Eat the Skin: Citrus Pith, A Nutritional Powerhouse

Eat the Skin: Citrus Pith, A Nutritional Powerhouse

Fruits and vegetables are known for containing a wide variety of plant compounds that assist the body in maintaining optimal health. Yet, most preparation of fruits and vegetables results in peeling and discarding the outer skin. Traditional medicine derived from thousands of years of tribal applications have always used the whole plant in healing remedies. This includes the skin which some believe is the most nutritious part of consumable plants. 

Before you toss that potato, apple, carrot, or orange peel skin in the trash know that you could be tossing some highly beneficial vitamins and minerals that can be easily and tastily consumed. One of the most nutritious skins is citrus pith. 

Citrus Pith

Citrus pith is the spongy white tissue lining of the rind of an orange, lemon, and other citrus fruits that many discard when peeling just to get to the ‘fruit meat’. Citrus pith contains many health enhancing nutritional benefits that include: fiber, vitamin C, and plant compounds like polyphenols, naringenin, hesperidin, and d-limonene. Some may say that the fruit meat contains all of these but, it turns out, the peel may contain more.

A breakdown of these important compounds paints a clear picture of the nutritional value of citrus pith:

  • Fiber – Aids in providing fullness after meals, which helps promote a healthy weight. Helps lower cholesterol, prevent constipation and diverticulosis. Keep glucose within a healthy range. 
  • Vitamin C – Potent antioxidant, reduces high blood pressure, boosts immune system, lowers heart disease risk, prevents gout and suppresses iron deficiency.
  • Polyphenols – Plant compounds that, when consumed daily may boost digestion and brain health, while preventing protect heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and some cancers.
  • Naringenin – Anti-inflammatory that inhibits leukocyte (disease fighting cells) recruitment and reducing oxidative stress. Stimulates the liver to burn excess fat and reduce blood sugar, triglycerides, and cholesterol 
  • Hesperidin – Antidepressant, anticonvulsant, anti-inflammatory, and anticonvulsant properties as well as memory and locomotor enhancing.
  • D-limonene – Used clinically to dissolve cholesterol-containing gallstones; contains gastric acid neutralizing effect; supports normal peristalsis (intestine function); prevents heartburn and gastroesophageal reflux (GERD). D-limonene has well-established chemo-preventive activity against many types of cancer. 

This is an impressive list of health benefits simply by eating the peel of an orange, lemon, lime, etc. However, it may seem very unappetizing to eat a citrus peel as the taste can be bitter and the texture dry and tough. Fortunately there are ways to incorporate citrus pith into your diet that can be pleasant and nutritious at the same time. 

Ways to Eat the Skin

There are several ways you can eat the skin of citrus fruit. However, it is recommended that choosing organic fruits is the best choice as mainstream citrus fruit has high pesticide exposure. The peel is front and center for pesticide spraying so organic choices minimize this exposure. 

These are some citrus pith eating suggestions:

Eat the white – Inside the peel of an orange or other peeled citrus fruit is a white, fleshy material that is not too tough. You can gnaw away at this flesh or scrape it out with a spoon. Either way it is chock full of nutrients. 

Strip it – Using a pairing knife or peeler (like the one to peel carrots) you can cut or flay the peel into thin strips. Then, add the strips to salads or even smoothies for an inconspicuous citrus pith vitamin boost. 

Zesty – The zest of a citrus fruit is often called for in applicable recipes. This is the shaved off skin that has a powerful aroma and “zesty” kick that can really brighten up certain food preparation. Zest is best extracted with a hand-held cheese grater. Make a habit of grating orange, lemon, or any other citrus choice into your salad dressings, oatmeal, yogurt, or anything else you can think of. 

Sweeten It – Citrus peels can be made added to sweet marmalade or even candied for a pleasant tasting treat. There are many recipes to turn your peel into a healthy snack that don’t require too much sugar. 

In a study published in the Journal of the Saudi Society of Agricultural Sciences (October 2018) it was concluded that,

“Recent research concerning functional properties of citrus by-products especially peel has added to our knowledge. Due to the low cost and easy availability of fruit residues which otherwise would be discarded as waste in the environment should be regarded as potential nutraceutic resources, capable of offering significant low-cost, nutritional dietary supplements.”

The next time you eat an orange (or similar citrus treat) think twice about discarding that peel. Instead, dive right in and get all you can from the fruit. Like generations before you, when food was treated more as medicinal eating rather than taste bud satiety, consuming citrus pith is high on the scale of health benefits.