Available in red, yellow, orange or green, bells peppers are not just a versatile ingredient. Nutritionist Kerry Torrens reveals their nutritional and health benefits..
What are peppers?
The fruit of the bell pepper (capsicum annuum) and a member of the nightshade family along with aubergine, tomatoes and potatoes, bell peppers are also referred to as sweet peppers. A non-hot relative to the chilli pepper, bell peppers can be eaten raw or cooked and make a nutritious addition to a meal.
An 80g serving of red bell pepper (raw) provides:
101mg vitamin C
It’s worth noting that the nutritional contribution of bell peppers varies dependent on their colour, with red varieties supplying more potassium, vitamin C and folate than their yellow, orange or green equivalents. However, immature green peppers are significantly richer than their mature red equivalent, in the protective plant compounds known as polyphenols.
Like other vegetables, nutritional value will be affected by preparation and cooking methods. Pre-roasted peppers, a popular deli-counter purchase available in a jar or tub, lose up to 25 per cent of their vitamin C content. How long the pepper is cooked, the temperature used, the method of cooking and any preservation techniques applied are factors which influence the amount of loss, although dry heat, such as that in stir-frying and roasting, is considered preferable to boiling or steaming.
What are the 5 top health benefits of bell peppers?
1. May reduce the risk of cataracts and macular degeneration
Nutrition plays an important part in delaying the development of age-related sight loss. In particular, two carotenoids called Lutein and zeaxanthin, when eaten in sufficient amounts, appear to improve eye health. They do this by protecting the retina from oxidative damage. Red peppers are especially rich in these carotenoids, as well as other protective nutrients such as vitamin C. Numerous studies suggest that regularly eating foods rich in carotenoids and especially lutein and zeaxanthin, may cut the risk of both cataracts and macular degenerations
2. May reduce the likelihood of anaemia
A common condition especially among women and girls of reproductive age, anaemia is the result of a lack of oxygen in the blood. One of the commonest causes being iron deficiency. Bell peppers contribute modest amounts of iron but are remarkably rich in vitamin C, half a pepper supplying as much as 100mg. This is significant because vitamin C increases the absorption of iron in the gut and numerous studies confirm that diets high in vitamin C-rich fruit and vegetables results in a greater iron uptake. Bell peppers help further because they contain vitamin B6 which is needed to make haemoglobin, the protein which carries oxygen around the body.
3. May protect against certain chronic diseases
Bell peppers are rich in antioxidants which are associated with better health and protection against conditions like heart disease and cancer. For instance, peppers are especially rich in antioxidant vitamins including vitamins C, E and beta-carotene. They also supply bountiful amounts of polyphenols, these protective plant compounds include lutein, quercetin and capsaicin the latter being especially rich in ripe red peppers. Being an antioxidant powerhouse suggests peppers offer a strong anti-inflammatory capacity and are likely to lower the risk of chronic disease. Sadly, to date large scale studies which specifically look at the consumption of bell peppers on the incidence of chronic disease, remains lacking.
4. May delay age-related memory loss
Interesting findings from animal studies suggest that bell pepper consumption may be effective in preventing memory loss in those with Alzheimer’s. Compounds in ripe peppers appear to inhibit an enzyme which releases amyloid proteins – these are the proteins responsible for accumulating around nerve fibres and contributing to the risk of Alzheimer’s. Subsequent research suggests that it’s possibly the many plant compounds in peppers including phenols, carotenoids and flavonoids which may be responsible for these findings.
5. May have blood-sugar lowering effects
Animal studies suggest bell peppers aid blood sugar management. However, although increasing evidence supports it’s the polyphenols, found in plants like peppers, which have a beneficial influence on blood sugar and appear to help reduce the risk of diabetes, more human studies are needed. It’s hoped that any future research would provide an insight into how much would constitute an effective intake of polyphenol-rich foods.
Are bell peppers safe for everyone?
Bell peppers are a healthy inclusion for most people, although some choose to avoid them because they find peppers are difficult to digest and may trigger heartburn.
Others, experience allergic symptoms, although this is uncommon, with cross-reactivity being more likely for people who have a pollen allergy.
If you’re concerned about including bell peppers in your diet please consult your GP or registered dietitian for guidance.