Peppers are the quintessential summer vegetables. Characterized by the typical colors of this season, they are not only tasty but also full of beneficial effects.
Their antioxidant properties are remarkable, due to the high content of vitamins A, C and beta-carotene, as well as their diuretic and purifying properties. The pepper is also very rich in mineral salts, especially potassium, and for this reason a perfect ally for the health of the cardiovascular system.
Thanks to the high fiber content, peppers have laxative properties and increase the sense of satiety: this makes them an essential food for all those who want to keep in shape!
Peppers are a very versatile ingredient in the kitchen: excellent both raw and cooked, they are perfect enjoyed simply as a side dish, to flavor pasta or rice dishes, or in combination with numerous second courses, especially meat.
Peppers: what they are
The pepper (Capsicum annuum L.) is a vegetable belonging to the Solanaceae family, which also includes tomatoes, potatoes and aubergines: all products of Central and South American origin.
The botanical term with which it was classified could derive from the Latin word “capsa”, which means “box”. Indeed, the shape of the fruit, so square and empty inside, can evoke the image of a box. Another hypothesis could be the descent of the term from the Greek word “kapto”, which means “to bite greedily”.
The pepper includes a vast varietal assortment which makes the fruits morphologically very different from each other.
Are pepper and chilli the same thing?
The spicy types of pepper, dried and used as a spice, take the name of chilli pepper, but the denomination chili is also used (very common also in Anglo-Saxon countries).
In addition to chilli pepper, another spice is also produced which derives from pulverized pepper: it is paprika, typical of Hungary, which is obtained from the mixture of some varieties of dried sweet peppers, pulverized and then mixed with wheat flour.
There are two main types of this spice: sweet paprika, also called pink, and spicy paprika. Paprika has several uses: the best known is with goulash.
If you are interested in the topic, discover our in-depth analysis on chili peppers.
Calories and nutritional values of peppers
The nutritional properties of this food are surprising and unfortunately little known. In fact, not everyone knows that raw peppers contain more vitamin C than any citrus fruit and twice as much as kiwi.
Other important vitamins are also present in peppers, such as those of group B and, especially in red peppers, provitamin A or beta-carotene.
The more or less relevant presence of carotenoids and polyphenols depends on the color of the fruit.
The red pepper contains many more than a green pepper.
To these antioxidant compounds are added other carotenoids (capsanthin, the fat-soluble pigment responsible for the red/orange colour, and lycopene) and polyphenols with protective effects against tumors and heart disease, i.e. luteolin and quercetin.
Violaxanthin is another antioxidant carotenoid found particularly in yellow peppers. Peppers also contain many mineral salts, mainly potassium, but also iron, phosphorus, sodium and calcium.
The good amount of fiber and water and a reduced presence of sugars make peppers a low-calorie vegetable with a mild laxative effect.
For 100 grams of product, the calorie intake is only 31 calories.
If you are interested in the topic, discover our in-depth study on vegetables.
Yellow, red and green peppers: uses and differences
The three different colors of the peppers are not due to the species they belong to, but to their different degree of ripeness, since all peppers are green at the beginning.
From an organoleptic point of view there are some differences. The red ones have a crunchy and sugary flesh, the yellow ones are juicy and tender, while the green ones have a meaty flesh and a sweet taste.
The latter, therefore, are mainly used for first courses as a condiment, rather than as a side dish.
The green one is not a variety. Peppers of this color would have turned yellow or red if they hadn’t been harvested early, still not quite ripe.
Perfect for pepperoni and salads, it has a slightly more pungent taste and, also due to the very high concentration of water and very few calories, it has the greatest purifying power.
Excellent both raw and cooked, the yellow pepper is the most tender and juicy. Its color is due to the high amounts of beta-carotene, which is a powerful antioxidant.
The body knows how to convert this substance into vitamin A and reuse it for many functions. Among others, the metabolism of iron and the maintenance of healthy skin, eyesight and the immune system.
Red pepper is considered a tanning food because it contains a high level of vitamin A, which helps your skin produce melanin and therefore tan more intensely.
Red pepper is the champion of vitamins. It beats everyone, both its colleagues in the red group (which are famous for their high concentration of vitamin C), and its green and yellow counterparts, which are no joke when it comes to vitamins.
To realize this, it is sufficient to remember that the European average requirement of vitamin C is 90 mg per day for men and 80 mg for women and 100 g of red pepper contains 166 mg.
Even in terms of vitamin A, it outperforms its rivals. In addition, with its crunchy, thick and sugary pulp, it is the most satiating, ideal in pinzimonio and cooked on the grill.
Peppers: health benefits
The beneficial effects that peppers have on health are mainly linked to the important content of antioxidant compounds which contribute to defending the body from the action of free radicals, the cause of alterations of the cellular genome and chronic degenerative diseases.
The foresight that should therefore be observed in the consumption of peppers is to avoid preparations that could reduce the effectiveness of their precious antioxidant compounds. In addition to raw consumption, the best way to safeguard their properties is to steam them.
Let’s see the effects of pepper on our well-being.
Carotenoids play an important role in inflammatory processes and immunity mechanisms, especially in the respiratory tract. The pepper is very rich in anti-inflammatory substances, both in the fruit and in the leaves.
The capsaicin of peppers and chillies, as well as being an antioxidant and anti-carcinogen, intervenes as an anti-inflammatory in energy expenditure and in the suppression of fat accumulation.
A recent study even evaluated its effect on a food allergy model. The results showed that capsaicin attenuated important factors associated with food allergy, such as inflammation and oxidative stress.
Some studies have highlighted the anticancer properties of some substances present in peppers. The high amount of vitamin C is a pretty telling clue.
In fact, we know that ascorbic acid, in addition to intervening in many chemical reactions of cellular metabolism (formation of collagen and adrenal hormones, growth and maintenance of bones and gums, absorption of iron by the body, health and beauty of the skin , reduction of joint pain) is a powerful antioxidant able to strengthen the immune system, fight the effect of free radicals and defend against pollutants, thus preventing degenerative diseases such as cancer.
Carotenoids, lycopene in particular, and capsanthin are also associated with a reduction in the risk of contracting cancer.
Protection of the cardiovascular system
Scientific research demonstrates that the intake of foods rich in quercetin, a polyphenolic flavonoid present in peppers, is inversely correlated with the onset of cardiovascular disease. Recent laboratory studies detect an attenuation of blood pressure after quercetin supplementation.
Furthermore, the pepper, if subjected to steam cooking, significantly improves the bond with bile acid, thus managing to reduce the absorption of fats. The binding to bile acids has been linked to effective prevention against the development of heart disease and cancer.
The effect generated by the abundant presence of potassium is added to the effect of antioxidants on the cardiovascular system. This electrolyte allows for normal vasodilation, relaxes the blood vessel walls allowing for greater blood flow.
All this leads to an improvement in blood pressure and correct heart rate regulation.
Pepper: friend of sight
The antioxidants and anti-inflammatories naturally contained in bell peppers, in addition to improving vision, may provide benefits in reducing the risk of age-related eye diseases.
The nutrients of greatest interest in this sense are carotenoids (zeaxanthin and β-carotene), vitamins C and E, lutein and zinc.
An AREDS study (Age-Related Eye Disease Study) has recently shown that people with a high dietary intake of carotenoids, lutein and zeaxanthin have a 35% reduction in the risk of cataracts and neo-vascular age-related macular degeneration.
An aid for the nervous and cerebral system