Step away from the peeler and save our skins
Food waste harms the environment and our pockets, but did you realise that throwing away less could actually make you healthier as well as saving money and the planet? Kim Jones finds out more
Stop! Before you peel, top, tail or core that piece of fruit or veg and toss away stems, leaves and seeds in the compost bin, think twice. It might surprise you to know that the scraps you casually throw out could pack even more of a nutritional punch than the parts we choose to eat.
KEEP KIWI PEEL
The skin of a kiwi fruit contains three times the antioxidants found in the pulp of the fruit.
“Removing the kiwi skin can also take away as much as 50% of the fibre from the fruit,” says Natalie Louise Burrows, Nutritional Therapist and Functional Medicine Health Coach (integralwellness.co.uk).
“Although it feels furry to the touch of our hands, once it’s in your mouth you don’t feel that texture.”
BETTER WITH BEETROOT
Saving time (and pink hands) by not peeling beetroot will also bring benefits.
“The skin is where most of the nutrients are, including betalains, nitrogen-containing pigments that contain anti-inflammatory properties as well as supporting brain and liver health,” explains Natalie. Simply cook it in its skin until tender.
Make sure you use up beetroot leaves too – they’re packed with vitamin A for eye health, vitamin C for immunity, plus calcium, magnesium, potassium and folate. And they contain more iron than spinach.
“They make a delicious pesto – add to a blender with pine nuts, walnuts, parmesan, garlic and some olive oil and lemon zest.”
Pumpkin seeds are packed with zinc, magnesium and fatty acids, all of which can help reduce the risk of heart disease, high blood pressure and high blood sugar. Clean and dry the seeds, add a drop of olive oil, season with spice or turmeric and bake in the oven.
And what about watermelon seeds? They’re rich in magnesium, which helps maintain healthy nerve and muscle function. Plus they contain fatty acids which can help lower levels of bad LDL cholesterol in the blood.
AN APPLE A DAY
Apple peel contains two to three times more flavonoids – antioxidant compounds – than the flesh.
And its potent antioxidant activity has been shown to help lower bad cholesterol and help inhibit and slow the growth of cancer cells.
As well as eating the peel, you should aim to munch as far into the core (minus the seeds) as possible too.
“Apples, and especially the core, contain probiotics which benefit your gut health, while the fibre in apples feeds the good bacteria, helping to reduce bloating,” says Shona Wilkinson, lead nutritionist at
Dr Vegan (drvegan.com).
SOS (SAVE ONION SKINS)
Over-peeling onions means losing lots of essential nutrients.
The outer layers contain more concentrated flavonoids, especially quercetin, which helps support healthy blood pressure and heart health.
“Aside from removing the dried, crisp outer layer, and any spoiled layers, there’s no reason to remove any extra layers – eat as much of the onion as you possibly can,”
GO TO GREAT LENGTHS
Most of us only use the white part of leeks and spring onions and bin the green bits.
But they’re bursting with valuable B vitamins and contain more fibre and folate than the white part.
You can use the whole of a spring onion in your salads and stir fries.
Leek tops should be finely chopped and sautéed or use them in soups.
They just need a little extra cooking time so add to the pan 10 minutes before the white sections.
BE COOL WITH CUCUMBERS
Don’t peel cucumbers, even if you’re making posh finger sandwiches – the skin contains most of the benefits.
“Cucumbers are made up of around 96% water. To maximise nutrient content, leave the skin on so you get fibre and nutrients like vitamins C and K, magnesium, potassium and manganese,” says Natalie.
“Just wash the skin thoroughly to remove any dirt or pesticide residue before eating.”
Spud skins contain more than double the total polyphenols (healthy micronutrients) of the flesh itself and a huge proportion of their essential vitamins and minerals, says botanist James Wong, author of How to Eat
Better (Mitchell Beazley). “This means that simply not bothering to peel them could prevent the loss of roughly half the iron, along with a third of the calcium.
“Boiling potatoes whole in their skins also prevents loss of nutrients that would otherwise leach into the cooking water through the cut surfaces.”
Don’t fiddle to remove the white fibrous spongy tissue on the inside of your chillies.
“In one Mexican study, scientists found that this white stuff in peppers, which we plant geeks call the placenta, contains the highest concentration of antioxidants and polyphenols – as much as four times that of the flesh itself,” says James.
The pith and peel of citrus fruits contain immune-boosting flavonoids, including hesperidin, thought to reduce inflammation, promote blood flow in the brain and help support heart health. So eat the white bits and add fresh orange zest ( from the skin) to salads, cooked veggies and desserts.
USE UP OLD GARLIC
Do you bin your garlic as soon as green shoots start to show? Think twice. The sulphurous chemicals in it have blood-thinning properties, which could help lower the risk of blood clots, heart attack and stroke.
“Old garlic bulbs, especially those that have started to sprout, have been shown to manufacture far more of the sulphur-based chemicals, sending their antioxidant content soaring,” says James. So don’t bin garlic you think is past its best.
EAT THE LEAVES
Don’t just use the heads of broccoli and cauliflower – eat the stems, stalks and leaves too. They’re packed with cell-protecting, cancerfighting antioxidants, vitamins E and K, and calcium. Just wash before use to get rid of any pesticides.
“Steam or sauté broccoli leaves and use as a side dish and try roasting cauliflower leaves with a little olive oil, turning halfway so they cook on both sides,” says Natalie.
“Celery tops, like the stalk, contain vitamin K and are a good source of fibre. Chop them into a salad as you would a fresh herb like parsley.”
The purple skin of an aubergine packs a healthy punch, so don’t peel it off. It contains nasunin, a plant pigment which, in animal studies, has been shown to protect the fats in brain cells that could preserve brain health and cognitive function.
TO THE CORE
Who decided you shouldn’t eat the core of a fresh pineapple? It’s perfectly edible, if a little harder and more fibrous. It’s good for you too, packed with vitamin C and B6, and bromelain – an enzyme that can reduce inflammation in the body and even inhibit cancer cells.