Which bell pepper is the healthiest?

Qualified Nutritionist (BSc, MSc, RNutr)
Ask Emma

18 November 2021

Which bell pepper is the healthiest?

Red bell peppers are the most nutrient-dense, which makes them the healthiest pepper. This is because they've been on the vine for longer when compared to orange, yellow and green peppers, and in that order too. Compared to green peppers, red bell peppers may have up to 11 times more key nutrients, including beta-carotene.

Whilst we mainly see red, orange, yellow and green bell peppers available to us, some other more exotic varieties do exist worldwide, and white, brown or even purple peppers can also exist – fancy!

Red bell peppers

Of all the colours of bell peppers we know and love, the red ones arguably come up trumps when it comes to their nutrient content. Interestingly, when it comes to their macronutrient content, the various colours of bell peppers don't differ too substantially. This is because ultimately each bell pepper comes from the exact same plant, but the green variety are just picked first (meaning they are quite unripe at the time of harvest), followed by the yellow, then orange and finally the ripest end product of all – the red pepper.

As a result, the protein, fat and total carbohydrate content doesn't differ too much across the different varieties. That being said, a higher proportion of the carbohydrates in the red bell pepper does covert into natural sugars during this ripening process, meaning red peppers are certainly much sweeter than their green counterparts. However, peppers across the board still contain no more than 2g of sugar per serving, and still provide lots of lovely fibre and lovely micronutrients alongside it, so this certainly shouldn't put you off eating them. Even red peppers are considered low in terms of their 'glycaemic load', meaning they are especially gentle on your blood sugar levels.

Next, let's move on to explore some of the micro- and phytonutrients which the different colours of bell peppers may differ in:

1. Vitamin A

Red bell peppers come out on top when it comes to vitamin A too. Red bell peppers have the highest content of beta-carotene, with orange peppers having a little less, and yellow and green not having so much to offer at all. Beta-carotene develops as the peppers ripen on the vine, hence the differences across the colours.

Beta-carotene is converted into vitamin A in the body. Vitamin A is fantastic for maintaining the health of the mucus membranes which line our respiratory tract, as well as protecting other key organs such as our eyes.

2. Vitamin C

Bell peppers also boast an impressive content of vitamin C. Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory, which explains why it is such as successful protector of your immune cells. See, antioxidants work to help protect your immune cells from being damaged by free radicals, plus, they can help to dampen down excess inflammation which can otherwise risk hindering some of your vital immune responses.

Interestingly, yellow peppers appear to have the highest content of vitamin C, with half a cup having over 150% of the recommended daily amount; but the red pepper equivalent will still see you hitting your daily quota before you've even eaten anything else – not bad!

However, the red bell pepper comes up slightly more favourably when it comes to some other micronutrients such as potassium, and some of the B vitamins including B6 or folate (B9).

3. Iron

Iron is another important nutrient of which most varieties of the peppers contain suitable amounts, ranging from around 30 to 50mg per 100g across the different colour varieties. So, well above your daily quota once more.
Interestingly, peppers also have the crucial vitamin C intact that then helps us to maximise our absorption of the non-haem, or plant-based iron – thank you nature!

4. Powerful plant pigments

You'll often hear the phrase – 'eat the colours' of the rainbow; but why? Much of this advice is based on the health benefits that the wonderful array of plant pigments can provide. These are the special phytonutrients that give plants their colour. Now, let's run through some of the colour chemistry of our beloved bell peppers.

Green – green peppers are packed full of a wonderful plant pigment called chlorophyll, and, you've guessed it, this is what makes them green! We've always been encouraged to eat our greens, and some of these well-accepted benefits may be down to the chlorophyll content. Chlorophyll is thought to be especially cleansing and energising, and this is why it's so good for us.

Yellows and orange – as the green colour fades and the peppers ripen, carotenoid pigments start to form, including lutein or beta-carotene, and these are what give off the vibrant yellow and orange tones. Carotenoids are wonderfully antioxidant and anti-inflammatory and are thought to have a certain affinity for specific areas of our bodies such as the eyes.

Red – finally, some of the deepest pigments of all in terms of the pepper family are the red ones, including capsanthin or lycopene. Lycopene especially is a well-renowned antioxidant, meaning it can be very effective at helping to protect many of our bodily cells from damage by free radicals.

The other reason we love the phrase 'eat the rainbow' is that it encourages people to eat a wider variety of foods. The bell peppers are a lovely example of this. Whilst they come from the same family, by including all the colours in your diet, you'll actually benefit from a slightly wider and more variable range of nutrients. So, whilst red could be considered 'healthier' in some respects, I'd consider including all colours of peppers in your diet interchangeably, and this should be the best approach for good health.

Now, why not get some more warming, rainbow and pepper-enthused inspiration from my new Roasted Red Pepper and Tomato Soup recipe? Enjoy!

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