There’s no doubt that whole fruits and vegetables are a key component of a healthy diet. However, if you commonly peel your produce, you may be missing out on the most nutrient-packed part!
Peels are commonly regarded as something to be thrown away (or hopefully composted). Only those with an easily chewable texture and mild flavor escape the knife. But research has made it abundantly clear that most fruit and vegetable peels are not only edible, they also contain truly outstanding health benefits.
(It is important, however, to strongly consider organic produce when eating the peels — be sure to see “Some Words of Advice” further below in this article for more info.)
So what makes peels so powerful? And which ones should you aim to consume?
Don’t Peel Those Fruits and Veggies!
Before we get into the healthiest fruit and vegetable peels you can eat, here’s a look at three characteristics of peels that will make you reconsider throwing them out. Of course, the specifics will vary based on which fruit/vegetable is being discussed, but these characteristics generally hold true for most, if not all, produce.
#1— Peels Can Double or Triple Nutrients: It’s no secret that fruits and veggies are packed with nutrients. What is surprising is the fact that peels quite frequently contain more nutrients than the rest of the fruit and can drastically increase your nutrient intake. As an example, leaving the peel on a raw apple gives it about 332% more vitamin K, 142% vitamin A and 115% more vitamin C than the peeled version!
#2— Peels Contain Loads of Fiber: Fiber is essential for “regular” digestion. It also feeds the good bacteria in your gut and may help with weight management by making you feel fuller for longer. Unfortunately, many people are fiber-deficient, consuming far less than the recommended daily amount. Eating more fruits and vegetables is an excellent way to up fiber intake, but up to one-third of the fiber content is found in the peels of produce.
#3— Peels Are Sky-High in Antioxidants: Consuming antioxidants is one of the keys to longevity, younger-looking skin, and a host of other health benefits. Once again, fruits and vegetables are high on the antioxidant-rich foods list. But importantly, researchers have discovered that antioxidants are typically concentrated in the outer layer of fruits and vegetables— aka the peels. In fact, antioxidant concentration can be up to 328 times higher in the peel than in the pulp!
Now, even though these three key points generally hold true, there are still certain peels that are virtually inedible. Avocado peels, for example, are rarely eaten because they are hard and rough.
But there are numerous peels you can (and should!) be eating, including some you might not expect.
Top Fruit and Vegetable Peels to Eat
Citrus fruits are an excellent source of vitamin C, which makes them great immune-boosting foods. Surprisingly, the peel typically contains 2-3 times more vitamin C than the inner fruit.
The peels of citrus fruits are also where most of the volatile essential oils are found. These powerful compounds have noted anti-inflammatory power and have displayed anticancer potential. Many are also potent antioxidants and are found at greater concentrations in the peel than in the pulp.
While you don’t really want to bite into the rind of a citrus fruit, you can grate and use the zest in numerous recipes or chop the peel finely and add to smoothies.
Apples are something of an in-between fruit. Some people peel them, while others don’t.
Leaving the peel on your apples just about doubles the amount of fiber you would get from an unpeeled apple. The peel also contains small amounts of vitamin E and folate that aren’t in the rest of the fruit as well as more than triple the amount of vitamin K.
Vitamin K is known as a blood-clotting nutrient, but it also has an important role in bone metabolism and calcium regulation.
Apple peels are also loaded with antioxidants like flavonoids, phenolic compounds, and anthocyanins. Notably, the peels were found to inhibit liver cancer cells far more effectively than any other part of the fruit.
Potatoes (and Sweet Potatoes)
Potatoes often get a bad rap as a starchy vegetable with too many calories. In reality, they are loaded with nutrients and resistant starch, which feeds the good bacteria in your gut. (It’s usually the way potatoes are cooked that makes them ‘unhealthy’.)
When you leave the skins on, potatoes really become a nutritional powerhouse. Minerals, in particular, are heavily concentrated in the potato skin— 17% of total zinc, 34% of total calcium, and 55% of total iron. Dietary fiber also shoots up if you consume the peel.
Overall, a medium potato with skin on provides you with over 25% of the daily value (DV) for vitamin C, vitamin B6, and potassium, 19% of the DV for manganese, and 12% of the DV for magnesium, phosphorus, niacin, and folate. Not bad at all!
You may never have considered eating watermelon rind, but here is a top reason to think about it.
Watermelon contains a decent amount of vitamins, but the fruit is especially notable for its citrulline content. Citrulline is an amino acid that gets transformed into the essential amino acid arginine within your body.
While citrulline is found in the whole fruit, it’s present at a much higher concentration in the white rind (not the green outer skin). If you don’t want to simply gnaw on the rind, try the pickled version or chop it like a vegetable and add it to a stir fry.
The inner flesh of a cucumber is about 96% water. There are a few vitamins and some fiber mixed in, but most of the nutrient, fiber, and antioxidant content of cucumbers is found in their skin.
By leaving the peel on, you can get a noticeably higher amount of vitamin K (the blood-clotting nutrient important for bone metabolism) from a cucumber. Minerals like selenium, magnesium, and calcium also increase as compared to the peeled version.
Research also indicates that cucumber peels are higher in flavonoids and phenolic compounds (both powerful antioxidants) than the fruit.
Keep in mind that store-bought cucumbers often come with a wax coating. Use a vinegar-water solution to remove this coating before eating.
Most people remove peach skin because it has a fuzzy texture. But if you do so, you’ll be missing out on a significant antioxidant boost.
Studies have found that peach skin contains more antioxidants than the rest of the fruit. It’s packed full of polyphenols, like caffeic acid and chlorogenic acid, as well as carotenoids.
