Are Peppers Good for You?
Whether sweet or hot, they pack a nutrition and flavor punch
If you want to add some zing to your next meal or snack, pick up some peppers from the supermarket or farmers market. Late summer and fall is when they’re at their peak, which means they’re full of sweet, sharp, or fiery flavor.
Peppers are also low in calories but packed with nutrients, says Dana Hunnes, PhD, RD, a senior dietitian at the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center in Los Angeles. They supply heart-healthy potassium and fiber, plus vitamins A and C to support the immune system. Yellow, orange, and red peppers deliver carotenoids, plant pigments that may protect against certain eye diseases and cancers.
Turn Up the Heat
Hot peppers may offer an extra health kick. They get their heat from capsaicin, a compound that may combat inflammation and promote blood flow. According to a 2019 study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, people who ate hot peppers more than four times a week were about a third less likely to die of cardiovascular disease than those who rarely or never ate them.
Pick Your Pepper
Each pepper has its own unique flavor and heat. The latter is measured on the Scoville heat scale, ranging from 0 units for a sweet bell pepper up to 300,000 for a mouth-scorching habanero.
Sweet peppers: Yellow, orange, and red bell peppers are harvested later than green, so they’re often sweeter. You can add raw or sautéed bell or other sweet peppers, such as banana peppers, to salads, stir-fries, and sandwiches. Or make roasted pepper pesto: Place eight peppers on a baking sheet and roast at 350° F for an hour, or until soft. Remove the skin, and purée peppers with olive oil, four cloves of garlic, ⅔ cup of almonds, and a pinch of salt and pepper.
Hot peppers: If you like mild spice, opt for shishito (50 to 200 Scoville heat units), Anaheim (500 to 2,500), or poblano peppers (1,000 to 2,000). Jalapeño (2,500 to 8,000) and serrano peppers (10,000 to 25,000) add more sizzle. For extra fire, choose Thai (50,000 to 100,000) or habanero (more than 100,000).
Wear plastic or rubber gloves when you’re handling hot peppers, Hunnes advises. Then wash your hands and cutting board and other utensils afterward. Getting capsaicin on your hands and then touching other parts your body can lead to pain and irritation. If you eat something that’s too hot, grab a glass of milk or another dairy product. That will cool the burn, possibly because a protein in dairy binds to capsaicin.
An easy way to work peppers into a meal is to toss them in oil, then broil or grill them for 10 to 20 minutes. Turn them often as the skin blisters and the flesh softens. Wipe off the charred pieces or peel the skin. Serve on top of fish or poultry, or blend into a salsa or sauce. (Try the recipe for Salmon With Roasted Tomato-Pepper Salsa, below.) Or stuff halved, seeded peppers with vegetables or tuna and cheese, then bake.
Salmon With Roasted Tomato-Pepper Salsa
8 whole plum tomatoes
2 whole poblano peppers
2 whole jalapeño peppers
1 small red onion, peeled and quartered
3 cloves garlic, unpeeled
2 tablespoons olive oil
Juice of 1 lime (about 2 tablespoons)
½ teaspoon ground cumin
⅓ cup chopped cilantro
½ teaspoon salt
1¼ pounds salmon filet
Black pepper, to taste
1. Preheat broiler. Place the tomatoes, peppers, onion, and garlic on a broiler pan. Drizzle with 1 tablespoon of the olive oil. Broil 10 to 15 minutes, turning once, until tomatoes are tender and peppers and onion are slightly blackened. Cool 5 minutes.
2. Core the tomatoes; discard the cores and peel off the skin. Wearing plastic gloves to protect your hands from pepper burn, cut the peppers in half; remove the seeds, membranes, and skin (if it peels easily; if not, leave it on). Remove the skin from the garlic. Place the tomatoes, peppers, onion, garlic, lime juice, and cumin in a food processor. Pulse to chop; don’t purée. Transfer to a bowl and stir in the cilantro and ¼ teaspoon of the salt.
3. Brush the salmon with the remaining tablespoon of oil. Sprinkle with the remaining salt and pepper. Broil about 10 to 12 minutes or until the fish is cooked through. Slice the salmon into six pieces and serve with the tomato-pepper salsa.
Makes 6 servings
Nutrition information per serving: 270 calories, 18 g fat, 3.5 g saturated fat, 7 g carbs, 2 g fiber, 3 g sugars (0 g added), 21 g protein, 260 mg sodium