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.