Bell peppers

What's New and Beneficial About Bell Peppers

WHFoods Recommendations

Because many people are long-accustomed to finding green bell peppers in the produce section of the supermarket, we want to start our WHFoods Recommendations for bell peppers with these green varieties. Our outstanding level of green vegetable intake at WHFoods is 8 servings of green vegetables per day. A variety of days in our World's Healthiest Foods Meal Plan provide this outstanding amount, without compromising the delicious balance of textures or flavors in our World' Healthiest Foods Meal Plan Recipes. The many different types of green vegetables available to provide you with exceptional nourishment are nothing short of astonishing! Not only can you choose from dark green leafy vegetables from the cruciferous group (for example, mustard greens, turnip greens, kale, or collards), but also from the squash/gourd group (including zucchini and cucumber), the parsley/umbelliferous group (like fennel and celery), green allium vegetables like leeks, green lettuces like romaine, the asparagus group that includes asparagus, the leguminous vegetable group that includes both green peas and green beans, and of course green bell peppers. Rather than relying exclusively on any one of these green vegetable subgroups, we recommend that you consider including green vegetables across all of these subgroups when putting together your weekly meal plan.

Of course, bell peppers can be enjoyed in a wide variety of colors - including delightful shades of yellow and orange. If you are selecting bell peppers in this color category, you'll want to count them as contributing to your yellow/orange vegetable intake. (For more details about yellow/orange vegetables, please see our Vegetable Advisor.) As a minimum daily goal for vegetable intake from the yellow/orange group, we recommend ½ cup per day. A more optimal intake level would be one cup per day. Of course, alongside of yellow and orange bell peppers, you will find carrots, sweet potatoes, yellow summer squash, and yellow corn available to help you reach your daily yellow-orange vegetable total.

If you opt for red or purple bell peppers instead of orange or yellow ones, we recommend that you treat bell peppers as part of the red/purple vegetable subgroup. Once again, you will find more information about this group in our Vegetable Advisor. Our minimum recommended intake level for this subgroup is ½ cup per day and our more optimal recommended intake is one cup. Beets, red red tomatoes, red and purple carrots, and eggplant would be examples of other vegetables in this red/purple subgroup.

Bell Peppers, sliced, red, raw
1.00 cup
(92.00 grams)
Calories: 29
GI: very low

NutrientDRI/DV

 vitamin C157%

 vitamin B616%

 vitamin A16%

 folate11%

 molybdenum10%

 vitamin E10%

 fiber7%

 pantothenic acid6%

 vitamin B26%

 vitamin B36%

 vitamin K5%

 vitamin B14%

 potassium4%

 manganese4%

 phosphorus3%

 magnesium3%

Health Benefits

Broad-Based Nutrient Benefits from Bell Peppers

While green leafy vegetables and cruciferous vegetables often get more time in the public spotlight than bell peppers, it would be wrong to overlook the rich diversity of nutrients in this sometimes underrated food. In our WHFoods rating system, bell peppers achieve 16 total rankings of either "excellent," "very good," or "good" for their rich conventional nutrient content. Included among the conventional nutrients provided in excellent amounts by bell peppers are vitamin C, vitamin A (in the form of carotenoids), and vitamin B6. In fact, bell peppers are our Number 1 vegetable source of vitamin C at WHFoods, and our second best source of vitamin C overall (after papaya). They are also our Number 5 food source of vitamin B6.

In the "very good" conventional nutrient category, bell peppers provide us with a good number of B vitamins (including vitamin B2, vitamin B3, foloate, and pantothenic acid), as well as vitamin E, potassium, molybdenum, and fiber. Bell peppers also contain vitamin K, vitamin B1, manganese, phosphorus, and magnesium in good amounts. Overall, we get a remarkable wealth of conventional nutrients from this popular vegetable.

In addition to providing us with such a rich mix of conventional nutrients, however, bell peppers also offer an equally rich mix of phytonutrients. Because most of these phytonutrients fall into the antioxidant category, we've featured them separately in the paragraphs below.

