Like the primary hues of a flag in Central or South America where they originated, sweet bell peppers fly their colors proudly. Whether red, orange, yellow or green, the brilliant tints of these gleaming fruits are largely responsible for their nutritional appeal.
Full of Vitamin C
The sunniest tones yield the highest concentration of antioxidant carotenoids. One small red, yellow or orange pepper provides three times the recommended daily allowance of vitamin C—way ahead of citrus. Red peppers stand out as one of the few foods that contain lycopene, a carotenoid which lowers the risk of various cancers, including prostate and cervical cancer. These crimson packages are also packed with beta-carotene, converted to vitamin A in the body and essential for night vision. Nature’s best source of zeaxanthin, a compound known to protect against cataracts and macular degeneration, can be found in orange peppers.
Chockful of Nutrients
Though they wear coats of many colors, including purple, white and brown, bell peppers all spring from the same plant and are part of the nightshade family which includes potatoes, tomatoes and eggplant. Available year round, the fruit peaks in August and September. The compound capsaicin, which puts the “hot” in hot peppers, is absent in bell peppers due to a recessive gene, rendering them sweet (except the more tart green variety, an unripe version of red peppers).
Regardless of their exterior, all bell peppers share a healthy dose of fiber, a hallmark of their characteristic crunch, which help lower cholesterol and ward off colon cancer. They also offer a wealth of vitamin B6 and folic acid, thought to protect blood vessels from damage by reducing levels of homocysteine in the body. Plentiful A and C vitamins boost immunity and guard against a range of ailments, including heart disease, diabetes, arthritis and risks associated with smoking such as emphysema.
Popular All Around the World
Christopher Columbus, who “discovered” and named sweet and hot peppers in the New World, recognized their culinary value. Like tomatoes, fresh bell peppers made their way around the globe courtesy of Spanish and Portuguese explorers. In the process, they became an essential component in a vast array of worldly cuisines, from southern Italy to Creole Louisiana to Mexico. Paprika—made from dried red peppers—remains a ubiquitous seasoning throughout the world.
Though popular even in colder climes, bell peppers are intrepid sun worshipers. Their robust carotenoids mimic sunscreen and shield them from sun damage as they ripen. Wherever they travel, sweet peppers bring their sun-drenched taste and a blush of luminous color, promoting overall well-being in the process.