I spent a few hours yesterday going through the nutrition programs of elite athletes who compete in the CrossFit Games. And every single program, despite being created by different nutrition coaches, had only one non-protein food that was on every single plan. It wasn’t sweet potatoes–even though that was on most plans. And it wasn’t a dark leafy green veggie, which were actually absent from a number of plans. So what was it???
I guess I shouldn’t be too surprised–I remember my research for The Total Health and Fitness Makeover proved that bell peppers were certainly an underrated food. Bell peppers have long been known as an excellent source of vitamin C as well as being being packed full of carotenoids. Furthermore, my research on Alzheimer’s and other neuro-degenerative diseases has shown that bell peppers help to prevent the release of amyloid proteins. Amyloid proteins that build up around certain nerve cells have been linked to contributing to Alzheimer’s.
But lots of foods have vitamin C and carotenoids. And neuro-degenerative disease probably isn’t on most nutrition coaches’ minds when meal planning for CrossFit athletes. So why are all these elite athletes eating bell peppers?
My best guess to why so many athletes are eating bell peppers is the antioxidant benefits of bell pepper phytonutrients. There have been multiple studies that have shown such antioxidants have positive impact on immune health and exercise recovery. These are two areas that certainly elite athletes would care about. As you will see below, bell peppers are loaded with a wide variety of flavonoids, carotenoids, and other important phytonutrients:
Flavonoids are polyphenols found in plants. Flavonoids have significant antioxidant properties. Diets with a wide variety of flavonoids are thought to be linked to better metabolic function, lower rates of disease, and a healthier immune system. And a 2009 study found that flavonoids may have anti-inflammatory properties. I have included additional studies on polyphenols at the end of this post.
Carotenoids, like beta-carotene, are normally associated with eye-health and their cancer fighting properties but recent studies show that carotenoids also support cardiovascular health and our immune systems. At the bottom of this post I linked to a study showing the role of carotenoids in human health.
A wide variety of both flavonoids and carotenoids provide rich antioxidant properties that everyone, especially athletes, would want to include in their diets.
Antioxidant Benefits from Phytonutrients in Bell Peppers
- Hydroxycinnamic acid derivatives
- ferulic acid
- chlorogenic acid
- cinnamic acid
- coumaric acid
- Hydroxybenzoic acid derivatives
- gallic acid
Ok that is certainly a wide variety — I am sold. Bell peppers need to be in our nutrition plan. But are all bell peppers created equal?
Not All Bell Peppers Are the Same
Recent studies have found that organic bell peppers have greater concentrations of phytonutrients than non-organic bell peppers. So if you have the option, choose organic.
Also, in the world of veggies — color means something. A mix of yellow, orange, red, and green bell peppers will provide an excellent mix of phytonutrients. For those of you who read The Total Health and Fitness Makeover, you probably remember to try and have as much color on your plate as possible.
A recent study of yellow and red bell peppers found that yellow bell peppers had the greatest total carotenoid content but that red bell peppers had greater amounts of two specific carotenoids — lutein (nicknamed the eye vitamin) and beta-carotene, both important antioxidants for your eyes. And green bell peppers were the number two rated source of vitamin C of all foods, second only to papaya. I don’t know about your grocery store, but green bell peppers are way easier to find than papaya.
Here is an amazing protein packed recipe for you:
- 6 bell peppers of varying colors (choose peppers that sit upright)
- 1.5 pounds of ground beef
- 7 ounces of Mexican style hot tomato sauce (available in most grocery stores)
- 6 ounces of your favorite marinara sauce
- 1.5 cups of quinoa
- 1 bunch of green onions
- Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees
- Put the quinoa in a sauce pan, cover with water, bring to a boil, let simmer for 12 minutes
- Brown the ground beef (I added the white parts (chopped) of the green onions but this is optional)
- Cut the tops off the bell peppers and remove the insides and all seeds
- Chop the green onions
- In a large bowl, mix the quinoa, beef, both tomato sauces, and most of the chopped green onions (leave some for garnish)
- Stuff the peppers with the above mixture
- Put peppers in a baking dish and bake for 20-25 minutes (ovens may vary so check after 15 minutes)
- You could make this non-spicy by replacing the Mexican style hot sauce with regular marinara sauce.
If you want to learn more about overall health then I strongly recommend the Revamp Your Health now available at Amazon.
Studies you may be interested in: