What is the healthiest bell pepper? The real difference between red, green and yellow.
Bell peppers are a staple in fajitas, burritos and salads, but did you know they’re not a vegetable?
That’s right, despite popular belief, bell peppers are technically a fruit. Botanically speaking, they’re classified as berries, which are fleshy fruits with many seeds. Even jalapeños, the bell pepper’s spicy cousin, are technically fruits.
So, does that change anything from a nutrition perspective? Here’s what a registered dietitian told us about the health benefits of different colored peppers, plus a few creative ways to eat more of them as a snack and meal.
What is the healthiest bell pepper?
Red bell peppers are the most nutrient-dense because they’ve had more time to ripen and contain more vitamins and antioxidants, according to registered dietitian Danielle Crumble Smith. They have higher levels of vitamin C and vitamin A because of the presence of beta-carotene, which, along with lycopene, gives red bell peppers their color.
Ripeness is the major difference between red, orange, yellow and green bell peppers. Green bell peppers are more bitter because they’re less ripe than their sweeter, red counterparts. Generally, the darker the pepper, the more nutrients you’ll get.
This also means that green peppers are lower in sugar and carbohydrates, though not enough that it makes a significant dietary difference, Crumble Smith says.
Yellow and orange peppers fall somewhere in the middle with sweetness and nutritional content.
“They still are good sources of vitamin C and they will still provide some amounts of vitamin A,” Crumble Smith says. “These ones are also good sources of lutein and zeaxanthin.”
Lutein and zeaxanthin, two antioxidants that benefit eye health, are also found in lower amounts in red peppers.
Truthfully, diversity in bell pepper color is best, Crumble Smith says. Some recipes may call for sweeter red bell peppers, while green peppers may be best suited for others.
“We eat with our eyes too,” she says. “Having different colors makes things visually more appealing and then we’re more excited to eat them.”
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Are bell peppers good for you?
Peppers are packed with vitamins C, A, B6 and B9, according to Crumble Smith. They’re a good source of fiber like many other fruits and vegetables. Red peppers are also abundant in flavonoids or phytonutrients, natural compounds that help manage symptoms of cardiovascular disease and keep hormones balanced.
Vegetables in general are an important part of a healthy diet. Only 10% of Americans get enough vegetables per day, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
If bell peppers are your “vegetable” of choice, there are plenty of ways to increase your intake. Try out a pepper-based meal like chili or stir-fry; dice them for a salad or add them into salsa for color and flavor. Thinly sliced peppers can also make a great pizza topping or add crunch to a sandwich or wrap.
One of Crumble Smith’s favorite ways to eat bell peppers is alongside dips like guacamole, hummus or salsa.
“For somebody watching sodium intake or needing to watch their carbohydrate intake, (chips) might not be the most nutrient-dense snack. Instead, using peppers as a vessel for different dips … can be a great way for people to increase their veggie intake in a fun way,” she says.
Is it better to eat bell peppers raw or cooked?
Cooking bell peppers depletes some nutrients but enhances others, so you can stick with your preferences.
“You’re going to get nutrition benefits either way,” Crumble Smith says.
Vitamin C and the B vitamins are heat-sensitive and water-soluble so cooking peppers for long periods can reduce how much you absorb, especially with boiling. Crumble Smith recommends using that water as a vegetable stock instead of dumping it to retain some of the vitamins.
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Are bell peppers good for you? Red vs. green nutrition benefits.
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