Bell peppers (Capsicum annuum) are the fruits of certain plants from the nightshade family.
They are related to chili peppers, tomatoes, and breadfruit, all of which are native to Central and South America.
Also called sweet peppers or capsicums, bell peppers are eaten as vegetables, either raw or cooked.
Like their close relatives, the chili peppers, bell peppers are sometimes dried and powdered. In that case they are referred to as paprika.
They are low in calories and exceptionally rich in vitamin C and other antioxidants, making them an excellent addition to a healthy diet.
Bell peppers come in various colors, such as green (unripe), red, yellow, and orange.
Green, unripe fruits have a slightly bitter flavor and are not as sweet as those that are fully ripe.
Fresh, raw bell peppers are mainly composed of water (92%). The rest is made up of carbohydrates and small amounts of protein and fat.
The table below presents all the main nutrients in bell peppers ().
Bell peppers are primarily composed of carbs, accounting for the majority of the total calorie content.
A cup (149 grams) of chopped red bell peppers contains 9 grams of carbs.
The carbs are mostly sugars, such as glucose and fructose, which are responsible for the sweet taste of ripe bell peppers.
Bell peppers also contain small amounts of fiber, 2% by fresh weight (). Calorie for calorie, they are actually a very good fiber source.
Bottom Line: Bell peppers are mainly made up of water and carbs. Most of the carbs are sugars, such as glucose and fructose. Bell peppers are also a decent source of fiber.
Vitamins and Minerals
Bell peppers are loaded with various vitamins and minerals, and are exceptionally rich in vitamin C.
- Vitamin C: One medium-sized red bell pepper contains 169% of the RDA for vitamin C, making it one of the richest dietary sources of this essential nutrient.
- Vitamin B6: Pyridoxine is the most common type of vitamin B6, which is a family of nutrients that are important for the formation of red blood cells.
- Vitamin K1: A form of vitamin K, also known as phylloquinone. It is important for blood clotting and bone health.
- Potassium: An essential mineral that may improve heart health if consumed in adequate amounts ().
- Folate: Also known as folic acid, folacin, or vitamin B9, folate has a variety of functions in the body. Adequate folate intake is very important during pregnancy ().
- Vitamin E: A powerful antioxidant, essential for healthy nerves and muscles. The best dietary sources of this fat-soluble vitamin are oils, nuts, seeds, and vegetables.
- Vitamin A: Red bell peppers are high in pro-vitamin A (beta-carotene), which is converted into vitamin A in the body ().
Bottom Line: Bell peppers are very high in vitamin C, and one bell pepper may provide up to 169% of the RDA. Other vitamins and minerals found in bell peppers include vitamin K1, vitamin E, vitamin A, folate, and potassium.
Other Plant Compounds
Bell peppers are rich in various antioxidants, especially carotenoids, which are much more abundant when they are ripe ().
- Capsanthin: Abundant in red bell peppers, capsanthin is a powerful antioxidant responsible for their brilliant red color. Studies indicate that this carotenoid may help protect against cancer (, ).
- Violaxanthin: The most common carotenoid antioxidant in yellow bell peppers ().
- Lutein: While being abundant in green bell peppers and black paprika, lutein is absent from ripe bell peppers. Adequate intake of lutein may improve eye health (, ).
- Quercetin: A polyphenol antioxidant found in a wide variety of plants. Studies indicate that it may be beneficial for the prevention of chronic diseases, such as heart disease and cancer (, , ).
- Luteolin: Similarly to quercetin, luteolin is an polyphenol antioxidant that may have a variety of beneficial health effects (, )
Bottom Line: Bell peppers contain many healthy antioxidants, including capsanthin, violaxanthin, lutein, quercetin and luteolin. These plant compounds are associated with many health benefits.
Health Benefits of Bell Peppers
Like most whole plant foods, bell peppers are considered to be a healthy food.
High consumption of fruits and vegetables has been linked with reduced risk of many chronic diseases, such as cancer and heart disease.
In addition, bell peppers may have a number of other health benefits.
The most common types of visual impairments include macular degeneration and cataracts, the main causes of which are old age and infections ().
However, nutrition may also play a significant role in the development of these diseases.
Lutein and zeaxanthin, carotenoids found in relatively high amounts in bell peppers, may improve eye health considerably when consumed in adequate amounts (, , ).
In fact, they protect the human retina, the light-sensitive inner wall of the eye, from oxidative damage (, , ).
A number of studies indicate that regular consumption of foods rich in these carotenoids may cut the risk of both cataracts and macular degeneration (, , , , ).
Put simply, adding bell peppers to your regular diet may be an excellent way to lower the risk of visual impairments.
Prevention of Anemia
Anemia is a common condition characterized by reduced ability of the blood to carry oxygen.
One of the most common causes of anemia is iron deficiency, the main symptoms of which are weakness and tiredness.
Not only are red bell peppers a decent source of iron, they are also exceptionally rich in vitamin C, which increases the absorption of iron from the gut ().
In fact, one medium-sized red bell pepper may contain 169% of the recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for vitamin C ().
Absorption of dietary iron is significantly increased when consumed with fruits or vegetables that are high in vitamin C ().
For this reason, eating raw bell peppers with iron-rich foods, such as meat or spinach, may help increase your body's iron stores, cutting the risk of anemia.
Bottom Line: Like other fruits and vegetables, bell peppers may have many health benefits. These include improved eye health, and reduced risk of anemia and some chronic diseases.
Adverse Effects and Individual Concerns
Bell peppers are generally healthy and well-tolerated, but some people may be allergic to them.
Bell Pepper Allergy
Allergy to bell peppers is rare.
However, some people that have pollen allergy may also be sensitive to bell peppers because of allergic cross-reactivity (, ).
Allergic cross-reactions can happen between certain foods and pollen because they may contain the same allergens, or allergens that are similar in structure.
Bottom Line: When eaten in moderation, bell peppers do not have any adverse health effects. However, they may cause allergies in some people.
Take Home Message
Bell peppers are rich in many vitamins and antioxidants, especially vitamin C and various carotenoids.
For this reason, eating them may have several health benefits, such as improved eye health, and reduced risk of several chronic diseases.
Apart from causing allergy in some people, they do not have any adverse health effects.
At the end of the day, bell peppers are an excellent addition to a healthy diet.