Ingredient Spotlight: Red Peppers

Sweet red peppers contain a number of compounds that could help to prevent cancer, including capsiates, which have been shown to induce cancer cell deaths in lab tests. They are one of the few foods that contain lycopene, the carotenoid phytochemical that gives them their rich colour. High dietary levels of lycopene are associated with lower rates of rectal, pancreatic and ovarian cancer, and have also found to be linked to a lower risk of cardiovascular disease in women. In a recent case-control study in China, eating lycopene-rich foods such as sweet red peppers was found to reduce the risk of developing prostate cancer by up to 50 per cent.

They are also rich in other carotenoids, some of which, like beta-carotene, are vitamin A-precursors (i.e. which the body converts to vitamin A). Carotenoids are important for eye health, helping to prevent conditions such as cataracts. Sweet red peppers’ high levels of the carotenoid beta-cryptoxanthin may cut the risk of lung cancer. An eight-year study following over 63,000 people in Shanghai found that those eating the most foods with the highest levels of beta-cryptoxanthin had a 27% reduction in lung cancer risk. Scientists also suggest that good dietary intakes of carotenoids can help to prevent insulin resistance, which is a precursor for type 2 diabetes.


While all peppers are excellent sources of vitamin C, the mature sweet red goes to the top of the class for a tremendous 190mg/100g – that’s 475% of your daily RNI (Reference Nutrient Intake) or recommended daily allowance for this essential nutrient from just one raw medium-sized pepper. It also provides 1.58mg of vitamin E, which is around 40% of a man’s and 53% of a woman’s RNI.


These are both powerful antioxidants, which prevent cells from damage by free radicals, in turn helping to protect against heart disease, cataracts and cancers. Research suggests that good dietary intakes of vitamin C and E are linked to increase activity of an enzyme called paraoxonase, which inhibits the oxidation of LDL and HDL cholesterol, a process that can lead to atherosclerosis. Population studies also show that a high intake of antioxidant-rich foods is inversely related to cancer risk, with vitamin E reducing the risk of prostate and colon cancer, and carotenoids helping to reduce breast cancer risk.


For added health benefit, the sweet red pepper’s dietary fibre (2g/100g – 11% of RNI) is associated with a lesser risk of both heart disease and colon cancer, while its good quantities of folate (18mcg/100g; 9% of RNI) are important for reducing high levels of homocysteine which are linked to coronary heart disease, as well as preventing spina bifida in the developing foetus.


Sweet red peppers are also a great source of all the B vitamins which are needed for energy and stress. They also provide good levels of the minerals manganese, magnesium and potassium.




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