Antioxidant Benefits from Phytonutrients in Bell Peppers

In keeping with the many research studies on bell pepper carotenoids, it's worth noting the great antioxidant benefits provided by this group of bell pepper phytonutrients. One cup of freshly sliced bell pepper contains about 1,500 micrograms of beta-carotene, the equivalent of approximately 1/3rd small carrot. Interestingly, red bell peppers may contain greater amounts of beta-carotene than their fellow bell peppers in the yellow and orange category. However, these yellow and orange bell peppers still contain more total carotenoids than the reds. On the list of potential carotenoids provided by bell peppers are alpha-carotene, antheraxanthin, beta-carotene, capsanthin, capsorubin, cryptoflavin, cryptoxanthin, lutein, lycopene, vicenin, and zeaxanthin. We use the word "potential" because specific carotenoids (and other phytonutrients) can vary substantially as these vegetables mature. For example, while many varieties of bell peppers provide the carotenoids lycopene, other do not. (In fact, our nutrient profile for bell peppers does not show any lycopene to be present, since this specific carotenoid was not identified in the variety of bell pepper that was analyzed. Unless you have a special reason for wanting to increase your intake of one particular carotenoid in your meal plan, we recommend that you consider enjoying the full variety of colors in which bell peppers can be found. In that way you will be most likely to maximize your intake not only of different carotenoids but of bell pepper phytonutrients as a whole.

Other Potential Health Benefits from Bell Peppers

For a vegetable with 16 conventional nutrient rankings of "excellent," "very good," or "good" and an equally rich array of antioxidant phytonutrients, what we would expect in health research findings would be risk reduction for numerous chronic diseases, including cardiovascular disease, obesity, and diseases related to regulation of blood sugar. What these diseases have in common (along with other diseases as well) is an underlying component of oxidative stress. We would expect this component to become less problematic with improved dietary intake of antioxidants. In addition, because many of these antioxidant phytonutrients also act in an anti-inflammatory capacity, we would expect these anti-inflammatory benefits to contribute to lower risk in each of the above disease areas. What is lacking, however, at this point in the research process are large-scale studies that focus on bell pepper intake in everyday meal plans. Animal studies have already shown blood sugar-lowering effects following intake of bell pepper extracts, and lab studies have also suggested different metabolic pathways through which blood sugar might be lowered. But human studies are needed to confirm these same benefits from ordinary food intake. In terms of cardiovascular benefits, we have seen studies showing bile acid binding by fiber-related nutrients in bell peppers. Because this binding process prevents absorption of bile acids up into the body, our liver will seek to replace them by breaking down cholesterol into its component parts - namely, bile acids. So the net result here can be a reduction in our blood cholesterol level. But similar to the research on blood sugar, we need studies on everyday meal plans to draw conclusions about food intake of bell pepper.

The area of eye health may also turn out to be important with respect to bell pepper intake. Just one cup of sweet green bell pepper slices provides us with 314 micrograms (combined) of the carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin. These two particular carotenoids are found in high concentrations in the macula of the eye (the centermost part of the retina), and they are required for protection of the macula from oxygen-related damage. In one condition called age-related macular degeneration, or AMD, the macula of the eye can become damaged and vision can potentially become lost. We would expect future studies on bell pepper intake to show benefits in this area of AMD risk due to the impressive lutein/zeaxanthin content of this vegetable (about 45-50 micrograms for these two carotenoids combined.) In this context, we would also like to note that a recent study has shown red bell peppers to contain greater amounts of lutein than their fellow greens or yellows. One final area of special interest in the potential for bell peppers to help lower risk of neurodegenerative disease, and particularly Alzheimer's disease. Overacculumation of amyloid proteins in the spaces surrounding certain nerve cells (called cholinergic neurons) is known to contribute to our risk of Alzheimer's. In order for these amyloid proteins to accumulate, however, they must first be freed from another protein structure called amyloid precursor protein, or APP. This process is moved along with the help of enzymes called secretases. What recent studies have shown is the ability of bell pepper extracts to block the activity of these secretase enzymes, preventing the release of amyloid proteins. In one study, extracts from both ripe and unripe bell peppers were analyzed, with ripe bell peppers showing a greater ability to block amyloid protein release. While the authors did not report the ripe bell peppers as being any particular color, we would assume that darker shaded bell peppers (from deep oranges to reds to purples) would correspond to the pepper which showed the greatest impact. Once again, we view this area of research as a promising one for demonstrating further health benefits from this vegetable.

