Bell peppers, or sweet peppers, are a popular vegetable that people can eat raw or cooked. They are part of the nightshade family and are native to North and South America. They are in season in the United States during the summer and fall.
Bell peppers come in different colors, depending on how ripe they are. People can choose from the least ripe green peppers through to yellow, orange, purple, or red, which are the ripest.
All colors of pepper have nutritional benefits, but red peppers may have higher antioxidant and phytonutrient levels because they are riper than yellow or green peppers.
Like all vegetables, bell peppers naturally contain small amounts of sugars. Red peppers are sweeter, while green peppers can taste more bitter.
In this article, we will look at the health benefits of bell peppers, analyze any risks in eating bell peppers, and offer suggestions for how to use them in cooking.
Bell peppers are high in vitamin C, especially red peppers.
According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), half a cup of raw, red pepper provides 95 milligrams (mg) of vitamin C, which accounts for 106% of the recommended Daily Value (%DV) for adults and children aged 4 and over.
Like all vitamins, vitamin C is essential. This means the body cannot make it by itself, and it only receives it through diet.
Vitamin C is important for many functions in the body, including:
- producing collagen in the body, which is essential for healing wounds and forming connective tissue
- protein metabolism
- supporting the immune system
- increasing the absorption of non-heme iron (the form found in plants)
- powerful antioxidant capacity, neutralizing free radicals and decreasing risk of cancer and other diseases associated with oxidative stress
Adequate consumption will also help prevent conditions that happen due to a deficiency of vitamin C, such as scurvy.
According to the NIH, half a cup of raw, red pepper provides 117 micrograms (mcg) retinol activity equivalents of vitamin A, which is 13% of the recommended %DV.
The form of vitamin A that orange and red peppers contain is called beta carotene, which the body converts into the active form of vitamin A. Beta carotene is what gives these peppers their orange and red colors.
Vitamin A plays an essential role in:
- immune function
- communication between cells
- cell growth
- normal functioning of organs
Peppers are also a
- Vitamin B6: This vitamin supports the central nervous system and metabolism.
- Folate: This vitamin, also known as vitamin B9, helps transform carbohydrates into energy and is essential for normal cell growth and development.
- Vitamin E: This vitamin supports the immune system and keeps blood vessels healthy.
- Fiber: This nutrient promotes gut and cardiovascular health by supporting regular bowel movements and reducing low-density lipoprotein cholesterol levels.
Bell peppers are an excellent source of antioxidants, including flavonoids, which help to protect against oxidative damage in the body.
Bell peppers contain a number of different antioxidants:
- vitamin C
- beta carotene
These compounds help prevent oxidative cell damage, which may help to prevent certain diseases such as:
The flavonoids in peppers also help to protect brain cells by helping prevent oxidation of the essential fats within those cells.
Zeaxanthin and lutein are carotenoids in peppers that may help protect eye health.
A 2020 study found some species of orange peppers have high levels of zeaxanthin. Yellow peppers contain high levels of lutein.
According to the Arthritis Foundation, bell peppers may help to reduce the risk of developing some types of arthritis and other inflammatory health conditions. This is due to two factors: beta-cryptoxanthin and high vitamin C content.
Beta-cryptoxanthin is a carotenoid in red and orange peppers. Consuming it could reduce a person’s risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis.
Bell peppers may help to protect bone and cartilage cells because of their high vitamin C levels. Consuming less than the daily recommended intake of 75 mg of vitamin C for females, and 90 mg for males, could increase the risk of osteoarthritis. Half a cup of the vegetable will provide a full day’s worth.
There are some risks involved with bell pepper consumption in some people.
Bell pepper allergy
It is possible to have an allergy to bell peppers. An allergy to bell peppers is due to a cross-reaction between the vegetable and pollen.
If people think they may have an allergy to bell peppers, they can see their doctor for a skin prick test to check.
Peppers are part of a family of vegetables known as nightshades. Some people might find that consuming nightshades causes irritation to the gut or increases inflammation.
But some people can mistake an allergy for an intolerance. With an intolerance, a person may experience some digestive issues after eating the food. With an allergy, they could experience more serious issues, such as breathing problems or a rash.
According to the Arthritis Foundation, there is no scientific evidence to suggest nightshades cause inflammation.
The study involved 18 adults with mild to moderate IBD. After 3 weeks, participants reported a significant reduction in some symptoms, such as frequency of bowel movements. But it is impossible to say whether these improvements were due to eliminating nightshades or another dietary component.
If people want to test whether nightshades trigger inflammatory symptoms, they can eliminate all nightshades from their diet for a couple of weeks. People can then gradually add nightshades back into their diet and observe any changes.
Bell peppers are a popular addition to many dishes. They also make a great snack on their own. Learn more about how to buy, store, and prepare them here.
When shopping, choose bell peppers with healthy, undamaged skins. Quality bell peppers should feel firm, with a smooth skin.
Avoid peppers with visible damage, such as soft areas or wrinkled skin. Harmful microorganisms could enter the damaged vegetables and cause a person to experience health problems, such as food poisoning.
People can store bell peppers in the fridge in a plastic bag.
People will usually need to use bell peppers within 5 days.
People can eat peppers raw by slicing them and removing the stalk, white center parts, and seeds.
Raw peppers can be delicious as part of dishes involving dips or salads.
People can also cook peppers by:
- Roasting: Remove the core of seeds from the peppers and slice or keep them whole. Roast in a small amount of oil in the oven. If the skin blackens, remove the bell pepper from the oven and place it in a plastic bag to cool to help remove the skin.
- Frying: Fry sliced peppers in a frying pan or wok with some oil, or add them to a stir-fry.
- Grill: After deseeding, brush peppers with olive oil and a little salt and place on the grill.
- Stuffed peppers: Hollow out a pepper by taking out the core, and then fill with a mixture of beans, cooked rice, tomato, and seasoning before baking in the oven until tender. Ground turkey or beef works well here, too.
- Puree: Make a dip by pureeing roasted peppers with garlic, capers, herbs, oil, and lemon juice.
People can also add sliced peppers to pizza toppings before cooking. They can add them to an omelet or put them into a sandwich or wrap.
Paprika is a dried and powdered form of bell pepper. People can use paprika as a spice in cooking.
Paprika has a sweet, smoky flavor.
Bell peppers offer many health benefits. They are an excellent source of vitamin C, especially the ripest peppers, which are red. Peppers are also a good source of vitamin A and fiber.
Bell peppers also have antioxidant properties, which may help to protect against diseases such as cardiovascular disease and some cancers. Compounds in bell peppers may also help to protect against inflammatory conditions, such as arthritis.
If people have a pepper or nightshade allergy, they may need to avoid bell peppers.
Bell peppers are a nutritious and easy addition to any meal. People can slice them and eat them raw, roast, grill, or fry them.