It is undeniable that eating more fruits and vegetables is beneficial for health. However, whether it is better to eat these fruits and vegetables with or without skin is often debated. Skins are often discarded out of preference, habit, or in an effort to reduce exposure to pesticides. However, removing the skins can result in the removal of one of the most nutrient-dense parts of the plant.
Peels are full of nutrients
The amounts of nutrients they contain vary depending on the type of fruit or vegetable. However, generally speaking, unpeeled produce contains higher amounts of vitamins, minerals, and other beneficial plant compounds, compared to their peeled counterparts. In fact, a raw apple with its skin contains up to 332% more vitamin K, 142% more vitamin A, 115% more vitamin C, 20% more calcium and up to 19% more potassium than a peeled apple.
Similarly, a potato boiled in its skin can contain up to 175% more vitamin C, 115% more potassium, 111% more folate and 110% more magnesium and phosphorus than a peeled potato. Vegetable peels also contain significantly more fiber and antioxidants. For example, up to 31% of a vegetable’s total amount of fiber can be found in its skin. Additionally, antioxidant levels can be up to 328 times higher in fruit peels than in pulp.
Therefore, eating your fruits and vegetables unpeeled can actually increase your nutrient intake.
Peels can help you feel full longer
Fruit and vegetable peels can reduce hunger and help you feel full longer. This is largely due to their high fiber content. Although the exact amount of fiber varies, fresh fruits and vegetables can contain up to a third more fiber before the outer layers are removed. Several studies show that fiber can help you feel full longer. Fiber can do this by physically stretching the stomach, slowing the rate at which it empties, or influencing the rate at which satiety hormones are released in your body. In fact, research shows that the type of fiber found in fruits and vegetables may be particularly effective in suppressing appetite.
Fiber also serves as food for the friendly bacteria that live in your gut. When these bacteria feed on fiber, they produce short-chain fatty acids, which appear to enhance feelings of fullness.
Peels may help prevent certain diseases
Fruits and vegetables contain antioxidants, beneficial plant compounds that can reduce the risk of several diseases. Simply put, the main function of antioxidants is to fight unstable molecules called free radicals. When free radical levels get too high, they can cause oxidative stress, which can ultimately damage cells and potentially increase disease risk. In fact, researchers believe that antioxidants may help reduce the risk of heart disease and certain types of cancers.
Certain antioxidants found in fruits and vegetables have also been linked to a lower risk of neurological diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease. Fruits and vegetables are naturally rich in antioxidants, but according to research, they seem to be more concentrated in the outer layer. Therefore, if you want to maximize your antioxidant intake from fruits and vegetables, you should eat them unpeeled.
Some peels are difficult to clean or inedible
Some fruit or vegetable peels may be difficult to eat or simply inedible. For example, avocado and honeydew melon peels are considered inedible whether eaten cooked or raw. Other fruit and vegetable peels, such as those from pineapples, melons, bananas, onions, and celeriac, can have a tough texture that is difficult to chew and digest. It is usually best to remove these peels and not eat them.
Also, while some vegetable peels are considered edible, they should not be eaten raw. This is the case, for example, with winter squash and pumpkin peels, which are best eaten after cooking to allow the peels to become soft. On the other hand, citrus fruits also have tough, bitter skins that can be difficult to eat raw. It’s usually best to eat them as a peel, cook them, or just throw them away. Some fruit and vegetable skins, although quite edible, may taste bitter or be covered in a layer of wax or grime that can be particularly difficult to clean.
If the thought of eating these fruits and vegetables with their skins makes you want to not eat them at all, peeling may still be your best option.
Peels may contain pesticides
Pesticides are commonly used to reduce crop damage and increase yield. Contrary to popular belief, pesticides can be found on organically or conventionally grown fruits and vegetables. Although some pesticides penetrate the flesh of fruits and vegetables, many remain confined to the outer skin. Washing is a good way to get rid of pesticide residues that are loosely attached to the surface of the peel. However, peeling is the best way to remove pesticides that have seeped into the skins of fruits and vegetables.
For example, a recent study indicates that approximately 41% of pesticide residues found on fruit were removed by washing with water, while peeling removed up to twice as much. For many people concerned about their overall exposure to pesticides, this may be reason enough to eat only the flesh of all fruits and vegetables.
It should be kept in mind that the amount of pesticides allowed on fresh foods is tightly regulated. The upper permitted limits are very conservative and much lower than the lowest dose known to potentially cause harm to humans.
So while removing the skin from vegetables may get rid of slightly more pesticides than washing them, the difference is probably too small to worry about.
Which peels are safe to eat?
Some peels are safe to eat, some are not.
The lists below summarize common fruits and vegetables that should be peeled and those that should not:
- Citrus (grapefruit, lemon, lime, orange, etc.)
- Tropical fruits (banana, lychee, pineapple, papaya, etc.)
- winter squash
- Squash (if well cooked)