There’s no arguing that eating more fruits and vegetables can benefit your health.
However, whether these fruits and vegetables are best consumed with or without skin is often up for debate.
Peels are often discarded due to preference, habit or in an attempt to reduce exposure to pesticides. However, removing the peels may result in removing one of the most nutrient-rich parts of the plant.
This article takes a look at the science to determine whether fruit and vegetable peels are best removed or not.
Peels are packed with beneficial nutrients.
The amounts of nutrients they contain vary based on the type of fruit or vegetable. However, generally speaking, non-peeled produce contains higher amounts of vitamins, minerals and other beneficial plant compounds, compared to its peeled counterparts.
Vegetable peels also contain significantly more fiber and antioxidants. For instance, up to 31% of the total amount of fiber in a vegetable can be found in its skin. What’s more, antioxidant levels can be up to 328 times higher in fruit peels than in pulp (, 6, 7).
Therefore, eating your fruits and vegetables unpeeled can truly increase your nutrient intake.
Summary Fruit and vegetable peels are rich in several nutrients, including fiber, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. Consuming the peel with the pulp can boost your total intake of these nutrients.
Fruit and vegetable peels can reduce hunger and help you feel fuller for longer.
Several studies show that fiber can help you feel fuller for longer. Fiber may do this by either physically stretching the stomach, slowing how quickly it empties or influencing the speed at which fullness hormones are released in your body (, 9).
In fact, research shows that the type of fiber found in fruits and vegetables — a type known as viscous fiber — may be especially effective at reducing appetite ().
Fiber also serves as food for the friendly bacteria living in your gut. When these bacteria feed on fiber, they produce short-chain fatty acids, which appear to further boost feelings of fullness (11, 12).
One review reported that participants from 32 out of 38 studies experienced an increase in satiety following increased fiber intake ().
Therefore, unpeeled fruits and vegetables may help you reduce your hunger and even lose weight.
Summary Due to their high fiber content, fruit and vegetable peels may help reduce hunger and keep you fuller for longer.
Fruits and vegetables contain antioxidants, which are beneficial plant compounds that may reduce the risk of several diseases.
Put simply, the main function of antioxidants is fighting unstable molecules known as free radicals. When free radical levels become too high, they can cause oxidative stress, which can ultimately harm cells and potentially increase the risk of disease.
In fact, researchers believe that antioxidants may help lower the risk of heart disease and certain types of cancers (, , ).
Certain antioxidants found in fruits and vegetables have also been linked to a lower risk of neurological diseases such as Alzheimer’s (, ).
Fruits and vegetables are naturally high in antioxidants, but according to research, they appear to be more concentrated in the outer layer ().
In one study, removing the skin from a peach resulted in a 13–48% reduction in antioxidants.
Therefore, if you want to maximize your intake of antioxidants from fruit and vegetables, you should eat them unpeeled.
Summary Eating unpeeled fruits and vegetables may result in a higher intake of antioxidants. This may help fight free radical damage and ultimately reduce your risk of certain diseases.
Certain fruit or vegetable peels may be hard to consume or simply inedible.
For instance, the peels of avocados and honeydew melon are considered inedible, regardless of whether they are consumed cooked or raw.
Other fruit and vegetable peels, such as those from pineapples, melons, bananas, onions and celeriac, can have a tough texture that is difficult to chew and digest. These peels are generally best removed and not eaten.
Furthermore, while some vegetable peels are considered edible, they should not be consumed raw. Examples are winter squash and pumpkin peels, which are best consumed after cooking to allow the peels to become soft.
Moreover, citrus fruits also have tough and bitter skins that can be difficult to consume raw. These are generally best consumed as a zest or cooked, or simply discarded.
Some fruit and vegetable peels, although completely edible, may have a bitter taste or be coated with a layer of wax or dirt that can be particularly hard to clean.
If the idea of eating these fruits and vegetables with skin makes you not want to eat them at all, peeling may remain your best option.
Summary Certain peels may be inedible, hard to digest, difficult to clean or have a tough texture. In such cases, peels may be best removed.
Pesticides are commonly used to reduce crop damage and increase yield.
Contrary to popular belief, pesticides can be found on both organically and conventionally grown fruits and vegetables.
Although some pesticides enter fruit and vegetable flesh, many remain confined in the outer peel (, , 26).
Washing is a good way to get rid of pesticide residues that are loosely attached to the peel’s surface. However, peeling is the best way to remove pesticides that have seeped into fruit and vegetable skin ().
For example, a recent review reports that around 41% of pesticide residues found on fruits was removed by washing with water, while up to twice as much was removed through peeling ().
For many people concerned about their overall exposure to pesticides, this may be good enough reason to only eat the flesh of all fruits and vegetables.
Those particularly worried about their pesticide intake may want to check out the EWG’s report, which ranks pesticide contamination levels in 48 popular fruits and vegetables in America.
Nevertheless, the risk of consuming slightly more pesticides may not necessarily outweigh the benefit of the greater amount of nutrients in the skins.
It’s worth keeping in mind that the amount of pesticides allowed on fresh foods is tightly regulated. The allowed upper limits are very conservative and much lower than the lowest dose known to potentially cause any harm in humans ().
Moreover, pesticide levels exceed the allowed upper limits in less than 4% of cases, and even when they do, research shows this rarely results in harm to humans (30, , ).
Therefore, while removing the skin of vegetables may get rid of a little more pesticides than washing does, the difference is likely too small to worry about.
Summary Pesticide levels in fresh produce are tightly regulated. While peeling fruits and vegetables appears to be a slightly more effective way to remove pesticides than washing alone, the difference is likely too small to make a true difference.
Some peels are safe to eat, while others may not be.
The lists below provide summaries of which common fruits and vegetables should be peeled and which do not have to be:
- Citrus fruits (grapefruit, lemon, lime, orange, etc)
- Tropical fruits (banana, lychee, pineapple, papaya, etc)
- Hard winter squash
- Citrus fruits (grated or cooked)
- Squash (if well-cooked)
Summary Some fruits and vegetables, such as pineapples, garlic and melons, are best peeled. Others, such as apples, eggplants and plums, are best consumed with peels on.
Peels are rich in fiber, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, making them one of the most nutritious parts of a plant.
Naturally, some fruits and vegetables have tough peels that can be difficult to clean, hard to digest, bitter tasting or simply inedible. These peels are best removed and not eaten.
However, most peels are edible. Therefore, it may be best to try eating your fruits and vegetables unpeeled whenever possible.