Peppers -- hot or not -- may do more than round out your omelet, spice up your salsa, and make for a colorful stir-fry. They help you get some of your daily vitamins and contain compounds that may be linked to weight loss, pain reduction, and other benefits.
Peppers, by the way, are fruits, not vegetables. Whether spicy or sweet, peppers contain many phytochemicals, which are naturally occurring compounds found in plants. Many of peppers' phytochemicals have antioxidant abilities. This means they can help neutralize free radicals in the body, which damage cells. So they may help prevent or reduce symptoms of certain diseases.
Peppers come in a rainbow of colors, including green, red, yellow, orange, and even purple, brown, and black. Whether mild or fiery, peppers are nutrient-dense. They're one of the richest sources of vitamins A and C. Just a cup a day can provide more than 100% of your daily needs.Go for a variety of colors in peppers to get the biggest bang for your buck. Red bell peppers are a good source of fiber, folate, vitamin K, and the minerals molybdenum and manganese. And, they're especially rich in nutrients and phytochemicals such as:
|Top your baked potato with peppers.|
Vitamin A, which may help preserve eyesight, and fend off infections
Vitamin C, which may lower cancer risk and protect against cataracts
Vitamin B6, which is vital for essential chemical reactions throughout the body, including those involving brain and immune function
Lutein and zeaxanthin, which may slow the development of eye diseases, such as cataracts or macular degeneration
Beta-carotene, which may help protect against certain types of cancer, such as breast cancer in women before menopause
Lycopene, which may decrease the risk for ovarian cancer
What about the noteworthy antioxidant that gives spicy peppers their zing? You know, that tear-jerking, sweat-inducing, fiery blast of heat? That's capsaicin. It's a flavorless, odorless, colorless compound found in varying amounts in peppers. Fiery habaneros contain the most. Jalapeños have some. Bell peppers have none. The more capsaicin, the hotter the pepper, and the higher the antioxidant level. Red chilies are usually hotter, but even the green ones have capsaicin. You can't always go by the color to determine how hot a pepper might be when it hits your mouth.
It's more than a little ironic: The compound that gives peppers their burn -- capsaicin -- can actually relieve the burning from nerve pain. Studies show that capsaicin is also effective in reducing the pain of osteoarthritis and psoriasis. Some people apply capsaicin topical creams on their forehead for headaches.
It's easy to include peppers in your diet. You can grill, stuff, steam, bake, and stir-fry them. Many peppers are also delicious raw, simply chopped as a crunchy complement for dips or cottage cheese.
Here are a few suggestions for adding spicy peppers to your diet:
Chop up peppers and put in sauces and add to noodles.
Make a salsa with mild peppers and add it to tacos or rice and beans.
Add to guacamole. Start with half a jalapeño.
Toss peppers into chicken soup to give it a little kick.
Roast poblano peppers on the grill. Peel off the blackened part, removing the seeds and some of the veins. Combine with roasted tomatoes, garlic, and cilantro in a blender.
When you're ready, move on to spicier peppers, such as serranos.
|Add peppers to cornbread!|
Also popular and easy are ready-to-eat hot pepper sauces. You can make these and homemade sauces a side dish to meals, not just a dip for chips.
Other ideas: Add chopped bell peppers to tuna or chicken salad. Steam cored bell peppers, stuff them with rice salad, and bake. The possibilities are practically limitless.