Bell pepper

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’.

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.)

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!