a recessive gene that eliminates capsaicin, the compound responsible for the 'hotness' found in other peppers.
This chart graphically details the %DV that a serving of Bell peppers provides for each of the nutrients of which it is a good, very good, or excellent source according to our Food Rating System. Additional information about the amount of these nutrients provided by Bell peppers can be found in the Food Rating System Chart. A link that takes you to the In-Depth Nutritional Profile for Bell peppers, featuring information over 80 nutrients, can be found under the Food Rating System Chart.
- Health Benefits
- How to Select and Store
- How to Enjoy
- Individual Concerns
- Nutritional Profile
Colorful Protection Against Free Radicals
Want to color your life healthy? Brightly colored bell peppers, whether green, red, orange or yellow, are rich sources of some of the best nutrients available. To start, peppers are excellent sources of vitamin C and vitamin A (through its concentration of carotenoids such as beta-carotene), two very powerful antioxidants. These antioxidants work together to effectively neutralize free radicals, which can travel through the body causing huge amounts of damage to cells. Free radicals are major players in the build up of cholesterol in the arteries that leads to atherosclerosis and heart disease, the nerve and blood vessel damage seen in diabetes, the cloudy lenses of cataracts, the joint pain and damage seen in osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis, and the wheezing and airway tightening of asthma. By providing these two potent free radical destroyers, bell peppers may help prevent or reduce some of the symptoms of these conditions by shutting down the source of the problem.
Reduce Risk of Cardiovascular Disease
For atherosclerosis and diabetic heart disease, peppers also contain vitamin B6 and folic acid. These two B vitamins are very important for reducing high levels of homocysteine, a substance produced during the methylation cycle (an essential biochemical process in virtually every cell in the body). High homocysteine levels have been shown to cause damage to blood vessels and are associated with a greatly increased risk of heart attack and stroke. In addition to providing the vitamins that convert homocysteine into other beneficial molecules, bell peppers also provide fiber that can help lower high cholesterol levels, another risk factor for heart attack and stroke.
Promote Optimal Health
Red peppers are one of the few foods that contain lycopene, a carotenoid whose consumption has been inversely correlated with prostate cancer and cancers of the cervix, bladder and pancreas. Recent studies suggest that individuals whose diets are low in lycopene-rich foods are at greater risk for developing these types of cancers.
For people worried about colon cancer, the fiber found in peppers can help to reduce the amount of contact that colon cells have with cancer-causing toxins found in certain foods or produced by certain gut bacteria. In addition, consumption of vitamin C, beta-carotene, and folic acid, all found in bell peppers, is associated with a significantly reduced risk of colon cancer.
Promote Lung Health
If you or someone you love is a smoker, or if you are frequently exposed to secondhand smoke, then making vitamin A-rich foods, such as bell peppers, part of your healthy way of eating may save your life, suggests research conducted at Kansas State University.
While studying the relationship between vitamin A, lung inflammation, and emphysema, Richard Baybutt, associate professor of nutrition at Kansas State, made a surprising discovery: a common carcinogen in cigarette smoke, benzo(a)pyrene, induces vitamin A deficiency.
Baybutt's earlier research had shown that laboratory animals fed a vitamin A-deficient diet developed emphysema. His latest animal studies indicate that not only does the benzo(a)pyrene in cigarette smoke cause vitamin A deficiency, but that a diet rich in vitamin A can help counter this effect, thus greatly reducing emphysema.
Baybutt believes vitamin A's protective effects may help explain why some smokers do not develop emphysema. "There are a lot of people who live to be 90 years old and are smokers," he said. "Why? Probably because of their diet…The implications are that those who start smoking at an early age are more likely to become vitamin A deficient and develop complications associated with cancer and emphysema. And if they have a poor diet, forget it." If you or someone you love smokes, or if your work necessitates exposure to second hand smoke, protect yourself by making sure that at least one of the World's Healthiest Foods that are rich in vitamin A, such as bell peppers, is a daily part of your healthy way of eating.
