Capsicums help in the prevention and management of diabetes, heart disease, and cancers. They also play a role in increasing immunity, protecting vision and healing wounds.
Disclaimer: Irrespective of what Hippocrates said, food is not medicine; the two serve different purposes. Do not consume any food item in lieu of your medications. Use the information in this article to learn about the benefits, read more from the reference links, and have a healthy discussion with your doctor. Only after her consent can you incorporate that food into your diet; don’t do it on your own.
In this article, I will discuss capsicums’ heart-protective benefits. But first, what is a capsicum? That depends on the country you reside in!
Capsicum are fruits from the nightshade family, which includes eggplants and tomatoes.
Bell peppers (scientific name Capsicum annuum) are a type of capsicum, a category (genus) that also comprises chilli peppers, their hotter and spicier cousins. In comparison, bell peppers are sweetish and hence called sweet peppers. While chilli peppers are native to Central America, bell peppers are cultivated worldwide.
The word ‘capsicum’ comes from the Latin ‘capsa’, meaning a box. Capsicum fruits have a square shape. Alternatively, some experts say that ‘capsicum’ is derived from the Greek word ‘kapto’, which means seize, grab, or gulp down.
Names of Capsicums
‘Bell peppers’ is the term common in the USA, Canada, and the Philippines, while they are called just ‘peppers’ or ‘sweet peppers’ in the UK, Ireland, and South Africa. In India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Australia, and New Zealand, they are called ‘capsicum’, though as clarified above, the capsicum genus also includes chilli peppers.
In this article, I will restrict my discussion to bell peppers (and exclude chilli peppers). But I will use the South Asian street name ‘capsicum’ to refer to bell peppers.
Types of Capsicums
Capsicums come in a variety of colours based on the different plant pigments they have. The most common colours are green, yellow, orange, and red, but brown, white, and purple types are also available. The strains are named by their colours, such as red peppers or yellow capsicums.
All of them have a tangy taste with a crunchy texture. Green and purple peppers are slightly bitter, while yellow, orange, and red peppers are sweet.
Nutrients in Capsicums
Capsicums are 92% water. So their macronutrient contents—carbohydrates, proteins and fats—are negligible.
A hundred grams of capsicum contains two grams are dietary fibres. Since most diets are deficient in fibres by ten to fifteen grams a day, this amount is helpful.
Capsicums are a rich source of vitamin C. They also provide a good amount of vitamins A and B6 and some amount of vitamins B2, B9, E, and K.
Various varieties differ in their nutrient profile. For example, compared to green capsicum, red capsicum provides twice the vitamin C and eight times the vitamin A.
Capsicums also have beneficial plant compounds such as:
- Quercetin: Antioxidant. Protective against allergies, heart disease and cancer.
- Lutein and Zeaxanthin: Antioxidants. Protect eye retina from oxidative damage. Help shield the eyes from the harmful effects of blue rays and prevent macular degeneration. They are present only in green capsicum.
- Luteolin: Antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and anti-allergic properties.
- Capsiate: Plays a role in the management of heart disease, cancers, digestive disorders, metabolic disorders and obesity.
Consuming capsicums will give you these benefits.
Heart-Protective Benefits of Capsicums
Capsicums help protect and improve cardiovascular health through many mechanisms.
- Increased blood levels of a protein (amino acid) called homocysteine can damage the inner linings of blood vessels as well as increase the risk of blood clot formation. Capsicums are rich in vitamins B6 and B9 which help reduce blood homocysteine levels.
- Capsicums have compounds that prevent the action of digestive enzymes in the intestines. An enzyme in the intestines breaks down dietary fats into fatty acids, which are then absorbed into the blood. However, capsicums block this enzyme action, which slows down the fatty acid absorption in the intestines. The yellow and red peppers are the best for this, followed by green peppers.
- Antioxidant vitamins A, C, and E in capsicums are heart-protective.
- Red peppers have a very powerful antioxidant called lycopene, which is highly heart-protective.
- Dietary fibres in capsicums can help reduce cholesterol absorption in the intestines.
How Much to Consume?
While there is no recommended amount of capsicums, eating them in moderation is a good idea. Experts recommend eating one medium (one hundred and fifty grams) capsicum daily.
How Much is Too Much?
There are no established numbers for excess capsicum consumption; however, overeating capsicum may prevent you from eating other healthy vegetables. So stay under three medium to large capsicums (five hundred grams) daily.
Who Should Avoid?
- Capsicums are very well tolerated in the amounts typically consumed as food.
- People with pollen allergies may need to be careful about consuming capsicum.
- Be careful when searching online about the recommended amounts, excess doses, side effects of capsicum, and who should avoid them. Many Western websites refer to chilli peppers as capsicums, which have a separate set of precautions due to their capsaicin contents. Bell peppers have capsiate, a different and less pungent substance.
Most of the information in this article is taken from my upcoming book to be published by Macmillan Publishers in Nov 2023. The book discusses a thousand such preventive health tidbits. It covers twenty superfoods, their nutrients, health benefits, recommended amounts and excess levels. It also explains how to select and store and who should avoid them. Some of the superfoods are tomatoes, coconut, capsicum (Shimla mirch), drumsticks, amla (Indian gooseberry), jamun (Java plum), turmeric, cinnamon, flax seeds, asafoetida (hing), and sabja (sweet basil seeds).
To Read More
- MedicalNewsToday: Everything to know about bell peppers
- Healthline: Bell Peppers 101: Nutrition Facts and Health Benefits
- On this Website: How to understand the evidence from clinical trials of nutrients
First Published on: 29th August 2023
Image Credit: Image by Freepik