Put down your peeler, especially if maintaining your health is your 2017 goal. Leaving fruits and vegetables intact will add a lot of additional nutrients and fiber to your diet.
“You’re doing an injustice to remove the peel,” says Kristi Michele Crowe, Ph.D., assistant professor of nutrition at the University of Alabama.
The peel — the outermost barrier protecting the flesh — is higher in dietary fiber and often contains beneficial phytonutrients (plant nutrients beyond vitamins and minerals) not found in the flesh, according to health experts.
Fruit and vegetable colors, often most vivid in the skins, such as red grape or apple skins, are often a clue to phytonutrients (though minimal-color produce, such as onions, also can be high in phytonutrients).
For example, apple peels have been shown to have greater antioxidant activity than the apple flesh.
The challenge may be to convince peel-adverse children or adults to try whole fruits or vegetables.
“The texture issue is a concern for children,” says Elizabeth Pivonka, Ph.D., registered dietitian, president and CEO of Produce for Better Health Foundation, Philadelphia.
Making peels palatable may be a simple matter of finely chopping or blending. For instance, Pivonka suggests pulverizing fruit with skin on in a smoothie, or adding orange or lemon zest to muffin batter. Use a grater or zester to remove the colored outer peel.
The skin also is less noticeable when you slice fruits or vegetables thinner.
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“If you cut the fruit into smaller pieces so there’s (a greater ratio of) pulp to peel, you’re getting more flavor from the pulp, which people like,” Crowe says.
In addition, you can prepare recipes that take advantage of unpeeled fruits or vegetables. Serve twice-baked potatoes in the skins. Stuff whole cherry tomatoes with guacamole or yogurt dip. Offer unpeeled carrots and bell pepper strips with yogurt dip, or apple slices with peanut butter. Make a pasta dish using unpeeled eggplant.
“You don’t notice that the peel is on if you’re serving eggplant with spaghetti sauce,” Pivonka says.
Top pizza with thinly sliced, skin-on tomatoes and bell peppers.
“In the long run, especially with children, you’ll acclimate taste buds to skins,” Crowe says.
If you’re concerned about bacteria on unpeeled fruits and vegetables you’re serving your family, washing produce before eating can be very effective, Crowe says. To start, wash your hands, cutting board, knife and other utensils with hot soapy water. Do not, however, wash produce with soaps or detergents. Use clean cold water to wash produce. Scrub thick-skin produce, such as potatoes, with a vegetable brush.
Wipe produce dry with a clean paper towel, which may remove more bacteria.
As a reminder from Crowe, if you choose to serve peeled produce you should still wash before peeling so any bacteria on the skin doesn’t contaminate the flesh of fruits and vegetables.