The fault of many people when preparing fruits and vegetables is to peel them. But often this is not necessary. There are important nutrients in the skin. In addition, discarded fruit and vegetable peelings contribute to climate change.
Fruits and vegetables are rich sources of vitamins, minerals, fiber, and many phytochemicals (plant chemicals), such as antioxidants (substances that protect your cells from damage). Not consuming enough of these nutrient-dense foods is linked to an increased risk of chronic diseasesincluding cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes. In 2017, the World Health Organization reported that an estimated 3.9 million deaths a year worldwide were attributable to people not eating enough fruit and vegetables.
Eat 400g of fruits and vegetables per day, as recommended by the WHO, is difficult for many people to achieve. So could eating fruit and vegetable peels help solve this problem by adding important nutrients to people’s diets?
They can certainly help. For example, nutritionally significant amounts of vitamins, such as vitamin C and riboflavin, and minerals such as iron and zinc, are found in the skin of seven root vegetables: beetroot, field mustard, wild carrot, sweet potato, radish, ginger and white potato. And the United States Department of Agriculture shows that unpeeled apples contain 15% more vitamin C, 267% more vitamin K, 20% more calcium, 19% more potassium and 85% more fiber than their peeled counterparts. Additionally, many peels are rich in biologically active phytochemicals, such as flavonoids and polyphenols, which have antioxidant and antimicrobial properties.
Another reason not to throw away the peels is their effect on the environment. According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, uneaten food, including peels, generates 8-10% of global greenhouse gas emissions. (Food that rots in landfills releases methane, the most potent greenhouse gas.) New Zealand alone reports an annual waste of 13,658 tons of vegetable peelings and 986 tons of fruit peelings – a country with a population of only 5.1 million.
Given the nutrient content of the skin and its contribution to food waste, why do people peel fruits and vegetables? Some need to be peeled because the outer parts are inedible, do not taste good, are difficult to clean or cause damage, such as banana, orange, melon, pineapple, mango, avocado, onion and garlic. Also, peeling can be a necessary part of the recipe, for example, when making mashed potatoes. But many peels, such as potato, beet, carrot, kiwi, and cucumber, are edible, but people peel them anyway.
Some people peel fruits and vegetables because they fear pesticides on the surface. Pesticide residues are certainly retained on or just below the surface, although this varies with plant species. But most of these residues can be removed by washing. Indeed, the United States Food and drug administration recommends washing produce thoroughly in cold water and scrubbing with a stiff brush to remove pesticides, dirt and chemicals.
Cooking techniques, such as boiling and steaming, can also reduce pesticide residues. But not all pesticide residues are removed by washing and cooking. And people who are worried about their exposure to pesticides may still want to peel. Pesticide content lists for fruits and vegetables are available in some countries, for example, Pesticide Action Network produce one for the UK. This can help you decide which fruits and vegetables to peel and which peels can be eaten.
If you want to learn more about fruit and vegetable peels and what to do with them, there is plenty of advice online, including help on using peels to compostingto feed a vermifugeWhere inclusion in recipes. With a little investigation and creativity, you can help reduce waste and increase your fruit and vegetable intake. Surely it’s worth a try? And you’ll help achieve one of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals: halve food waste by 2030.