10 Food Scraps You Should Actually Eat

Don’t trash that! Scraps of your favorite fruits and veggies are packed with nutrients—and a healthy dose of flavor

April 26, 2013
peeling carrots
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Are You Throwing Away the Healthiest Parts of Your Food?

If all of your slicing, dicing, and peeling leaves about as much produce in the trash as on your plate, it’s time to rethink your menu.

Some of the most concentrated and varied nutrients are found in the parts of fruits and vegetables that we normally discard as waste, says Alexandra Caspero, RD, owner of weight-management and sports-nutrition service Delicious Knowledge. During the growing process, they’re often exposed to different elements than the bulk of the plant, providing them a uniquely beneficial nutritional profile.

Here, 10 “scraps” you should save for your plate—and how to make them taste delicious.

More from Fitbie: Cheap and Healthy Meals You Should Make Today

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Carrot Greens

More than just carrot handles, these greens are packed with chlorophyll, a phytochemical that gives plants their green color and pigmentation. Chlorophyll is an excellent source of magnesium, which promotes healthy blood pressure as well as strong bones and muscles. They are high in potassium, which can lower blood pressure, support your metabolism, and help prevent osteoporosis, according to Caspero. One 2011 federal study even found that the people most at risk for heart disease are the ones who get too little potassium. What's more, carrot greens are rich in vitamin K, which is lacking in the carrot itself and is vital to bone health, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center.

Easy Eats: Since the high concentration of potassium in carrot greens can make them bitter, they are best chopped finely and mixed with multiple flavorful ingredients. Mix them into salads or coleslaw, suggests Caspero, or use them to add a kick to your vegetable stocks or as a garnish in soups. (Related: Healthy Salad Recipes)

peeling potato
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Potato Peels

Potatoes (OK, make that white potatoes) don’t have a waist-friendly reputation. But a spud has a lot of nutrients, including potassium, vitamin C, iron, copper, and fiber. You just have to know where to look: the skin. A single potato skin contains 18 percent of your recommended intake of dietary fiber. High-fiber foods help to regulate digestion and lowers the risk of heart disease and diabetes, according to Mayo Clinic. What’s more, fiber can keep you feeling fuller longer after a meal. That’s why one USDA study found that women who increased their daily fiber intake from 12 to 24 grams absorbed 90 fewer calories a day. 

Easy Eats: Open wide for the best (and healthiest!) potato chips ever. Toast them up with a drizzle of olive oil and a dash of salt and pepper, suggest Loux. If you are feeling really creative, dust them with your favorite herbs and spices.

More from Fitbie: Easy Ways to Get More Fiber

Fennel fronds
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Fennel Fronds

Let's break this down: First, "fronds" is just a fancy name for "leaves." Second, these leaves are full of vitamin C, which is required to build collagen in bones, cartilage, muscle, and blood vessels, and aids in the absorption of iron, according to Mayo Clinic. And third, they are rich in potassium, which helps flush excess sodium from our systems, according to the American Heart Association.

Easy Eats: With a dill-like flavor, fennel fronds are great to chop and toss with a salad or use as a garnish for your favorite fish. Or, if you want to get really creative, sub out basil for fennel fronds in homemade pesto, suggests Loux. It provides a welcome pop of flavor--not to mention health benefits.

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Apple Skins

Red or green, these apple skins are full of cholesterol-lowering soluble fiber and quercitin, a phytochemical that is rich in anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center. But since pesticide residues are concentrated in produce skins, opt for organic apples, says eco-expert Renée Loux, an organic chef and author of The Balanced Plate.

Easy Eats: Throw apple skins in your food processor when blending smoothies, or chop them up and add them to your morning oatmeal while it's cooking, says Caspero. The heat will soften the skins, but they'll still give your breakfast a crunch. Or, if you're on a juicing kick, try juicing some apple peels with carrots and ginger, adds Loux.


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Chard Stems

According to research from Germany's Institute of Food Technology, Swiss chard stems are packed with the amino acid glutamine, which strengthens the immune system and bolsters your body's ability to recover from injuries--be it a sprained ankle or an ACL tear. They are also a great source of fiber. What's more, each color of chard stems signals a different array of phytonutrients, each with their own particular brand of health benefits. It's time to eat the rainbow!

