Food Facts: Bell Peppers

mini-sweet-peppersThis Food Fact about the bell pepper just might surprise you with a few of its many assets. This time of year there are many farmers markets here in Toronto that feature produce that is fresh from the fields. I bet your city has these markets as well, and I encourage you to get out and support your local farmers. These are the hard working people who make our healthy lifestyle possible, and the best way we can show our appreciation is by directly buying from the very people who toil every day to bring us such amazingly fresh and nutritious foods.

When I get into telling you about bell peppers I think you’ll see that one of the best ways you can show your body some appreciation for all the hard work it puts in with you is to enjoy some of this incredible low carb food. The bell pepper is technically a fruit, although it is referred to as a vegetable by most. I’m not overly concerned as to how you want to class the bell pepper, I would rather give you a better understanding as to why you may want to make it more of an integral part of your diet.

Before I get to the good stuff, a little context is always nice to set the backdrop of our story here today. Peppers are native to Mexico and other Central American regions. They spread during the 16th and 17th century when Spanish and Portuguese explorers discovered them, and are now grown around the world. Bell peppers have several cultivar types, but the plant type and fruit pods are a common feature in almost all of them.

In structure, the sweet pepper has a blocky, cube like cover and inside has many circular, flat seeds. The seeds are kept in place by clinging to a white core. Peppers are usually picked by hand at different stages of maturity. An unripe pepper may be green, but as it matures it will acquire its genetic color such as orange, yellow, red or purple to name some of the more common types.

The heat that a pepper generates is measure in Scoville heat units. On the Scoville scale, a sweet bell pepper scores zero, while a jalapeno pepper scores around 2,500 to 4,000. Just because the bell pepper roasted-sweet-peppersscores low in heat however, there are still nutritional similarities with its hotter brethren that I’ll get into shortly.

What makes the sweet bell pepper an amazing low carb food choice is that in a half cup serving, there is roughly just two grams of net carbs. That is all, and that equates to an entire pepper coming in at five or fewer grams of carbs. The bell pepper is deceiving in that regard because its sweet taste would lead one to believe that there must be a high sugar content. Put another way, a 100 gram serving has only 31 calories. Those 31 calories pack a pretty good punch though when it comes to nutrients.

I’ll start with the nutrients with something I find very interesting. Even though sweet peppers have no heat per se, they still contain the health benefiting alkaloid compound capsaicin. I could do an entire post on capsaicin, and at some point that will most likely happen. This compound is a cure-all for anything you can think of. It has anti-bacterial, anti-carcinogenic, analgesic and anti-diabetic properties. When used in large quantities, which I admittedly do with cayenne, it has been shown to reduce triglyceride levels and LDL cholesterol(the bad kind).

As much as I want to move on to what else bell peppers have to offer, I have to just include a brief summary of some of the specific functions capsaicin has to offer, but I’ll keep this to just a surface overview. Capsaicin has been shown to cause cancer cell death. As you probably know by now, a lot of what I now know about nutrition has stemmed from my own fight with cancer. I have and will continue to use nutrition and training as my key weapons against this disease, as well as the power of a strong and focused mind and soul. No drug on the planet can offer more than what this combination I have working for chinense-pepper-2-smalljpg-937ee6c8a3b4685dme can. Back to the article though, I just wanted to share some of my feelings on health and the care of ourselves with you.

I’ll sum the rest of the capsaicin benefits up quickly. Used topically, capsaicin is great for pain relief. If you ever have a toothache, try rubbing some cayenne on your gums directly. It relieves congestion as well as prevents sinusitis. It is a great anti-inflammatory agent, something of particular interest to those of us that like to train like the animals that we are. It soothes intestinal issues beginning with stomach ulcers all the way through to inflammatory bowel disease. It is heart protective by helping to reduce cholesterol and triglycerides as stated above, but also because it reduces platelet aggregation in our blood. Although not in as large supply as it is with the hotter peppers, including bell peppers regularly will allow for the cumulative effect of capsaicin to work these benefits for you.

There is one more piece of information that is of particular interest to those concerned with fat loss. Capsaicin is thermogenic. Basically put, this means that it increases metabolic activity. This is why it is included in the powder form in so many fat burning pill combinations. When eaten in its whole food form however, the capsaicin can increase our metabolic activity significantly for over 20 minutes after it has been consumed. This will help to speed digestion of the meal you have just consumed, and allow for things like protein synthesis to get underway quickly.

Now we can move on to some of the vitamins that bell peppers have in abundance, beginning first with vitamin-C. This vitamin is in its highest concentration in red peppers, and 100 grams provides 213 percent of our RDA. Vitamin-C is a potent water soluble antioxidant that is required for collagen synthesis, which is the main structural protein in the body necessary for maintaining the integrity of blood vessels, skin, Colorful-sweet-peppersorgans and bones. Vitamin-A is also in ready supply. 100 grams contains 101 percent of our RDA.

B-vitamins are also in bell peppers in decent amounts. Niacin, pyridoxine, riboflavin and thiamin are all present. B-vitamins are essential because the body requires external sources of them as they cannot be produced internally. They are responsible for facilitating cellular metabolism through many enzymatic functions.

Other valuable contributors to our health are flavonoids that act as antioxidants as well. A and B carotenes, lutein, zeaxanthin and cryptoxanthin. Together, these antioxidant like flavonoids help protect our body from free radicals generated during stress and disease conditions. You had better believe that our training is a fairly serious form of stress on our body, so it is best that we take this into account with our diet.

The bell pepper also has adequate amounts of many minerals. The main ones are iron, copper, zinc, potassium, manganese, magnesium and selenium. Mangnese is used by the body as a co-factor for the antioxidant enzyme superoxide dismutase, and selenium is an anti-oxidant micro-mineral that is also a co-factor for the same enzyme, superoxide dismutase. Both provide valuable support to our internal protective system. Not to mention, many of the minerals listed above are essential for tendon strength and testosterone production. Both of which are of great interest to us that love to train.

Surprised? You must be, even if just a little bit. All foods are not created equal, and if ultimate health and sum09_first-sweet-peppersultimate fitness are your goals, then everything you choose to fuel yourself has to count for that much more. The way that I view the overall nutritional goal of a high-octane athlete that wants to run at their peak level year in and year out, is that if you get a variety of foods that are all well above average and if you stick to that diverse yet select stable of fuel, then odds are you are going to be that much better.

By better I mean in regards to recuperation, function, metabolism, mental health and especially the slowing if not stopping of age related decline. There, I said it. I do believe if we pay attention to detail with regards to our training and diet, that it is even possible to grow younger to a degree. I have brought this up in more detail before, and I think the theme will be revisited again. Just because you are supposed to decline and history shows it happens no doubt, it is not a forgone conclusion that aging will follow a predetermined curve. With the creation of new cells through new tissue growth, and the nurturing of those cells with the highest nutritional support possible in whole food form there is much that is possible that has not yet been scientifically studied. I for one have never been one to wait around for science to catch up with logic, reason and even evidence.


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