As an adult, I’ve been coming around to the idea of leaving the skin on fruits and vegetables I would normally peel, like carrots, apples, potatoes, pears, beets and certain types of squash. It saves on prep time and gives the vegetables an appealingly rustic look.
Plus, leaving the skins on adds a nice shot of fiber to my meals. Fiber is a disease-prevention powerhouse that benefits the bowel by normalizing bowel movements and lowering the risk of developing hemorrhoids and certain diseases of the colon, including the formation of small pouches in the colon that can become inflamed.
Fiber also helps lower cholesterol levels and bring weight and blood sugar under control. It can even help you live longer by avoiding cardiovascular and other diseases. But fiber is not the only reason you should never throw away these fruit and vegetable skins…
More than fiber in fruit and vegetable peels
What I didn’t know is that leaving the skins on certain fruits and vegetables comes with nutritional benefits beyond a simple fiber boost. There are all kinds of vitamins, minerals and other beneficial nutrients present in fruit and vegetable peels we would normally discard.
For instance, potato skins contain vitamins B and C, potassium, calcium and iron. And if they’re from the purple variety of potato, they also have anthocyanins, a type of phytochemical that has antioxidant properties. Antioxidants help protect the body’s cells from free radical damage.
The thin, tender skins on potatoes like red, purple, fingerling and Yukon Gold potatoes make them easy to eat, whether the potato is whole, diced or mashed. Larger potatoes like russets have thicker, tougher skins, but they’re still quite tasty, especially when brushed with heart-healthy olive oil and baked. Leave off the butter, sour cream, cheese and bacon bits if you want to keep your potato skins truly healthy.
Apple skins are rich in potassium, calcium and vitamins A, B complex and C. They also contain polyphenols and the antioxidant quercetin, which can help support brain and lung function. Eating the skins is just one reason to eat apples the right way.
People often peel the thick dark green skin off their cucumbers. But cucumber skins are where most of the vegetable’s nutrients can be found. These include potassium, antioxidants and vitamin K, a nutrient that supports bone health and blood clotting.
I used to find the idea of eating a kiwi’s fuzzy brown skin to be off-putting. But that was before I discovered that kiwi skins are loaded with antioxidants, flavonoids and vitamin C. If, like me, you find the fuzz unappetizing, you can gently rub it off with a vegetable brush or clean dish towel before eating.
Zucchini skins may be a little bitter, but they have lots of potassium, vitamin C and carotenoids like lutein and zeaxanthin. These antioxidants are particularly good for eye health.
Peach skins are another source of carotenoids as well as vitamin A, another nutrient that’s good for your vision. Vitamin A also helps support the immune system and keeps the heart, lungs, kidneys and other organs functioning properly.
The light fuzz on peach skins is not as easy to remove as it is from kiwi skins, but it can be done carefully with a toothbrush or dish towel if it bothers you. Just make sure to wait until you’re going to eat it, as the fuzz helps protect the peach from bruising and turning soft.
Eggplant skins contain plenty of antioxidants, including nasunin, which can help protect brain cell membranes and prevent neuroinflammation. Nasunin also helps transport nutrients and remove waste from the body. The darker the eggplant, the more antioxidants its skin contains. Some eggplant varieties may have thicker, tougher skin than others, so you may need to sauté or bake it longer to make it easier to eat.
Skins that are more challenging to eat
Some people are taking the concept of reducing food waste to a new level by consuming fruit and vegetable skins normally seen as inedible.
Watermelon rind is a good example. Instead of tossing those rinds into the trash can or onto the compost heap, try eating them along with the rest of the watermelon. They contain citrulline, an amino acid that helps remove excess nitrogen from the blood and relieve sore muscle pain.
If you find the taste and texture of raw watermelon rind unpleasant, you can try adding it to a stir fry like you would water chestnuts or bamboo shoots. Or, you can juice the rind along with the flesh to make watermelon juice. Another great way to prepare watermelon rind is to pickle it — click here for a simple recipe.
Many types of winter squash skins, including spaghetti, butternut, pumpkin and acorn, can be eaten as well. If you bake these types of squash for long enough, the skin becomes softer and easier to eat. And the health benefits in the skin include plenty of vitamin A, as well as vitamins C and E.
How to get those skins clean
Washing fruits and vegetables is a pretty simple process — rinse off all loose dirt under running water, then use a vegetable brush to remove any impurities still clinging to the skin. Some fruits, like peaches and kiwi, need a bit more care to keep from damaging the flesh inside. But most vegetables can handle a good scrubbing.
One vegetable you need to take extra care with is the cucumber. While the thin, protective wax coating used on some fruits and vegetables can be easily rinsed off, many non-organic cucumbers have a thicker waxy layer that may take a bit more effort to remove.
You can try soaking the cucumbers in a solution of equal parts vinegar and water for a couple of minutes to loosen the waxy layer. Then, use a rough cloth to vigorously dry the cucumber, rubbing off the wax coating loosened by the vinegar solution.
And remember, choose organic produce as much as possible. If you’re unsure about how to choose, check out the Environmental Working Group’s list of the Clean Fifteen and the Dirty Dozen.
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Dietary fiber: Essential for a healthy diet — Mayo Clinic
A Guide to Popular Types of Potatoes — Jessica Gavin, Culinary Scientist
Vitamin A Fact Sheet for Consumers — National Institutes of Health
The Health Benefits of Carotenoids — VeryWell Health
9 Amazing Health Benefits of Eggplants — Taste of Home
Three Ways to Eat Watermelon Rind — watermelon.org
Quick Pickled Watermelon Rind Recipe — Savory Spice
How to Get Wax Off a Waxed Cucumber — LeafTV