10 Fruit & Vegetable "Scraps" That Are Actually Super Healthy
Billions of pounds of food are thrown away each year in the U.S., and a whopping 30 to 40% of this country's food supply1 ends up in the garbage. There are many ways to reduce your food waste at home. Utilizing more odds and ends of the produce you buy is one of them—and it could up your nutrition to boot.
You may eat plenty of fruits and vegetables, but could you be throwing away the best bits? As a naturopath, nutritionist, and Earth lover, here are 10 parts of fruits and vegetables I'd suggest you reconsider throwing in the bin:
Outer cabbage leaves
The darker, tougher outer leaves of the cabbage have the highest concentrations of vitamin A, which supports vision, immune health, and fertility. The outer green leaves are also richer in chlorophyll2, which has tons of antioxidant properties.
How to eat it: The farther out from the core, the tougher the leaves are, so see how many layers you can keep on before it gets too fibrous for you. I'd suggest slicing these leaves up as finely as you can and adding them to slow-cooked meals, casseroles, and dishes that cook for a little extra time.
Potato skin is rich in lipoic acid, an antioxidant that can support healthy blood sugar levels3. Potato skins also contain 10 mg of vitamin A per 100 g4, whereas the flesh has none. It's also seven times higher in calcium, 20 times higher in iron, and twice as rich in vitamins B3 and B6 than the flesh inside.
How to eat it: Make baked potato skins by coating the leftover skins with extra-virgin olive oil or coconut oil and baking them in the oven. You can also keep the skins on in your mashed potatoes (simply brush off the dirt with a veggie brush), roasted potatoes, and potato bakes.
A study out of Korea in 2010 found that pumpkin skin had antifungal properties5, making them a healthy diet addition to shield against issues like candida overgrowth and yeast infections.
How to eat it: The next time you roast a pumpkin, keep the skin on! Or sprinkle leftover pumpkin peels with salt and pepper and drizzle on some olive oil. Bake in the oven until golden brown. Some pumpkins will have tougher skins than others.
Broccoli leaves and stems
Broccoli leaves and stems are high in folate and calcium and contain five times the amount of vitamin A as the florets. They are also a rich source of indole-3-carbinol, a powerful phytochemical with anticancer and anti-inflammatory properties6.
How to eat it: You can incorporate broccoli stems into juices, shred them into salads, or slice them and use them in casseroles and stir-fries. You can add the leaves to stir-fries or soups too.
Kiwi fruit skin
I love kiwi fruit for its gut-healthy prebiotic properties (research shows that it could promote the growth of healthy lactobacillus and bifidobacterium species7 in the gut), and the skins contain three times the antioxidants of the fruit inside.
How to eat it: Enjoy as is! I'd suggest cutting off the hard ends of your fruit and wetting the skin if the fur weirds you out too much. You can also add whole kiwis into smoothies.
Bromelain, a natural enzyme found in the pineapple core, has a wide range of health benefits—from helping lower the risk of cardiovascular disease to supporting the immune system8.
How to eat it: Save the core and eat it as usual, or juice it.
The often-discarded leaves of beets are high in nitrates, which get converted to nitric oxide9—a compound that helps to lower blood pressure and increase oxygenation and blood flow in the body. The sweet, earthy leaves are also an excellent source of vitamin A, calcium B vitamins, and chlorophyll.
How to eat it: Add the greens to stir-fries, curries, or soups, or throw them into a juice.
Citrus skins (think oranges, mandarins, grapefruits, limes, and lemons) are rich in antioxidants and have high amounts of vitamin C, potassium, calcium, and magnesium. Limonene, which is found in the skin of citrus fruits, has been shown to exhibit anti-cancer, anti-inflammatory, and antiviral effects10.
How to eat it: Grate all your peels and utilize them in salads, smoothies, or protein balls. If you feel under the weather, I'd recommend making a honey lemon tea with whole lemon slices (peels included).
Banana peels contain high levels of iron, calcium, and magnesium and are a rich source of tryptophan—an amino acid that helps your body produce the feel-good hormone serotonin11. They're also rich in antioxidants including lutein, which is good for eye health12. (Psst...they're great for your skin, too.)
How to eat it: While this one is a bit more fringe, it is possible to utilize those through banana peels! Go ahead and simmer the peel for 30 minutes and drink the water, or add it to smoothies.
You don't need to remove carrot peels—the skin has a high concentration of nutrients. In fact, unpeeled carrots contain 42% more carotenoids13—antioxidants that are great for your immune system and eyesight—than peeled ones. Unpeeled carrots also contain seven times more phenolic acids, antioxidant compounds that help to scavenge free radicals in the body.
How to eat it: This one's easy: just rinse your carrots under water and use them as usual without peeling them.
Cooking with more parts of the plants is an easy way to reduce food waste while significantly upping your nutrient intake—a win-win for you and the planet. Here are some other ways to make sure your diet is as healthy and sustainable as possible.
Katherine Maslen, N.D. is a clinical naturopath, nutritionist, author, and podcast host living in Australia. She has her bachelor’s in health science, naturopathy, from the Endeavor College of Natural Health and is a regular voice in the media. She is well known for her podcast, The Shift, which features 25 world-renowned leaders in gut and overall health, including Vincent Pedre, M.D., Marvin Singh, M.D., and David Perlmutter, M.D..
In addition to overcoming her own personal health struggles, including domestic violence and heroin addiction, Maslen has personally seen over 4,000 patients. She is the founder of the international wellness company Shift, speaks internationally on health and wellness, and has also authored Get Well, Stay Well.