By Sari Huhtala
With a little ingenuity you can extend the functionality of fruit and veggie scraps that are typically tossed into a composter or garbage and at the same time treat your body to the powerhouse of nutrients they contain.
If you’re like me and beeline it to the organic produce section in the grocery store you undoubtedly know that shopping organic can be harder on the pocketbook. Knowing this, I want to squeeze as much nutrition out of my fruits and veggies as possible, which would explain why one day, as I was peeling organic sweet potatoes for a Moroccan stew, I found myself unable to part with the peels. Instead of tossing them in the composter I tossed them into a covered bowl in the fridge. The next day, as I was peeling organic potatoes I was overcome with the same separation anxiety, so I tossed the peels in with the sweet potato peels. It was starting to look like a composter had found a home in my fridge.
I figured, if sweet potato and potato fries with peels intact taste great, why wouldn’t peels alone taste great? So I tossed the peels in a touch of olive oil with an herb mix, placed them on a baking sheet and baked them at 400 degrees F for about 10 minutes, until golden and crispy, and presto, a healthful snack was born!
Since potato and sweet potato peels pack a powerful nutritious punch, it makes sense to consume them. Sweet potato skin is rich in iron, potassium, fibre, beta carotene, vitamin C, vitamin E and folate. And when it comes to potato skins, 88 per cent of the iron you’ll get from the potato comes from the skin. Most of the calcium and fibre is in the skin and it’s also rich in B6 vitamins and vitamin C.
The idea of saving those often-wasted food scraps extends far beyond the potato family.
Boost your body with antioxidants from watermelon rind. A study in the Journal of Chromatography found that watermelon rind contains citrulline, a compound that converts to an amino acid crucial for heart, circulatory and immune system health.
What’s more, researchers found the rind may relax blood vessels, thus playing a role in erectile dysfunction.
Use watermelon rind in smoothies or juicing, add to stews or sauté in olive oil with herbs.
Those large, round seeds in an avocado have so much going for them, it’s a wonder we don’t give them more credit. Packed with antioxidants, much more than the flesh itself, avocado seeds have phenolic compounds, along with antibacterial and anti-viral properties that can help prevent ulcers in the lining of the stomach, prevent constipation and ease diarrhea. Rich in flavanoids, the seeds can help fight free radicals in the body, strengthen the immune system and reduce inflammation.
How to eat those seeds? Simply remove the seed, rinse and dry and place it into a plastic bag. Crush it with a hammer. Then place the crushed pieces into a food processor to grind into a powder. Sprinkle freely onto foods.
Cauliflower stalks and leaves
Why stop at the white florets when cooking up cauliflower? The leaves make a great grilled treat and add a nutritional boost. Cauliflower leaves are high in protein, thiamin, niacin, pantothenic acid, calcium, iron and selenium, vitamin A, vitamin C, riboflavin, vitamin B6, folate, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium and manganese. And to think, we’ve just been tossing them in the composter all of these years?
Be sure to use organic cauliflower as there may be higher concentrations of pesticides in the leaves. To grill, trim off the stem and wash, then toss into a bowl with olive oil and spices – garlic and dill are a nice combo. Place leaves on a baking sheet and roast for about 15 minutes in a 400 degrees F oven, or grill on the barbecue.
You can do the same with broccoli leaves, also nutritional powerhouses.
The stalks and stems of both vegetables also contain more nutrients than the florets, so consider tossing into soups and stews for extra nutrition.
Onion and garlic skins
Skins that wrap an onion are definite keepers for those of us who want to get the most nutrition out of our foods. Not only are the skins a great source of fibre, their phenolic compounds – which help prevent heart disease and cancer – are plentiful. High levels of these compounds give them an A+ for antioxidant capacity, according to a study in the journal Plant Foods for Human Nutrition.
Garlic skin also contains high levels of antioxidants. Peeling garlic cloves eliminates the antioxidants so it’s well worth keeping the skin on when roasting or baking garlic with meals. Roast garlic in oven by slicing ¼ inch off the top of the bulb, place bulbs on a baking dish and drizzle with olive oil. Bake for about 20 minutes at 250 degrees F.
Stick to organic onions and garlic. Toss onion peels into soups and stews, or toss into baggies into the freezer for later use. You can also dry onion skins in an oven at about 150 degrees F and grind it into a powder once cooled. Then add the powder to meals.
Quit tossing those leafy greens from beets! Not only are they more nutritious than the beet itself, which is already a powerhouse, but sautéed beetroot greens offer up a delicious treat and are simple to prepare. High in vitamin B6, vitamin A, vitamin C, magnesium, potassium, copper and manganese, beetroot greens are also chock full of fibre, protein, calcium, iron, phosphorus and zinc. If that isn’t enough to convince you to divert those greens from the landfill consider the following findings. Researchers have found that the vitamin K in beet greens works in synergy with calcium to prevent osteoporosis, has blood clotting properties and could help prevent Alzheimer’s disease. Its antioxidants help boost the immune system and ward off free radicals in the body.
To prepare, simply wash the greens and toss in a pan with some olive oil and fresh garlic, sprinkle with salt and pepper and simmer till tender – about 10 minutes. Turnip greens can also be sautéed and offer up a nutritious treat.
Once you discover the nutrition behind an orange peel, you’ll see why it’s better off in your body than in a composter. Antioxidants in the peel are 20 times more powerful – called super-flavonoids – than the juice in the orange. Battling high cholesterol? These super-flavonoids can help reduce levels of ‘bad’ cholesterol, and the white pith, with its high levels of pectin, can also help lower cholesterol and colonize the gut with beneficial bacteria.
The same can be said about tangerine and lemon peels. Be sure to only consume organic peels due to high levels of pesticides.
Peels can be frozen for later use in smoothies, or for juicing, or tossed fresh into a juicer. Grate peels to add a nutritional punch to cakes, muffins, cookies, etc. Or dehydrate peels to add to olive oil to create an infusion for salads, marinades, etc.