Carotenoids are extremely beneficial antioxidants that have anti-aging power for your skin, support eye health, and enhance immune function. They may even help prevent certain diseases, including cancer.
To get around the fuzzy nature of the skin, try slicing your peaches thinly so the skin is barely noticeable. Or add them skin and all to a smoothie.
Like cucumbers, much of the inner flesh of zucchini is made of water. The outer peel is where most of the nutrients are found.
More specifically, you can get a decent amount of fiber, some extra vitamin C, and a good amount potassium from a zucchini with the peel left on. Plus, it contains an extra boost of other minerals like magnesium and calcium.
Once again, the highest antioxidant content is found in the skin as well, and the same goes for yellow zucchini (aka summer squash).
If you find the peel of zucchini a bit on the tough side, be sure to choose smaller “baby” fruit. The smaller the size, the more tender the skin will be.
Mangoes have many health benefits and may just be one of the most nutritious fruits you can eat. That being said, mango peel is not a part of the fruit people normally consume.
However, research shows that mango peels are loaded with antioxidants. This includes the antioxidant vitamins E and C as well as polyphenols and carotenoids. They also have a significant amount of fiber and contain compounds with anti-inflammatory, anticancer, and antidiabetic properties.
That being said, mango peels also contain a natural chemical known as urushiol. This is the same chemical found in poison ivy, which means some people may have an allergic reaction to mango peel.
Test out small amounts of the peel first. If you don’t have any reaction, add the peel to smoothies or leave it on mango pieces for a significant antioxidant boost.
Pears are one of the best fruits to eat to up your fiber intake. They contain soluble and insoluble fiber, which are both important for bowel regularity and feeding the good bacteria in your gut.
As you may have guessed, the peels of pears contribute significantly to their fiber content. A medium-size pear that hasn’t been peeled packs in about 5.5 grams of fiber, which gets you about 22% of the DV for dietary fiber!
Pears are also rich in anthocyanins (red pears), lutein and zeaxanthin (green pears), and polyphenols. All of these are antioxidant compounds linked to lower inflammation and lower risks of heart disease and other chronic issues. And all are most concentrated in the peel.
Tomato skin contains a unique flavonoid known as naringenin and a similar compound known as naringenin chalcone. Interestingly, studies have discovered that naringenin chalcone from tomato skin has anti-allergic activity. It seems to work by inhibiting histamine release and has potential to inhibit allergic reactions.
Other research has revealed antidiabetic and antioxidant properties of naringenin.
You can get this valuable compound by leaving the skin on tomatoes when you eat or cook with them. Of course, you’ll get a fiber boost, too, plus more of the valuable antioxidant lycopene.
The beautiful purple color of eggplant skin is a hint at the powerful nutrients it contains. When you remove it, you miss out on extra fiber and a group of plant compounds known as anthocyanins.
Anthocyanins are both antioxidants and plant pigments responsible for the purple shade of eggplant. A particular anthocyanin found in eggplant skin, known as nasunin, has demonstrated potent protective effects against free radical damage to cells.
Eggplant skin can be a little tough but will be more tender on smaller fruits.
Grapes aren’t usually peeled, but you may not realize how just how much your body gets out of grape skins.
Perhaps the most notable plant compound found in grapes is resveratrol. Resveratrol is an incredibly powerful antioxidant first discovered in red wine. It has well-documented anti-aging benefits, particularly for your heart, brain, and skin.
Did you know that the fuzzy peels of kiwis are edible? And not only are they edible, the peels are also highly nutritious.
Unsurprisingly, eating the skin along with the flesh ups the fiber content of a kiwi by about 50%. It also significantly increases the amount of folate and vitamin E you get. Antioxidants like flavonoids, carotenoids, and phenolic compounds are concentrated in the peel as well.
You can get some of the fuzz off a kiwi skin by scraping it with a spoon or rubbing it with a cloth. Slice it thinly to get small amounts of the peel at a time.
Banana peels are tough, thick, and a little bitter, but don’t let that put you off! They are rich in potassium, just like the fruit, as well as antioxidants, fiber, and tryptophan, which is an important amino acid for your sleep-wake cycle.
Now, you don’t necessarily want to start chewing on banana peels. But you can add chunks of them to a smoothie for an extra nutrient boost. Or boil then bake the skin to improve the texture.
Some Words of Advice
There’s a clear bottom line here: Most fruits and vegetables are more nutritious and health-boosting with their peels left on (with a few notable exceptions).
However, there are some other factors to keep in mind.
First and foremost is the fact that most conventional produce is sprayed with toxic pesticides. Pesticide residue is quite frequently concentrated in the peel, since this is the outmost part of the fruit or vegetable.
Ideally, you would want to buy organic produce if you intend to consume the peel, particularly when it comes to the “Dirty Dozen”. At the very least, wash all produce thoroughly before consuming it, which does reduce pesticide residue.
Specific peels may cause mouth irritation (notably mango and kiwi) or irritate the digestive tract of those with certain digestive issues. Start with small amounts of the less commonly consumed peels to ensure no reaction before you eat larger amounts.
The Power of Peels for Skincare
Citrus peels aren’t just beneficial when you consume them. They also have powerful skin-boosting properties, brightening skin and balancing oil production. Orange peels, in particular, possess anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial compounds that protect skin and reduce the appearance of redness.
If you’d like to “feed” your skin the antioxidant power of citrus peels, look into the Age-Defying Night Cream from Purity Woods. It contains both orange and grapefruit peel oils as well as numerous other organic botanical ingredients that promote younger-looking skin.
Learn more about the Age-Defying Night Cream here, and keep the peels on your produce!