The Latest News About Bell Peppers
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.
What's New and Beneficial About Bell Peppers
- Bell pepper is not only an excellent source of carotenoids, but also a source of over 30 different members of the carotenoid nutrient family. A recent study from Spain took a close look vitamin C, vitamin E, and six of these carotenoids (alpha-carotene, beta-carotene, lycopene, lutein, cryptoxanthin and zeaxanthin) in all commonly eaten foods and found that only two vegetables contained at least two-thirds of all the listed nutrients. One of these foods was tomato, and the other was sweet bell pepper! Bell pepper alone provided 12% of the total zeaxanthin found in the participants' diets. (Bell pepper also provided 7% of the participants' total vitamin C intake.)
- If you want to maximize the availability of vitamin C and carotenoids from bell pepper, allow this amazing vegetable to ripen. Recent studies have shown that the vitamin C content and the carotenoid content of bell pepper both increase with ripening. When the vitamin C and carotenoid content of bell peppers increases, so does their total antioxidant capacity, which can be a source of great health benefits. Growers can allow bell peppers to ripen on the plant prior to harvest (which means that you will be able to purchase them in the grocery store in a ripened state). Or, if harvested early in the ripening stage, bell peppers can still be allowed to ripen post-harvest and after you've purchased them and brought them home from the market. In one recent study, the vitamin C in not-fully-ripe bell peppers continued to increase during home storage over a period of about 10 days. It can, though, be difficult to tell whether a bell pepper is optimally ripe. 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. A good rule of thumb is to judge less by their basic color and more by their color quality as well as overall texture and feel. Whether green, red, yellow, or orange, optimally ripe bell peppers will have deep, vivid colors, feel heavy for their size, and be firm enough to yield only slightly to pressure.
- Higher heat cooking can damage some of the delicate phytonutrients in bell peppers. In one recent study from Turkey, the effects of grilling on sweet green bell peppers were studied with respect to one particular phytonutrient - the flavonoid called luteolin. Prior to grilling, the bell peppers were found to contain about 46 milligrams/kilogram of this important antioxidant and anti-inflammatory flavonoid. After grilling for 7-8 minutes at a temperature of 150C (302F), about 40% of the luteolin was found to be destroyed. This loss of luteolin from higher heat cooking is one of the reasons we like cooking methods for bell peppers that use lower heat for a very short period of time.
- Although we tend to think about cruciferous vegetables like broccoli or allium vegetables like onions and garlic as vegetables that are richest in sulfur-containing compounds, bell peppers can also be valuable sources of health-supportive sulfur compounds. 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 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.
WHFoods Recommendations for Bell Peppers
Of all of the cooking methods we tried when cooking bell peppers, our favorite is Healthy Sauté. We think that it provides the greatest flavor and is also a method that allows for concentrated nutrient retention.
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.)
Health Benefits of Eating Bell Peppers
Bell Peppers provide numerous health benefits including:
- Anti-oxidant support
- Potential anti-cancer benefits
For more details on bell peppers' health benefits, see this section of our bell peppers write-up.
Nutritional Profile of Bell Peppers
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.
For more on this nutrient-rich vegetable, including references related to this Latest News, see our write-up on bell peppers.