News and Notes from The Johnson Center

Brighten Your Diet With Peppers

JCCHD | Wed, June 19, 2013 | [Autism Treatment][Family and Food]

A Tisket, A Tasket, We Got Peppers in Baskets

Peppers are rich in phytochemicals, which is important because there is no supplement that can replace the nutrients derived from phytochemicals . Most phytochemicals act like antioxidants, reducing the percentage of harmful free radicals in the body.  The color of a pepper indicates which phytochemical it contains; each one is associated with particular health benefits.  For example, purple and red peppers contain anthocyanins.  Anthocyanins are known to promote urinary tract health and memory function [1]. Yellow, orange, and green peppers contain carotenoids, which lower the risk of eye disease [2].
Other Health Benefits
The advantages to eating peppers go beyond the phytochemicals.  Spicy or sweet, all peppers are a great source of vitamins A and C.  In fact, one cup exceeds your daily requirement for both vital nutrients.  Vitamin A is known to improve immune function, and it’s essential for the development of healthy bones and good vision.  In fact, deficiency causes chronic dry eyes and night blindness in children.4 Vitamin C is also important to a child’s development—children who are deficient may experience joint pain, loss of appetite, gum lesions, or even bulging eyes.5 Research also suggests that vitamin C may decrease the severity of symptoms in children with autism [6].

Peppers are full of nutrients and the health benefits are numerous.  Peppers can:
Increase your metabolism.  Capsaicin is the chemical that causes the burn in peppers—it helps speed up your metabolism slightly, helping you control your weight [3]. 
Help prevent heartburn.  Peppers have similar protective characteristics to stomach fluid when digested.  By adding to the stomach’s natural defenses, they reduce the amount of harmful bacteria that cause heartburn and ulcers.  (However if you have chronic heartburn and ulcers, peppers may irritate the digestive system [3]. 
Act as pain relievers.  Capsaicin may decrease the pain signals your brain receives.  Additionally, it can be used to treat joint and muscle pain when added to a topical lotion [7].

Incorporating Peppers into your Diet
Peppers come in different flavors ranging from sweet to spicy.  Incorporating them into your diet is easy and fun.  Make a festive chicken salad by adding chopped red, green, and yellow peppers.  Peppers complement any kabob combination.  Likewise, sautéed sweet peppers and mushrooms make a great side dish for almost any meal.

Hot peppers have the most nutrients.  If your child is already acclimated to spicy food, don’t worry about him or her eating too many.  There is no risk of capsaicin poisoning.  If you do not know how your child will react, here are methods to reduce the heat before introducing them [8]:
Removing the seeds dramatically reduces the heat.  It is best to wear gloves during this process.  The juice can get under your nails and deliver a sting to your mouth and eyes hours after handling. 
Try soaking your peppers in oil.  Oil naturally absorbs the spice from foods.  If the pepper is really hot, soaking for over 48 hours is recommended. 
Salt water also weakens the burn.  Soaking hot peppers for a few hours will lower the intensity.  Use one cup of any salt per gallon of water.  After soaking, rinse with cold water.  Wear gloves when handling.

Slice raw sweet peppers as a delicious snack or try a couple of these colorful crowd pleasers to get started:

Kid-friendly Stuffed Bell Peppers
Modified from

Kid-Friendly Stuffed Peppers

• 1 cup of brown rice, cooked
• 1 lb ground beef
• Salt and pepper to taste
• 2 teaspoons minced onions
• 15 ounces tomato sauce
• 2 tablespoons Worcestershire Sauce
• 1 ½ cups cheddar cheese substitute (Daiya is a good brand)

1. In a skillet, brown 3/4 to 1 pound of ground beef.  Add salt and pepper and about 1-2 tsp dried minced onions. Cook till meat is done.
2. Combine rice, meat mixture, tomato sauce, and Worcestershire sauce.  Simmer about 15-20 minutes, stirring occasionally.
3. Blanche the bell peppers first so they are soft.
4. Put the mixture in a bell pepper, top with shredded cheddar and bake in the oven until hot (about 15 minutes).

Printable Recipe

Roasted Vegetables
From The Kid-friendly ADHD & Autism Cookbook

• 2-3 sweet potatoes, cubed
• 1 butternut squash, cubed
• 1 red pepper, chopped
• 1 yellow pepper, chopped
• 1 zucchini, cubed
• 1 red onion, chopped
• ½ cup balsamic vinegar
• 6 tablespoons olive oil
• 2 teaspoon sugar or sucanat
• 2 teaspoons fennel seed, crushed or whole (or dried rosemary)
• 1 teaspoon salt
• ½ teaspoon pepper

1. Lightly grease a roasting pan. 
2. Combine vegetables.
3. Mix remaining ingredients to make a sauce and coat the vegetables.
4. Bake uncovered for 45 minutes at 450°F.  Stir twice.

Printable Recipe

Article Resources