A wonderful combination of tangy taste and crunchy texture, sweet 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. Despite their varied palette, all are the same plant, known scientifically as Capsicum annuum. They are members of the nightshade family, which also includes potatoes, tomatoes and eggplant. Sweet peppers are plump, bell-shaped vegetables featuring either three or four lobes. Green and purple peppers have a slightly bitter flavor, while the red, orange and yellows are sweeter and almost fruity. Paprika can be prepared from red bell peppers (as well as from chili peppers). Bell peppers are not 'hot'. The primary substance that controls "hotness" in peppers is called capsaicin, and it's found in very small amounts in bell peppers. Although peppers are available throughout the year, they are most abundant and tasty during the summer and early fall months.
While bell peppers are a very popular vegetable, they have not always shared the health research spotlight with other members of the pepper family due to their very minimal content of the phytonutrient capsaicin, the well-researched pepper compound that gives hot peppers their "heat." Once active in the body, capsaicin can bind onto nerve cell receptors and change pain sensation, and it may also have important anti-cancer and blood-sugar balancing properties. However, the lack of "heat" or significant amounts of capsaicin in bell peppers does not mean that this vegetable should be denied the health research spotlight!
The actual nutrient and phytonutrient content of bell peppers is impressive - and also somewhat surprising given the very low-fat nature of this vegetable (some nutrients and phtyonutrients are fat-soluble and hence for them to be present the food needs to contain some fat). There is far less than 1 gram of total fat in one cup of sliced bell pepper. However, this very small amount of fat is enough to provide a reliable storage spot for bell pepper's fat-soluble nutrients, including its fat-soluble carotenoids and vitamin E. Bell pepper is a very good source of vitamin E at about 1.45 milligrams per cup, and it contains more than 30 different carotenoids, including excellent amounts of beta-carotene and zeaxanthin. Both of these carotenoids provide antioxidant and anti-inflammatory health benefits. Within this Health Benefits section, we'll focus on two areas of bell pepper research: research on the antioxidant benefits, and research on potential anti-cancer benefits.
While research studies have tended to focus on carotenoids as the hallmark antioxidants in bell pepper, this vegetable actually provides us with a very broad range of antioxidants. In terms of conventional nutrients, bell pepper is an excellent source of vitamin C at 117 milligrams per cup. (That's more than twice the amount of vitamin C found in a typical orange.) Bell pepper is also a good source of another antioxidant vitamin--vitamin E. In addition to these conventional antioxidant vitamins, bell pepper is also a good source of the antioxidant mineral manganese. The list of bell pepper phytonutrients is also impressive and includes:
Within this list of phytonutrient antioxidants, it's understandable why carotenoids have been singled out for research attention. Among the five carotenoids listed above, bell pepper contains concentrated amounts of beta-carotene and zeaxanthin. (One cup of freshly sliced red bell pepper, for example, contains about 1,500 micrograms of beta-carotene, or the same as one third of a small carrot.) In a recent study from Spain, researchers took a close look at vitamin C, vitamin E, and six different carotenoids (alpha-carotene, beta-carotene, lycopene, lutein, cryptoxanthin and zeaxanthin) found in all commonly eaten foods. Only two vegetables were determined to contain at least two-thirds of these nutrients. One of these foods was tomato, and the other was sweet bell pepper! In addition, bell pepper alone was determined to provide 12% of the total zeaxanthin found in the participants' diets! Bell pepper alone was also found to provide 7% of the participants' total vitamin C intake.
This remarkable track record for bell peppers as an antioxidant-rich food has yet to be translated into research on risk reduction for disease. We expect to see antioxidant benefits specifically from bell peppers showing up in a wide variety of human health studies, including studies on prevention of cardiovascular disease and prevention of type 2 diabetes. We also expect to see antioxidant benefits showing up strongly in the area of eye health. Just one cup of sweet green bell pepper slices provides us with 314 micrograms (combined) of the carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin. These two particular carotenoids are found in high concentrations in the macula of the eye (the centermost part of the retina), and they are required for protection of the macula from oxygen-related damage. In one condition called age-related macular degeneration, or AMD, the macula of the eye can become damaged and vision can become lost. (In the U.S., AMD is the leading case of blindness in adults over the age of 60.) We suspect that future human studies will show risk reduction for AMD with routine intake of bell peppers due to their strong antioxidant benefits (and in particular, their unique concentration of lutein and zeaxanthin).