Seeing Red May Mean Better Eyesight
Bell peppers appear to have a protective effect against cataracts, possibly due to their vitamin C and beta-carotene content. Italian researchers compared the diets of hospital patients who had cataracts removed with patients who had not undergone the operation. Certain vegetables, including sweet peppers, reduced the cataract operation risk. The red variety of bell peppers also supply the phytonutrients lutein and zeaxanthin, which have been found to protect against macular degeneration, the main cause of blindness in the elderly.
Protection against Rheumatoid Arthritis
While one study suggests that high doses of supplemental vitamin C makes osteoarthritis, a type of degenerative arthritis that occurs with aging, worse in laboratory animals, another indicates that vitamin C-rich foods, such as bell and chili peppers, provide humans with protection against inflammatory polyarthritis, a form of rheumatoid arthritis involving two or more joints.
The findings, presented in the Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases were drawn from a study of more than 20,000 subjects who kept diet diaries and were arthritis-free when the study began, and focused on subjects who developed inflammatory polyarthritis and subjects who remained arthritis-free during the follow-up period. Subjects who consumed the lowest amounts of vitamin C-rich foods were more than three times more likely to develop arthritis than those who consumed the highest amounts.
Bell peppers, also known as sweet peppers, are like the Christmas ornaments of the vegetable world since they are beautifully shaped, glossy in appearance and come in a variety of vivid colors such as green, red, yellow, orange, purple, brown and black. Despite their varied palette, all are the same plant, known scientifically as Capsicum annuum, and are members of the nighstshade family, which also includes potatoes, tomatoes and eggplant.
Sweet peppers are plump, bell shaped vegetables that usually feature either three or four lobes. There are also other varieties that have a more tapered shape and no distinguishing lobes. Sweet peppers usually range in size from two to five inches in diameter and two to six inches in length. Inside the thick flesh is an inner cavity with edible bitter seeds and a white spongy core.
Bell peppers have a delightful, slightly watery crunch. Green and purple peppers have a slightly bitter flavor, while the red, orange and yellows are sweeter and almost fruity. Pimento and paprika are both prepared from red bell peppers.
Like their relatives, the chili peppers, bell peppers originated in South America with seeds of a wild variety dating back to 5000 BC. Like many other foods native to this region, sweet peppers were carried throughout the world by the Spanish and Portuguese explorers who traveled through this continent.
Due to the fact that bell peppers are very adaptable plants, being able to be grown in tropical and temperature climates, as well as very versatile foods, their cultivation and adoption into varying cuisines spread rapidly throughout many parts of the world. They have become a staple in central Europe where they are dried for paprika, a necessity for the flavor of Louisiana Creole dishes, and an integral ingredient in both Mexican and Portuguese cuisines. Currently, the main producers of sweet peppers are China, Turkey, Spain, Romania, Nigeria and Mexico.
Choose peppers that have deep vivid colors, taut skin, and that are free of soft spots, blemishes and darkened areas. Their stems should be green and fresh looking. Peppers should be heavy for their size and firm enough so that they will gently yield to slight pressure. Avoid those that have signs of decay including injuries to the skin or water-soaked areas. The shape of the pepper does not generally affect the quality, although it may result in excessive waste or not be suitable to certain recipe preparations. Peppers are available throughout the year but are usually in greater abundance during the summer months.
Unwashed sweet peppers stored in the vegetable compartment of the refrigerator will keep for up to one week. Sweet peppers can be frozen without first being blanched. It is better to freeze them whole since there will be less exposure to air which can degrade both their nutrient content and flavor.
For some of our favorite recipes, click Recipes.
Tips for Preparing Bell Peppers:
Before coring and/or cutting the pepper, wash it under running water. If the pepper has been waxed, you should also scrub it well.
