Why we should not peel our fruits and vegetables
If you want to get more nutrition from all of your fruits and vegetables, stop peeling them and eat the skin, too. And with the price of food these days, I know I am trying to get as much bang for my buck as I possibly can. More nutrition for eating the same amount of food also translates to better health. Eating the skin or peel is also part of the healthy whole food diet philosophy of eating food as close as possible to way nature provides it to us.
So why do we peel fruits and vegetables? Mostly it is the same reason white bread and white rice and sugar are so popular. Wealthy people could afford to waste the coarse, more bitter skin in favor of the tender, sweeter “meat” of the vegetable or fruit. It soon became a status symbol to be able to serve peeled fruits and vegetables, just as serving white bread and white rice was seen as higher-class than brown bread or brown rice. This is also why several of the deficiency diseases afflicted the wealthiest first and then followed the diet into the lower classes as standards of living rose during the industrial revolution. At the time, no one realized many of the nutrients were being discarded along with the skins, peels, bran and husks.
Many of the most potent nutrients are concentrated in the skins and peels. These nutrients often have sharp and/or bitter flavors. These are the nutrients that protect the fruits and vegetables against attacks by fungus, bacteria, viruses and hungry insects and animals.
Much of the coarse non-soluble fiber that is so important in our diets is also concentrated in the skins and peels. This tough fiber allows the skin or peel to protect the body of the fruit or vegetable from its surroundings. It keeps dirt, disease and pests on the outside and moisture and nutrients on the inside, just as our skin does for us.
To peel or not to peel
I do still sometimes peel fruits and vegetables. Whenever I get out the peeler, though, I always have a specific reason for wanting to use it. My peeler does not get used very often.
Carrots: I never peel carrots before use. Wash them well under running clean water to remove all dirt and grit. Buy organic if at all possible as root vegetables tend to absorb pesticides and other chemicals from the soil.
Beets: I use the same rules as for carrots.
Potatoes: The only time I peel potatoes is when I am making mashed potatoes for someone I know will refuse to eat them if the skins are included. For some people this is an aesthetic issue that I don’t really understand.
Turnips: If the turnips are being used as a vegetable I do not peel them. If the turnips are going into a root mash I might peel them because of their thicker skins.
Fresh ginger root and turmeric root: I generally just wash them well and buy organic when possible to avoid unwanted chemical residues in the skins. For smoothies, teas, stir fries, baked goods and most other uses it is not possible to tell whether the skin is there or not.
Kiwi fruit: This is a fruit that I usually do peel. I just don’t much like the fuzzy texture of kiwi skin, but I also don’t eat very many kiwi fruits. These fruits come from the opposite side of the planet and it is hard for me to justify buying them when there are so many more local fruits available. Kiwis are an occasional treat.
Peppers and tomatoes: Many recipes call for roasting and/or blanching these vegetables and then removing the skins before including them in a recipe. I think it is just silly to remove all of that great fiber and nutrition, especially in recipes for sauces that will be pureed until smooth.
Apples and pears: Again, why would anyone pay for these fruits and then throw away a large portion of the nutrients by removing the skins? My experience is that even in pies and applesauce, most people do not even notice that the fruit has not been peeled.
The original reasons for peeling most fruits and vegetables are purely aesthetic. Peeling fruits and vegetables makes no sense from a cost or nutrition point of view. If you want more nutrition for same amount of food dollars, stop peeling you fruits and vegetables. Eat the whole thing. This is why it is called a healthy whole food diet. It is the way our ancestors ate.
Eating the skins of fruits and vegetables does make it more important to choose organic produce. Produce grown locally without pesticides or herbicides can be even better than certified organic, as long as the source is known. This is important because any toxic chemicals applied to the growing fruits and vegetables will be absorbed into the skin, not just stay on the surface, and so will not entirely wash off. I tend to buy organic citrus fruit for this reason, because I use a lot of zest and want clean peels.
So stop peeling, start getting more nutrition and use the time you save to enjoy your meals more.