These lovely looking bell peppers are actually fruits that ring in a variety of nutrients
When we visit a vegetable shop, the bright coloured bell peppers instantly catch our attention amidst all the green. Bell peppers, usually known as capsicum or sweet peppers, are not only attractive, but are also a store house of nutrients. Their sweet-tangy taste and bright sunny hues make them a chef’s delight for enhancing the taste and appearance of various cuisines. They belong to the ‘Solanaceae’ family. Botanically, bell peppers are fruits but are referred to as vegetables when it comes to cooking.
Texture and taste
These veggies are bell shaped and have three to four lobes, hence the name. They have thick walls, smooth and shiny surfaces and a pulpy white hollow inner cavity. Available in green, yellow, purple, brown, orange, red and black colours, each variety has a distinct taste and flavour. They are not ‘hot’ because the amount of capsaicin present in them is little. The red, yellow, orange and black varieties taste sweet and have a fruity flavour, whereas the green and purple varieties have a slightly bitter taste.
The hollow interior of bell pepper makes them excellent for stuffing. Cut a circular hole from top and remove seeds. Fill the hollow with paneer, nuts and spices. Grate cheese on top and bake.
All bell peppers start as green and gradually turn to different vibrant colours as they mature. During the ripening process, greens slowly turn to yellow, then orange and finally to red. Sometimes green bell peppers may turn to white or purple before changing to yellow, orange or red. The ones that remain green do not change colour throughout the maturation process.
Bell peppers are low in calories, saturated fat and sodium, high in dietary fibre and potassium, and are loaded with antioxidants, vitamins and phytonutrients.
Their vitamin arsenal includes high levels of vitamins A and C and fairly good amounts of vitamins E, K and B [B1, B6 and folate]. A cup of bell peppers supplies 175mg vitamin C [double the amount found in an orange]. The vitamin C and carotenoid content increases as the peppers ripen.
Red bell peppers are more nutritious; they have more antioxidants and vitamins than other varieties. They contain double the amount of vitamin C than green bell peppers. Beta-carotene and lycopene levels in them are also high. One cup of raw red peppers supplies 841mcg beta-carotene, whereas green and yellow gives only 340mcg and 110mcg respectively.
- Their exceptionally high antioxidant and phytonutrient content makes them an invaluable source for strengthening the immune system, reducing the risk of cardiovascular diseases, anti-inflammatory diseases and the most dreaded disease, cancer.
- Red bell peppers are good for the skin due to their high vitamin A, C and E contents. Consume them for a glowing healthy skin.
- Low calories and healthy levels of carbohydrates and proteins, make them ideal for those trying to lose weight. One cup of pepper has only 25 – 30 calories and just 1g fat.
- High levels of antioxidants fight the free radicals and prevent oxidative damage to the arteries, thereby offering protection to the cardiovascular system.
- The vitamin B6 and folic acid helps bring down the levels of homocysteine. High levels of homocysteine enhance the risk of strokes and have a negative impact on cardiovascular health.
- Soluble fibre in bell peppers helps lower cholesterol. It binds the cholesterol and helps eliminate it out of the body.
- Lycopene helps prevent certain types of cancers such as prostate, pancreatic and urinary bladder.
- Sulphur compounds in the red, yellow and orange bell peppers also plays a role in reducing the risk of gastric and oesophageal cancer.
- Regular intake of bell peppers can offer protection against cataract and age-related macular degeneration [AMD]—a disease of the eye that ultimately leads to loss of vision. One cup of bell peppers provides a whopping supply of lutein and zeaxanthin, the two carotenoids [that are also present in high concentration in the macula of the eye] that are essential for sharp vision.
- Beta-cryptoxanthin—a carotenoid present in high concentration in red peppers—helps lower the risk of lung cancer.
How to include bell peppers in your diet
Colourful bell peppers find their way into various cuisines such as Chinese, continental, Indian and Italian. Here’s how you can include them in your diet too.
- Add them to salads for an appetising look, sweet taste and health benefits.
- Snack on bell peppers. Squeeze lemon and sprinkle salt on sliced vegetable.
- Stir fry the bell peppers with vegetables, chicken or meat. You can also steam, barbeque or bake them.
- Chopped slices taste great as pizza topping.
- Add them to pastas or fried rice.
- Use them in omelettes—chopped bell peppers can be added to scrambled eggs and omelettes.
- Add them to soups.
How to store bell peppers
Proper storage is essential for extending the life of the vegetable and preserving its taste and nutrients.
- Put them in a plastic bag and store in the refrigerator’s vegetable tray.
- Wrap them in paper and then store in a plastic bag. This keeps them fresh for longer period [10 – 15 days].
- Long term storage: Green bell peppers can be kept fresh for more than a month by freezing. Follow these tips to freeze them so that they retain nutrients, flavour and taste.
- Wash them under cold running water. Wipe them with a paper napkin.
- Remove the stem and cut off the top of the bell peppers.
- Use a spoon to remove the seeds from inside.
- Cut them into small cubes or slices and spread them on a baking sheet and put in the freezer.
- Remove the pieces after they have frozen completely. This may take 2 – 3 hours.
- Frozen pieces can be stored in a container in the freezer.
Tips for cooking bell peppers
- Cook them on low heat as high heat can destroy healthy nutrients.
- Sauté them to get maximum nutrition.
- People with sensitive skin must use gloves while handling and chopping bell peppers. Capsaicin present in them may cause burning and irritate sensitive skin.
- If you are allergic to bell peppers, you may get a runny nose, watery eyes or redness in the eyes after consuming them. In that case, it’s best to avoid eating them.
To get maximum nutrition and health benefits, select bell peppers carefully.
- Choose bright coloured ones; dull ones may not be fresh.
- Go for bell peppers with green stems, firm and smooth skin without blemishes. Dark patches or spots on the skin are indications of decay and should be avoided.
- Do not buy bruised bell peppers.
- Go for the ones with a heavy base. When held, they should weigh heavy for their size.
- Avoid buying wrinkled and soft bell peppers. Fresh ones will be thick walled with taut skin.
- Do not buy over-ripe bell peppers because they lose vitamin C when stored. However, storing fresh ones in the refrigerator actually enhances the carotenoid and vitamin C content.
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