Use a paring knife to cut around the stem and then gently remove it. Peppers can be cut into various shapes and sizes. To easily chop, dice or cut the peppers into strips, first cut the pepper in half lengthwise, clean out the core and seeds, and then, after placing the skin side down on the cutting surface, cut into the desired size and shape. Peppers can also be cut horizontally into rings or left whole for stuffed peppers after carefully removing the seeds from the inner cavity.
A Few Quick Serving Ideas:
Add finely chopped bell peppers to tuna or chicken salad.
Steam cored peppers for five minutes, stuff them with your favorite rice salad or grain pilaf, and bake in a 350©F oven until they are hot.
Healthy sauté chopped peppers, celery and onions, then combine with tofu, chicken or seafood to make a simple Louisiana Creole dish.
Purée roasted and peeled peppers with healthy sautéed onions and zucchini to make a deliciously refreshing soup that can be served hot or cold.
Bell peppers are one of the best vegetables to serve in a crudité platter since not only do they add a brilliant splash of color, but their texture is also the perfect crunchy complement for dips.
Bell Pepper and Pesticide Residues
Virtually all municipal drinking water in the United States contains pesticide residues, and with the exception of organic foods, so do the majority of foods in the U.S. food supply. Even though pesticides are present in food at very small trace levels, their negative impact on health is well documented. The liver's ability to process other toxins, the cells' ability to produce energy, and the nerves' ability to send messages can all be compromised by pesticide exposure. According to the Environmental Working Group's 2009 report "Shopper's Guide to Pesticides," bell peppers are among the 12 foods on which pesticide residues have been most frequently found. Therefore, individuals wanting to avoid pesticide-associated health risks may want to avoid consumption of bell peppers unless they are grown organically.
Bell Pepper Belongs to the Nightshade FamilyBell pepper is one of the vegetables in the nightshade (Solanaceae) family, which includes eggplant, tomatoes and white potatoes. Anecdotal case histories link improvement in arthritis symptoms with removal of these foods; ; however, no case-controlled scientific studies confirm these observations. For more on nightshades, please see our article "What are nightshades and in which foods are they found?"
One cup of raw, chopped red peppers provides over 100% of the DV for vitamin C and vitamin A. Red peppers are also an excellent source of vitamin B6. Green peppers are a very good source of fiber, folate, and vitamin K as well as the minerals molybdenum and manganese. In addition to beta-carotene, red peppers contain the beneficial phytonutrients lycopene, lutein and zeaxanthin.
For an in-depth nutritional profile click here: Bell peppers.
In-Depth Nutritional ProfileIn addition to the nutrients highlighted in our ratings chart, an in-depth nutritional profile for Bell peppers is also available. This profile includes information on a full array of nutrients, including carbohydrates, sugar, soluble and insoluble fiber, sodium, vitamins, minerals, fatty acids, amino acids and more.
Introduction to Food Rating System ChartIn order to better help you identify foods that feature a high concentration of nutrients for the calories they contain, we created a Food Rating System. This system allows us to highlight the foods that are especially rich in particular nutrients. The following chart shows the nutrients for which this food is either an excellent, very good, or good source (below the chart you will find a table that explains these qualifications). If a nutrient is not listed in the chart, it does not necessarily mean that the food doesn't contain it. It simply means that the nutrient is not provided in a sufficient amount or concentration to meet our rating criteria. (To view this food's in-depth nutritional profile that includes values for dozens of nutrients - not just the ones rated as excellent, very good, or good - please use the link below the chart.) To read this chart accurately, you'll need to glance up in the top left corner where you will find the name of the food and the serving size we used to calculate the food's nutrient composition. This serving size will tell you how much of the food you need to eat to obtain the amount of nutrients found in the chart. Now, returning to the chart itself, you can look next to the nutrient name in order to find the nutrient amount it offers, the percent Daily Value (DV%) that this amount represents, the nutrient density that we calculated for this food and nutrient, and the rating we established in our rating system. For most of our nutrient ratings, we adopted the government standards for food labeling that are found in the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's "Reference Values for Nutrition Labeling." Read more background information and details of our rating system.
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