As a food that is rich in antioxidant and anti-inflammatory nutrients, bell pepper would be expected to provide us with important anti-cancer benefits. Exposure to chronic excessive inflammation and chronic unwanted oxidative stress can increase the risk of cancer development for most cancer types, and both of these factors can be partly offset by diet. (Regular intake of antioxidant nutrients can lower the likelihood of chronic oxidative stress, and regular intake of anti-inflammatory nutrients can lower the likelihood of chronic excessive inflammation.) With a rich supply of phytonutrients that have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, bell peppers would be expected to help offset these factors and lower our risk of cancer development. Unfortunately, large-scale human research studies have not tried to isolate the impact of bell peppers on cancer risk. At best, they have usually grouped bell peppers among other vegetables and analyzed the anti-cancer benefits of vegetables as a group. Still, we very much expect to see future studies documenting the specific benefits of bell peppers for risk reduction of cancer. Based on preliminary studies on animals and in the lab, cancers of the digestive tract (including gastric cancer and esophageal cancer) may be areas in which bell peppers end up showing a special potential for support.
Alongside of this antioxidant/anti-inflammatory component of bell peppers' potential anti-cancer benefits is a second, less expected component. This second component involves the metabolism of sulfur compounds in bell pepper, and in particular the metabolism of the sulfur-containing amino acid cysteine. While bell pepper is not high in either protein or in the amino acid cysteine, it may be unusual in its metabolism of this amino acid. Several recent studies have taken a close look at the presence of enzymes in bell peppers called cysteine S-conjugate beta-lyases and their role in a sulfur-containing metabolic pathway called the thiomethyl shunt. These enzymes and this pathway may be involved in some of the anti-cancer benefits that bell pepper has shown in some preliminary animal and lab studies. They may serve as the basis for some of the anti-cancer benefits shown by green, yellow, red and orange vegetable intake in recent studies, including a recent study on risk reduction for gastric cancer and esophageal cancer.
Bell peppers belong to the nightshade (Solanaceae) family of plants, along with chili pepper, cayenne pepper, eggplant, tomatoes and potatoes (except sweet potatoes and yams). Their scientific name is Capsicum annuum. This scientific name, however, is used to refer not only to bell peppers, but also to wax peppers, cayenne peppers, chili peppers, and jalapeno peppers.
While we are most accustomed to seeing green bell peppers in the supermarket, these delicious vegetables actually come in a wide variety of colors, including yellow, orange, red, purple, brown and black. The green bell peppers you purchase in the food market may actually be immature, non-ripe versions of these other color varieties. Not all bell peppers start off green, however, nor do green bell peppers always mature into other basic colors.
Paprika is a dried powdered form of bell pepper, and even though we are used to seeing red paprika in the spice section of the grocery, a paprika can be made from any color of bell pepper and it will end up being that same color once dried and ground into powder.
Bell peppers can be eaten at any stage of development. However, recent research has shown that the vitamin C and carotenoid content of bell peppers tends to increase while the pepper is reaching its optimal ripeness. Bell peppers are also typically more flavorful when optimally ripe.
Bell peppers have been cultivated for more than 9000 years, with the earliest cultivation having taken place in South and Central America. While the name "pepper" was given to this food by European colonizers of North America who first came across it in the 1500-1600's and then transported it back to Europe, the original name for this food in Spanish was pimiento.
Because bell peppers can be grown in a variety of climates and are popular in cuisines throughout the world, they can frequently be found on small farms in North America, Central America, South America, Europe, Africa, the Middle East, and parts of Asia. In terms of commercial production, however, China has become by far the largest producer of bell peppers and produced 14 million metric tons in 2007. At about 2 million metric tons, Mexico is the second largest commercial producer, followed by the United States at approximately 1 million metric tons.
