A fresh, crisp green bell pepper is a tasty vegetable that can be a regular part of your healthy eating plan. Sweet peppers also known as bell peppers belong to the nightshade (Solanaceae) family of plants, along with chili pepper, cayenne pepper, eggplant, tomatoes and potatoes (except sweet potatoes and yams). Their scientific name is Capsicum annuum. This scientific name, however, is used to refer not only to bell peppers, but also to wax peppers, cayenne peppers, chili peppers, and jalapeno peppers.
Sweet peppers have been cultivated for more than 9000 years, with the earliest cultivation having taken place in South and Central America. While the name “pepper” was given to this food by European colonizers of North America who first came across it in the 1500-1600’s and then transported it back to Europe, the original name for this food in Spanish was pimiento.
Because bell peppers can be grown in a variety of climates and are popular in cuisines throughout the world, they can frequently be found on small farms in North America, Central America, South America, Europe, Africa, the Middle East, and parts of Asia. In terms of commercial production, however, China has become by far the largest producer of bell peppers and produced 14 million metric tons in 2007. At about 2 million metric tons, Mexico is the second largest commercial producer, followed by the United States at approximately 1 million metric tons.
For people worried about colon cancer, the fiber found in peppers can help to reduce the amount of contact that colon cells have with cancer-causing toxins found in certain foods or produced by certain gut bacteria. In addition, consumption of vitamin C, beta-carotene, and folic acid, all found in bell peppers, is associated with a significantly reduced risk of colon cancer.
For atherosclerosis and diabetic heart disease, peppers also contain vitamin B6 and folic acid. These two B vitamins are very important for reducing high levels of homocysteine, a substance produced during the methylation cycle (an essential biochemical process in virtually every cell in the body). High homocysteine levels have been shown to cause damage to blood vessels and are associated with a greatly increased risk of heart attack and stroke. In addition to providing the vitamins that convert homocysteine into other beneficial molecules, bell peppers also provide fiber that can help lower high cholesterol levels, another risk factor for heart attack and stroke.
In addition, it contains anti-oxidant flavonoids such as α and β carotenes, lutein, zea-xanthin, and cryptoxanthin. Together, these antioxidant substances in capsicum help to protect the body from injurious effects of free radicals generated during stress and disease conditions.
Bell pepper also has adequate levels of essential minerals. Some of the main minerals in it are iron, copper, zinc, potassium, manganese, magnesium, and selenium. Manganese is used by the body as a co-factor for the antioxidant enzyme, superoxide dismutase.