The area of eye health may also turn out to be important with respect to bell pepper intake. Just one cup of sweet green bell pepper slices provides us with 314 micrograms (combined) of the carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin. These two particular carotenoids are found in high concentrations in the macula of the eye (the centermost part of the retina), and they are required for protection of the macula from oxygen-related damage. In one condition called age-related macular degeneration, or AMD, the macula of the eye can become damaged and vision can potentially become lost. We would expect future studies on bell pepper intake to show benefits in this area of AMD risk due to the impressive lutein/zeaxanthin content of this vegetable (about 45-50 micrograms for these two carotenoids combined.) In this context, we would also like to note that a recent study has shown red bell peppers to contain greater amounts of lutein than their fellow greens or yellows. One final area of special interest in the potential for bell peppers to help lower risk of neurodegenerative disease, and particularly Alzheimer's disease. Overacculumation of amyloid proteins in the spaces surrounding certain nerve cells (called cholinergic neurons) is known to contribute to our risk of Alzheimer's. In order for these amyloid proteins to accumulate, however, they must first be freed from another protein structure called amyloid precursor protein, or APP. This process is moved along with the help of enzymes called secretases. What recent studies have shown is the ability of bell pepper extacts to block the activity of these secretase enzymes, preventing the release of amyloid proteins. In one study, extracts from both ripe and unripe bell peppers were analyzed, with ripe bell peppers showing a greater ability to block amyloid protein release. While the authors did not report the ripe bell peppers as being any particular color, we would assume that darker shaded bell peppers (from deep oranges to reds to purples) would correspond to the pepper which showed the greatest impact. Once again, we view this area of research as a promising one for demonstrating further health benefits from this vegetable.

Description

Bell peppers belong to the nightshade (Solanaceae) family of plants, along with chili pepper, cayenne pepper, eggplant, tomatoes and common potatoes (but not sweet potatoes or yams). Their genus/species name is Capsicum annuum. This genus/species name can be a bit confusing, however, since it , is used to refer not only to sweet bell peppers, but also to many different kinds of hot peppers, including cayenne peppers, chili peppers, jalapeno peppers, and others. One of the reasons that we use the name "bell peppers" on our website is to distinguish these mild and sometimes sweet tasting vegetables from their hot pepper counterparts. In fact, in many articles about bell peppers, you will find them being referred to both as "bell peppers" and "sweet peppers."

What makes bell peppers sweet is the combination of two features. First, they do contain a small amount of sugar—about 3-4 grams per fresh slicked cup. Even though this amount is only ½ teaspoon, it's enough to give bell peppers a bit of sweetness since they either have very small amounts, or no amounts of the pungent alkaloids called capsaicinoids. Capsaicinoids provide the "hot" in hot peppers, and a well-known rating system called the Scoville heat scale is used to rank the hotness of peppers. Bell peppers are often given a score of "0" on this scale, with extremely hot peppers like Trinidad Moruga Scorpion peppers achieving a score of 2 million!

Most of the bell peppers found in the supermarket are what growers call the 4-lobed, block-like type. These varieties are sometimes referred to as "classic" bell peppers. But you may also find bell peppers that are more elongated in shape, and that display three lobes instead of four. These more elongated varieties are sometimes referred to as the Lamuyo type. But much more famous that the bell pepper shapes are their amazing colors.

Most varieties of bell peppers start off green in color and undergo color changes during the process of maturation. These color changes can range from emerging yellow and oranges to reds and purples and lilacs and even deep purple shades that appear nearly black in color. Sometimes these darker versions are referred to as chocolate bell peppers. We have also seen brown bell peppers and ivory bell peppers. These colorful bell peppers are often more expensive than their green counterparts since extra growing time is needed for color development and this additional time means increased production costs. With respect to color, it's also worth noting that some varieties of bell peppers can stay green throughout the maturation process, and some varieties can also undergo color changes very early in the development process.

One relatively new and increasingly popular bell pepper option in many produce sections are "mini bell peppers." Like their name suggests, these bell peppers are only about 1/3rd the size of a typical bell pepper and especially "munchable" as snacks. Mini bell peppers are not simply "young" bell peppers but unique varieties that can be challenging to grow at present due to their lesser disease resistance. At present, you'll often find mini bell peppers pre-packaged in a way that highlights their amazing array of colors.