Within the U.S., California and Florida are the largest bell pepper-producing states. (In terms of chili pepper production, however, New Mexico currently stands in first place.) . The average U.S. adult consumes about 16 pounds of peppers per year, including almost 9.5 pounds of bell peppers.
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 (reflecting their thick, well-formed and well-hydrated walls) and firm enough so that they will only yield slightly to a small amount of 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 and early fall months.
It can be difficult to tell whether a bell pepper is optimally ripe, but from a nutritional and health standpoint, it is definitely worth paying attention to the degree of ripeness in your bell peppers. You don't want them to be overly ripe to the point of getting too soft, wrinkly, or blemished. In fact, if bell peppers are optimally ripe at the time of purchase, they can lose up to 15% of their vitamin C content over the course of 10-day storage in the refrigerator and up to 25% of their vitamin C over 20-days of refrigerator storage time. However, if not optimally ripe at the time of purchase, the vitamin C and carotenoids in bell peppers will actually increase with refrigerator storage over the next 10 days. So as you can see, there is a delicate balance in terms of optimal ripeness! We encourage you not to worry about eating bell peppers that are not yet optimally ripe, because they can still provide you with outstanding health benefits. But for optimal vitamin C and carotenoid benefits, you may want to experiment a little and see if you can develop a skill for evaluating ripeness in this vegetable. Unfortunately, you cannot use basic color as your primary guideline. Most - but not all - green bell peppers will turn red in color over time, but they may be optimally ripe before shifting over from green to red. (There are also some varieties of bell peppers which never start out green.) A good rule of thumb is to judge not by the color itself but by the color quality and overall texture and feel. Whether green, red, yellow, or orange, optimally ripe bell peppers will have deep, vivid colors, will feel heavy for their size, and will be firm enough to yield only slightly to pressure.
At WHFoods, we encourage the purchase of certified organically grown foods, and bell peppers are no exception. Repeated research studies on organic foods as a group show that your likelihood of exposure to contaminants such as pesticides and heavy metals can be greatly reduced through the purchased of certified organic foods, including bell peppers. In many cases, you may be able to find a local organic grower who sells bell peppers but has not applied for formal organic certification either through the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) or through a state agency. (Examples of states offering state-certified organic foods include California, New York, Oregon, Vermont, and Washington.) However, if you are shopping in a large supermarket, your most reliable source of organically grown bell peppers is very likely to be bell peppers that display the USDA organic logo.
Unwashed sweet peppers stored in the vegetable compartment of the refrigerator will keep for approximately 7-10 days.
Here is some background on why we recommend refrigerating bell peppers. Whenever food is stored, four basic factors affect its nutrient composition: exposure to air, exposure to light, exposure to heat, and length of time in storage. Vitamin C, vitamin B6, and carotenoids are good examples of nutrients highly susceptible to heat, and for this reason, their loss from food is very likely to be slowed down through refrigeration.
Because bell peppers need to still well hydrated and are very sensitive to moisture loss, we further recommend that you include a damp cloth or paper towel in the vegetable compartment to help the peppers retain their moisture. Do not cut out the bell pepper stem prior to storage in the refrigerator. Bell peppers are especially sensitive to moisture loss through this stem (calyx) portion and are more susceptible to chilling injury if the stem is removed. 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.
Although most people would not consider washing bell peppers under hot water, we want to be clear about the disadvantages of doing so. A recent study has shown that bell peppers retain more of their total antioxidant capacity when washed under cold versus hot water.
Finally, if you are going to consume your bell peppers within a day or two and suspect that they are not fully ripe, you may want to consider storing them without refrigeration. We've seen one recent study showing that room temperature storage of 20°C (68°F) can improve the availability of fat-soluble carotenoids in bell peppers that are not yet optimally ripe.
