In all likelihood, the first thing you do when you eat an orange is tear off its thick peel and throw it straight into the garbage. Unfortunately, tossing away the peel makes you miss out on an abundance of additional nutrients. In fact, the peel of an orange contains close to twice the amount of vitamin C compared to the flesh inside.
Human skin plays an important role in protecting the body as a defense against pollution, germs, ultraviolet rays and more. Plant skins play the same role as a powerful line of defense. For plants in the wild, the skin protects against predators, pesticides, rays and pollution.
Most people remove the peel based on preference, habit or lack of knowledge. By removing the skin we are also removing one of the most nutrient-rich parts of the plant. The amount of nutrients they contain vary, but generally speaking, unpeeled produce contain higher amounts of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and other beneficial plant compounds compared to peeled produce.
As a general rule, the greater the proportion of skin to interior fruit, the higher the antioxidant ability. For example, blueberries and cranberries are extraordinarily high in antioxidants because they are so small.
While the skin is known to hold the highest nutrition value, some skins are not recommended to consume. For example eggplant, avocado and pineapple are probably not going to satisfy you like the inside of it will. In these cases, some skins may be best removed and not eaten. Below is a list of a few nutrient-dent skins that are safe to consume.
Orange: Shave the zest of an orange peel and season dishes and desserts with it. Or, dry the peel and add a few pieces to a tea.
Banana: Try cutting the peel into chunks and blending them into your smoothie.
Watermelon: Dice the watermelon rinds then season and saute in olive oil. Or blend them in a smoothie or chop them up and include them in a soup/stew.
Lemon: Like orange peels, try shaving the zest of the lemon peel and seasoning dishes and desserts with it. Or, adding a few pieces to a tea.
One of the many benefits of fruit peels is that they are rich in dietary fiber which supports digestive health. More specifically, fiber helps to rebalance the gut bacteria by feeding the “good” bacteria while encouraging regular bowel movements and therefore, detoxification. Most fruit skins are also cholesterol free and low in sugar - some even contain mood-boosting properties. For example, banana peels contain an amino acid called tryptophan, which converts into the “happy chemical”, serotonin. Watermelon peels contain citrulline, an amino acid that has been shown to have a positive effect on mood and cognitive function.
You may naturally consume vegetable skins more than you would think to consume the skin of fruits. Although vegetables can be enjoyed with the skin on, the skins can also be removed and infused into vinegars and oils.
Overall, if you are looking to maximize your intake of nutrients, look for creative ways to consume the entire plant, including the skins!