Bell Peppers: Pick a Peck for Health
Bell peppers have a wonderful, rather tangy taste with a crunchy texture and are naturally glossy on the outside. Bell peppers come in many colors, including red, green, purple, yellow, and orange. Red bell peppers are actually green bell peppers that have been allowed to ripen on the vine, which also gives them a much sweeter flavor. Even though there are so many different varieties of bell peppers, they are all members of the Capsicum annuum family, also known as the nightshade family of vegetables, which includes potatoes, eggplant, and tomatoes. The spices pimento and paprika are actually made from red bell peppers. Though they are called bell peppers, they aren’t hot; capsaicin, the part of peppers that gives them their heat is found in bell peppers, but only in very small amounts.
Studies show that bell peppers have a protective effect against cataracts, which is likely due to their vitamin C and beta carotene content, as well as due to their high phytochemical content. Bell peppers also have substances, such as capsaicin and flavonoids, which have been shown to help prevent blood clot formation and decrease the risk of heart attacks and stroke. Even though bell peppers aren't as high in these compounds as are chili peppers, they do help to decrease high cholesterol levels.
Their high vitamin C content also makes them a great immune-boosting food, and is great for helping to combat the effects of colds and flu. However, if you want to get the most benefit out of bell peppers, make sure that it is ripe—this maximizes the availability of the vitamin C and carotenoids in the bell pepper. And when you get higher amounts of vitamin C and carotenoids, you increase the antioxidant capabilities of the vegetable.
It can be hard to tell whether or not a bell pepper is optimally ripe. A good rule of thumb to follow is to judge less on the basic color and more by the color quality as well as the texture quality. No matter what the type of the bell pepper, the color should be bright and deep, the pepper feel heavy for its size, and be firm.
Bell peppers are one of the most nutrient-dense foods available. Though one serving (3.5oz) of bell pepper is only 20 calories, it provides a ton of nutrients, including vitamins B6, C and K, beta carotene, thiamine, and folic acid. They also are a great source of phytochemicals, which are strong antioxidants. Red bell peppers have significantly higher amounts of nutrients than do green bell peppers, and they also contain lycopene, which is a carotene that has benefits against cancer and heart disease. And, though broccoli and other cruciferous vegetables tend to get all of the attention when it comes to sulfur-containing foods, bell peppers are also good sources of healthful sulfur compounds. Sulfur compounds have shown in many studies to be highly beneficial in preventing and treating cancer.Bell peppers are available year-round but are usually more abundant during the summer and early fall months. Pick peppers that are fresh, firm, and bright looking. Avoid peppers that are dry, wrinkled, or showing signs of decay.