Before coring and/or cutting the pepper, wash it under cold running water. If the pepper has been waxed, you should also scrub it gently but thoroughly with a natural bristle brush.
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. The pulpy white inner cavity of the bell pepper is rich in flavonoids and can be eaten, even though some people have a personal preference for removing this section.
Of all of the cooking methods we tried when cooking bell peppers, our favorite is Healthy Sauté. Healthy Sauté—similar to Quick Steaming and Quick Boiling, our other recommended cooking methods—follows three basic cooking guidelines that are generally associated in food science research with improved nutrient retention. These three guidelines are: (1) minimal necessary heat exposure; (2) minimal necessary cooking duration; (3) minimal necessary food surface contact with cooking liquid.
To Healthy Sauté bell peppers, heat 3 TBS of broth (vegetable or chicken) or water in a stainless steel skillet. Once bubbles begin to form add sliced red bell peppers, cover, and Healthy Sauté for 3 minutes on medium heat. After 3 minutes add 2 TBS broth, then cook uncovered on low heat for another 4 minutes, stirring constantly. Transfer to a bowl and toss with our Mediterranean Dressing. (See our Healthy Sautéed Red Bell Peppers recipe for details on how to prepare this dish.)
If you'd like even more recipes and ways to prepare bell peppers the Nutrient-Rich Way, you may want to explore The World's Healthiest Foods book.
Bell peppers are an outstanding source of antioxidant and anti-inflammatory phytonutrients. These phytonutrients include flavonoids (luteolin, quercetin, hesperidin) and hydroxycinnamic acids (especially ferulic and cinnamic acids). But the hallmark phytonutrient group found in bell peppers is the carotenoid family, with more than 30 different carotenoids being provided by this vegetable. Included in bell pepper carotenoids are alpha-carotene, beta-carotene, cryptoxanthin, lutein and zeaxanthin. Bell peppers are an excellent source of vitamin A (in the form of carotenoids), vitamin C and vitamin B6. They are a very good source of folate, molybdenum, vitamin E, dietary fiber, vitamin B2, pantothenic acid, niacin and potassium. Additionally, they are a good source of vitamin K, manganese, vitamin B1, phosphorus and magnesium.
Bell Peppers, sliced, red, raw
GI: very low
|vitamin C||117.48 mg||157||98.9||excellent|
|vitamin A||144.03 mcg RAE||16||10.1||excellent|
|vitamin B6||0.27 mg||16||10.0||excellent|
|folate||42.32 mcg||11||6.7||very good|
|molybdenum||4.60 mcg||10||6.5||very good|
|vitamin E||1.45 mg (ATE)||10||6.1||very good|
|fiber||1.85 g||7||4.7||very good|
|vitamin B2||0.08 mg||6||3.9||very good|
|pantothenic acid||0.29 mg||6||3.7||very good|
|vitamin B3||0.90 mg||6||3.6||very good|
|potassium||194.12 mg||6||3.5||very good|
|vitamin K||4.51 mcg||5||3.2||good|
|vitamin B1||0.05 mg||4||2.6||good|
Density>=7.6 AND DRI/DV>=10%
Density>=3.4 AND DRI/DV>=5%
Density>=1.5 AND DRI/DV>=2.5%
|Bell Peppers, sliced, red, raw|
(Note: "--" indicates data unavailable)