Before leaving this Description section, we also want to mention the dried spice commonly known as "paprika". Paprika - irrespective of its flavor—is typically made from ripened and dried peppers which are ground into powder form. However, the flavor of paprika depends on the particular pepper - or combination of peppers—from which it was ground. While dried bell peppers are often used as a main or sole ingredient in paprika, so are other types of peppers including many different varieties of chili peppers, especially pimiento (also spelled "pimento") chili peppers. (The word "pimiento" can mean both "paprika" and "pepper" in Spanish. Some commercially available paprikas feature dried bell pepper as a base ingredient with varying amounts of other dried chili peppers to produce an array of flavors and degrees of sweetness/hotness.

History

Bell peppers are native to North, Central, and South America as well as to the Caribbean. Over time they have not only been distributed throughout the the world, but have become widely cultivated in a very large number of countries.

When analysts track the production of bell peppers, they often separate the marketplace into greenhouse grown versus non-greenhouse grown bell peppers. In the United States, we consume a large amount of both types, with the greenhouse type mostly coming from imports. With respect to imports, the largest provider of both greenhouse and non-greenhouse bell peppers to the U.S. is Mexico. Bell peppers also arrive in the United States from Canada, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala, Nicaragua, and Spain.

In terms of global bell pepper production, China, Mexico, Turkey, Indonesia, and Spain produce the most green peppers (including both bell and chili peppers), with the U.S. ranking next highest in total production.

Within the U.S., a large number of farms grow bell peppers, and many states participate in the process. However, at present, California, Florida, New Jersey, Georgia, North Carolina, Ohio, and Michigan account for most U.S. bell pepper production.

How to Select and Store

Choose peppers that have deep vivid colors, taut skin, and that are free of soft spots, blemishes and darkened areas. Their stems should be green and fresh looking. Peppers should be heavy for their size (reflecting their thick, well-formed and well-hydrated walls) and firm enough so that they will only yield slightly to a small amount of pressure. Avoid those that have signs of decay including injuries to the skin or water-soaked areas. The shape of the pepper does not generally affect the quality, although it may result in excessive waste or not be suitable to certain recipe preparations. Peppers are available throughout the year but are usually in greater abundance during the summer and early fall months.

For many vegetables, degree of ripeness is a central and fairly straightforward factor when you making a food selection in the produce department. In the case of bell peppers, however, there is no single moment of ripeness that represents the "optimal" choice for this vegetable. There are definitely bell peppers that you will want to avoid due to overripeness. In this case, what we mean by "overripeness" is especially soft or wrinkly. At a minimum, we recommend the selection of bell peppers that have retained a "slight sponginess" in the way that the sides of the pepper respond to gentle pressure. The sides of the pepper should yield slightly, but not to the point of giving way to the pressure. This type of "feel-based" testing is your best way to identify bell peppers that have not overripened.

At the other end of the ripening spectrum, however, it can be acceptable to select bell peppers that are even more firm than described above. In their earlier stages of maturation, bell peppers can naturally remain less spongy to the touch. This lesser degree of sponginess does not mean that the bell peppers are problematic to eat however, or that they lack good nutrient content. Less mature bell peppers still provide a wealth of nutrients. However, it is also true that the carotenoids and anthocyanins in bell peppers aren't generally available in plentiful amounts until bell peppers have reached later stages in their maturation process. So if you are focusing on these particular types of phytonutrients, you'll usually do best to select bell peppers in their later stages of maturation in which is the rule of slight sponginess is your best selection method.

It's important to remember that bell peppers can take on many different color shades, and that hybrids are available that contain two or more color shades in the same bell pepper. In addition, bell peppers can develop these color shades during different stages of maturation. As long as you avoid overripeness by using the pressure test method described above, you can enjoy bell peppers from different stages of development and varying shades of color and still count on receiving strong nutrient benefits.

At WHFoods, we encourage the purchase of certified organically grown foods, and bell peppers are no exception. Repeated research studies on organic foods as a group show that your likelihood of exposure to contaminants such as pesticides and heavy metals can be greatly reduced through the purchased of certified organic foods, including bell peppers. In many cases, you may be able to find a local organic grower who sells bell peppers but has not applied for formal organic certification either through the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) or through a state agency. (Examples of states offering state-certified organic foods include California, New York, Oregon, Vermont, and Washington.) However, if you are shopping in a large supermarket, your most reliable source of organically grown bell peppers is very likely to be bell peppers that display the USDA organic logo

Unwashed bell peppers stored in the vegetable compartment of the refrigerator will keep for approximately 7-10 days.

