Bring in the bell peppers!

Bring in the bell peppers!

Environmental Nutrition

Bell peppers, which are often mistakenly referred to as vegetables, are nutritious fruits with great health benefits.

The folklore

Thousands of years before Peter Piper picked the peck of pickled peppers, they were cultivated in South and Central America. Peppers were long known by their Spanish name, pimiento, but when Columbus brought them to Europe in 1493, Europeans noted that dried chili peppers were hotter than black pepper, the familiar spice ground from peppercorns, and we’ve called them — both the sweet and spicy varieties — peppers ever since. Bell peppers, or sweet peppers, are brightly hued and beautifully bell-shaped, ringing with high flavor and nutritional notes.

The facts

Green, red, white, yellow, orange, purple, brown and even black — bell peppers (Capsicum annuum) come in a rainbow of shades. Powerful, disease-fighting phytochemicals called carotenoids give bell peppers their vibrant colors. Members of the nightshade family, which includes eggplants, tomatoes and chili peppers, bell peppers may be eaten at any stage of growth, though their vitamin and nutrient content peaks at full ripeness. These fruits, which we treat as vegetables, are bursting with vitamins: a one-cup serving boasts 317 percent Daily Value (DV) of antioxidant vitamin C — more than twice that of an orange! That same serving contains a host of vitamins, including 93 percent DV of vitamin A, 22 percent DV of vitamin B6, and 12 percent DV of vitamin E.

The findings

Bell peppers contain more than 30 different carotenoids, including beta-carotene and zeaxanthin, which have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits. Increased consumption of a variety of fruits and vegetables rich in carotenoids is associated with long-term reduced risk of age-related macular degeneration (JAMA Opthamology, December 2015). Bell peppers’ antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties have not yet been studied for their anti-cancer potential, but reduced oxidative stress helps lower cancer risk. Eat bell peppers raw or gently cooked to maintain optimal health properties (Food and Chemical Toxicology, March 2013).

The finer points

Fresh peppers are available year round, but are most abundant in summer and early fall. They also are jarred, canned, frozen and dried as paprika. Choose vibrantly colored, smooth skinned fruits that feel firm and heavy for their size. Store seven to 10 days in the refrigerator. Stem, core and cut to your liking. Raw slices add flair to a crudite platter and make a fun cracker alternative topped with hummus, tapenade or nut butter. A gentle saute of multicolored peppers as a side dish or accompaniment to meat, chicken or fish will brighten any meal.

(Reprinted with permission from Environmental Nutrition, a monthly publication of Belvoir Media Group, LLC. 800-829-5384.