|GI: very low|
|BASIC MACRONUTRIENTS AND CALORIES|
|Fat - total||0.28 g||--|
|Dietary Fiber||1.85 g||7|
|MACRONUTRIENT AND CALORIE DETAIL|
|Total Sugars||3.70 g|
|Soluble Fiber||-- g|
|Insoluble Fiber||-- g|
|Other Carbohydrates||0.00 g|
|Monounsaturated Fat||0.00 g|
|Polyunsaturated Fat||0.06 g|
|Saturated Fat||0.02 g|
|Trans Fat||0.00 g|
|Calories from Fat||2.48|
|Calories from Saturated Fat||0.22|
|Calories from Trans Fat||0.00|
|Vitamin B1||0.05 mg||4|
|Vitamin B2||0.08 mg||6|
|Vitamin B3||0.90 mg||6|
|Vitamin B3 (Niacin Equivalents)||1.08 mg|
|Vitamin B6||0.27 mg||16|
|Vitamin B12||0.00 mcg||0|
|Folate (DFE)||42.32 mcg|
|Folate (food)||42.32 mcg|
|Pantothenic Acid||0.29 mg||6|
|Vitamin C||117.48 mg||157|
|Vitamin A (Retinoids and Carotenoids)|
|Vitamin A International Units (IU)||2880.52 IU|
|Vitamin A mcg Retinol Activity Equivalents (RAE)||144.03 mcg (RAE)||16|
|Vitamin A mcg Retinol Equivalents (RE)||288.05 mcg (RE)|
|Retinol mcg Retinol Equivalents (RE)||0.00 mcg (RE)|
|Carotenoid mcg Retinol Equivalents (RE)||288.05 mcg (RE)|
|Beta-Carotene Equivalents||1728.68 mcg|
|Lutein and Zeaxanthin||46.92 mcg|
|Vitamin D International Units (IU)||0.00 IU||0|
|Vitamin D mcg||0.00 mcg|
|Vitamin E mg Alpha-Tocopherol Equivalents (ATE)||1.45 mg (ATE)||10|
|Vitamin E International Units (IU)||2.17 IU|
|Vitamin E mg||1.45 mg|
|Vitamin K||4.51 mcg||5|
|INDIVIDUAL FATTY ACIDS|
|Omega-3 Fatty Acids||0.02 g||1|
|Omega-6 Fatty Acids||0.04 g|
|14:1 Myristoleic||0.00 g|
|15:1 Pentadecenoic||0.00 g|
|16:1 Palmitol||0.00 g|
|17:1 Heptadecenoic||0.00 g|
|18:1 Oleic||0.00 g|
|20:1 Eicosenoic||0.00 g|
|22:1 Erucic||0.00 g|
|24:1 Nervonic||0.00 g|
|Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids|
|18:2 Linoleic||0.04 g|
|18:2 Conjugated Linoleic (CLA)||-- g|
|18:3 Linolenic||0.02 g|
|18:4 Stearidonic||0.00 g|
|20:3 Eicosatrienoic||0.00 g|
|20:4 Arachidonic||0.00 g|
|20:5 Eicosapentaenoic (EPA)||0.00 g|
|22:5 Docosapentaenoic (DPA)||0.00 g|
|22:6 Docosahexaenoic (DHA)||0.00 g|
|Saturated Fatty Acids|
|4:0 Butyric||0.00 g|
|6:0 Caproic||0.00 g|
|8:0 Caprylic||0.00 g|
|10:0 Capric||0.00 g|
|12:0 Lauric||0.00 g|
|14:0 Myristic||0.00 g|
|15:0 Pentadecanoic||0.00 g|
|16:0 Palmitic||0.02 g|
|17:0 Margaric||0.00 g|
|18:0 Stearic||0.00 g|
|20:0 Arachidic||0.00 g|
|22:0 Behenate||0.00 g|
|24:0 Lignoceric||0.00 g|
|INDIVIDUAL AMINO ACIDS|
|Aspartic Acid||0.26 g|
|Glutamic Acid||0.19 g|
|Organic Acids (Total)||0.00 g|
|Acetic Acid||0.00 g|
|Citric Acid||0.00 g|
|Lactic Acid||0.00 g|
|Malic Acid||0.00 g|
|Sugar Alcohols (Total)||0.00 g|
|Artificial Sweeteners (Total)||0.00 mg|
Note:The nutrient profiles provided in this website are derived from The Food Processor, Version 10.12.0, ESHA Research, Salem, Oregon, USA. Among the 50,000+ food items in the master database and 163 nutritional components per item, specific nutrient values were frequently missing from any particular food item. We chose the designation "--" to represent those nutrients for which no value was included in this version of the database.
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