Here is some background on why we recommend refrigerating bell peppers. Whenever food is stored, four basic factors affect its nutrient composition: exposure to air, exposure to light, exposure to heat, and length of time in storage. Vitamin C, vitamin B6, and carotenoids are good examples of nutrients highly susceptible to heat, and for this reason, their loss from food is very likely to be slowed down through refrigeration. In this context, it also seems worth repeating that bell peppers are our Number 1 vegetable source of vitamin C at WHFoods, and also our Number 5 source of vitamin B6. So you can see how this principle might be especially important in the case of bell peppers.

Because bell peppers need to still well hydrated and are very sensitive to moisture loss, we further recommend that you include a damp cloth or paper towel in the vegetable compartment to help the peppers retain their moisture. Do not cut out the bell pepper stem prior to storage in the refrigerator. Bell peppers are especially sensitive to moisture loss through this stem (calyx) portion and are more susceptible to chilling injury if the stem is removed. Sweet peppers can be frozen without first being blanched. It is better to freeze them whole since there will be less exposure to air which can degrade both their nutrient content and flavor.

Before closing this section on bell peppers nutrients and refrigeration, we would like to add one possible exception to the refrigeration rule. If you have purchased a variety of bell pepper that is still mostly green yet in the process of changing color, and you prefer to let the new color-related nutrients develop more fully, you may want to keep the bell pepper for a day or two at room temperature rather than placing it in your refrigerator. At a temperature of about 68F/20C, your bell pepper can proceed more quickly with its change in color. For example, if you are wanting to focus on carotenoid intake, a bell pepper variety that is ready to change color from green to yellow or orange should be able to develop its carotenoid content more quickly at room temperature than inside of your refrigerator.

How to Enjoy

A Few Quick Serving Ideas

WHFoods Recipes That Include Bell Peppers

If you'd like even more recipes and ways to prepare bell peppers the Nutrient-Rich Way, you may want to explore The World's Healthiest Foods book.

Safety

Bell Pepper is one of the vegetables that belong to the nightshade (Solanaceae) family. For helpful information about nightshade vegetables—including our WHFoods Recommendations—please see our article, Which foods are classified as "nightshades," and is it true that foods from this group can potentially contain problematic substances?

Nutritional Profile

Introduction to Food Rating System Chart

The following chart shows the nutrients for which this food is either an excellent, very good or good source. Next to the nutrient name you will find the following information: the amount of the nutrient that is included in the noted serving of this food; the %Daily Value (DV) that that amount represents (similar to other information presented in the website, this DV is calculated for 25-50 year old healthy woman); the nutrient density rating; and, the food's World's Healthiest Foods Rating. Underneath the chart is a table that summarizes how the ratings were devised. Read detailed information on our
Food and Recipe Rating System.

Bell Peppers, sliced, red, raw
1.00 cup
92.00 grams
Calories: 29
GI: very low
NutrientAmountDRI/DV
(%)
Nutrient
Density
World's Healthiest
Foods Rating
vitamin C117.48 mg15798.9excellent
vitamin A144.03 mcg RAE1610.1excellent
vitamin B60.27 mg1610.0excellent
folate42.32 mcg116.7very good
molybdenum4.60 mcg106.5very good
vitamin E1.45 mg (ATE)106.1very good
fiber1.85 g74.2very good
vitamin B20.08 mg63.9very good
pantothenic acid0.29 mg63.7very good
vitamin B30.90 mg63.6very good
vitamin K4.51 mcg53.2good
manganese0.10 mg42.7good
vitamin B10.05 mg42.6good
potassium194.12 mg42.6good
phosphorus23.92 mg32.2good
magnesium11.04 mg31.7good
World's Healthiest
Foods Rating
Rule
excellent DRI/DV>=75% OR
Density>=7.6 AND DRI/DV>=10%
very good DRI/DV>=50% OR
Density>=3.4 AND DRI/DV>=5%
good DRI/DV>=25% OR
Density>=1.5 AND DRI/DV>=2.5%

References

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