Take carrots, for instance. But you might also wonder about beets, potatoes, squash. I get asked this question from time to time, from students and friends. My first response is usually to pooh-pooh the peeler, and that instinct is religious and comes from my indoctrination in the church of organic vegetables. With those teachings I have learned to praise the skin, since it is known to be a great keeper of vitamins. Roll up your sleeves, scrub ecstatically the dirt from the vegetable, and eat. But, as I learned in a bit research, to peel or not to peel is not as simple as the gospel dictates.
First, you should know that I rarely, if ever, peel a carrot, but this is because I grow my own or buy organic. In St. Paul, where I live, we are fortunate enough to have access to local, organic carrots most of the year, and I seek them out. Conventionally grown carrots have, more-than-likely, been treated with pesticides during their growth period, and the peel is where those chemicals concentrate. In that case I would peel, and with that knowledge I would do the same to any conventionally grown fruit or vegetable.
But let’s consider another subject altogether, and that is palate. Some eaters find the peel of a carrot, or a beet or potato, too bitter to tolerate. I don’t, but if I did, I would have to weigh whether or not it was worth scrapping those extra nutrients, and taking the extra time to peel. And then there is texture. I love a bit of potato skin in my mashed potatoes, but my young daughter wouldn’t put up with such a thing. And on the flip side, she loves roasted beets with their skin (drizzled with honey), but I can’t get past the flaky skin of a beet to enjoy it.
No easy answer here, but this reminds me of a general rule I usually adhere to: eat whole. That means— and there are a few exceptions to this rule--eating food that is unadulterated and pure and intact. For me, that means organically and sustainably grown and raised foods, with their skin and bones. There is respect and integrity with this approach, two qualities that are integral to healthy eating.