Easy Eats: Chop them finely and sauté them alongside chard leaves. Note: the cooking time for the stems is longer, so get them heating before you add the leaves to your pan, Caspero advises.

orange cut in half
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Orange Peel

The albedo, the white stuff that hugs an orange, is home to the bulk of the fruit's nutrients, containing four times more fiber than the fruit inside of it. Research from the Arizona Cancer Center found that d-limonene, a major component in orange peels, reduces the occurrence of squamous cell carcinoma, a deadly form of skin cancer. Plus, orange peels are rich in tangeretin and nobiletin--flavonoids that boast anticancer, antidiabetic, and anti-inflammatory properties. Research even suggests that these antixodants may lower LDL (bad) cholesterol levels better than some prescription drugs. 

Easy Eats: Grate and sprinkle orange zest on... pretty much anything your taste buds desire. The zest lends a light, fresh flavor to everything from green beans to chicken. For a less-than-typical dessert, blanch the peels twice in boiling water (to remove their bitterness), simmer them in simple syrup for an hour, and then dip them in melted dark chocolate.

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Celery Leaves

These leaves are loaded with five times more health-boosting magnesium and calcium than the stalks! Magnesium is required for more than 300 biochemical reactions in the body, including energy metabolism and protein synthesis. Calcium, which is famed for promoting bone health, also helps muscles and blood vessels contract and expand, secretes hormones needed for basic biological functions, and sends messages speeding through the nervous system. As if that weren't enough, celery leaves are also rich in antioxidant and anti-inflammatory compounds including vitamin C and phenolics, according to Caspero.

Easy Eats: Dice and toss the leaves into you salad of choice. "They are especially great in egg, tofu, and seafood salads," says Caspero. You can also save them to use in celery stocks: Just cover with water, add whatever other vegetables scraps you have around, let cook for several hours, and strain.

watermelon rind
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Watermelon Rind

This white layer offers a high dose of citrulline, an amino acid that, within the body, converts to arginine, an amino acid vital to the heart, circulatory system, and immune system, says researchers from Texas A&M's Fruit and Vegetable Improvement Center. The amino acid has been shown to dilate blood vessels to improve circulation, boost athletic performance, and even treat erectile dysfunction, Caspero says. What's more, citrulline may have antioxidant properties that can protect the body from free-radical damage.

Easy Eats: Throw chunks of the (skinless) rind in a blender with watermelon flesh and limejuice to make an undiluted agua fresca, says Loux. If you're feeling fresh, spike it with rum, gin, or vodka.

broccoli leaves
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Broccoli Leaves

Depending on where you shop, your broccoli might not even come with its big, bushy leaves. Time to hit the farmer's market! A single 1-ounce serving of broccoli leaves provides 90 percent of your daily vitamin A requirement (the florets deliver only 3 percent!). Vitamin A is vital to maintaining healthy immune function, vision, reproduction, and cellular communication, according to the National Institutes of Health. The leaves are also a solid source of immune-boosting vitamin C, with one serving containing 43 percent of your daily vitamin C needs.

Easy Eats: When it comes to cooking, think of these leaves as spinach stand-ins. They can be steamed, sautéed, or even grilled, Loux says. Small, younger leaves are also tender enough to toss in salads.

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Onion Skins

According to a 2011 study published in Plant Foods for Human Nutrition, the brown, papery skins and tough external layers of onions are rich in non-soluble fiber phenolic compounds, such as quercetin and other flavonoids with antioxidant bennies. The fiber in onion skins lower the risk of cardiovascular disease, gastrointestinal problems, colon cancer, type-2 diabetes, and obesity, while the phenolic compounds help to prevent coronary disease and have anti-carcinogenic properties, according to researchers.

Easy Eats: To extract the good-for-you compounds in these (basically inedible) peels, simmer them in stocks, soups, and stews for additional flavor, Loux advises. Just remember to discard the skins before serving--and to brush your teeth after eating.

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