You’re wasting time—and nutrients—by tossing the peels.
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Credit: Photo: Romulo Yanes

With farmers’ markets and gardens in full abundance come summertime, you’re probably eating more vegetables. But do you need to take the extra, time-consuming step of peeling them? Not really. Here’s why.

They’re Not That Dirty

Most veggies only require a simple rinse. Even those that grow in the ground such as beets, carrots, parsnips, potatoes, and turnips. If that sounds icky to you, think of it this way: You wouldn’t take the time to peel a little radish, would you?

You should be washing all your produce anyway, even if it looks pristine. But whether it’s caked in dirt or fresh from the grocery store, you can skip those fancy fruit and veggie washes—and never use regular dish detergent or hand soap, says Tara L. Miltenberger, M.Ed., RDN, LDN, director of the Didactic Program in Dietetics at Cedar Crest College.

According to the USDA, all you need is running water from the tap. If your hard root veggies are particularly dirty, go ahead and use a veggie brush to scrub them. (Wipe softer veg, like mushrooms, with a damp paper towel, not a brush.)

The USDA also recommends not washing your produce until you’re ready to use it, because it’s very difficult to get everything completely dry—and moisture in the fridge promotes bacterial growth. (The exception is lettuce and leafy greens, which “actually remain crisper if washed prior to refrigeration,” says Miltenberger.)

If you're concerned about pesticides, consider this: Peeling won’t necessarily remove all risk, as the skin or peel isn’t an impenetrable shield, and pesticides might still reach the flesh. While a 2017 study in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry suggests peeling might be more effective than homemade or chemical washes at removing pesticides, the researchers acknowledge the loss of beneficial nutrients.

Still worried? Buy organic veggies, grow your own, or talk with the farmers at your local market. Just remember: it’s far more beneficial to eat the produce than to skip it for fear of what might be on the peel. “Organic or not, produce has important health benefits ranging from vitamins and minerals, antioxidants, fiber, and so much more,” confirms Miltenberger.

They’re More Nutritious

Peeling your veggies removes a lot of those nutrients. “Peels are excellent sources of insoluble fiber, which is important for gastrointestinal health and the prevention of constipation,” notes Miltenberger. But peels have even more to offer.

Potato skins are “loaded” with fiber and a variety of vitamins and minerals, Miltenberger adds. Most surprisingly, a potato with the peel has almost six times more iron than a skinless spud. Cucumbers with peels boast more vitamin K—which plays a role in blood coagulation and bone formation—than naked cucs. Colorful vegetables (like eggplant) contain an anti-inflammatory plant compound called chlorogenic acid, which is found in higher quantities in the skin than the flesh. “This phytochemical may also play a role in glucose control,” she says.


They’re Better for the Planet

It used to be that my crisper was the place where good veggies went to die. When I consciously and consistently made an effort to use them, I noticed how quickly my indoor compost bucket filled up with peels. Granted, they were destined to be turned into amazing garden soil, but just think of the mountains of peels that contribute to food waste when they’re thrown in the trash. In fact, if global food waste were a country, its carbon footprint would fall third, after the US and China—and vegetable waste makes up 21 percent of that footprint.

They’re Prettier

Many veggies simply look better with their peels on. Think of the contrast between the peel and the creamy white flesh of a red-skinned potato or the vibrant stripes of a delicata or carnival squash. Purple carrots actually lose their lovely hue when peeled.

Peels also retain a bit of toothsomeness that most people find appealing. Imagine biting into a pickle that had been peeled beforehand! And just think of the mess you avoid by not peeling beets—that magenta hue is sure pretty when it’s not stained on your fingers.

They’re Delicious

Still need convincing? Here are some delicious recipes to try—with the peels: