A whole food diet advocates eating unprocessed fruits and vegetables, unrefined grains such as wheat, oat, barley, maize and brown rice instead of white rice, white flour and white bread. Does the logical extension of the whole food diet mean we should also eat fruits whole, peel, pulp and pith? Recent research suggests that in some cases we should.
Whole and unprocessed foods contain high levels of antioxidants, fibre and phytochemicals — natural plant chemicals — that protect the body from chronic diseases. As a very basic rule, the darker the colour of your fresh fruits, the more antioxidants they will have. Phytochemicals include potentially cancer-fighting compounds and polyphenols that are antioxidants present in high concentration in the skins of fruit.
Why would so many of a fruit’s nutrients hide away in its skin?
Consider my current favourite fruit, the pomegranate. It is one of the oldest cultivated fruits and not just my fruit du jour. It contains among the highest levels of antioxidants of any fruit and has had a noteworthy career. It is used widely in Ayurveda, is mentioned 25 times in the Bible and is touted today as a ‘superfruit’. As did other fruits, the pomegranate evolved to have antioxidants as a defense mechanism to the constant beating from cool winters and hot summers. The antioxidants in its skin protect the fruit from UV radiation and oxidative stress. A pomegranate does not get skin cancer. To be more like the hard red fruit, our more delicate readers love their anti-oxidant creams with pomegranate and other fruit extracts.
Antioxidants are the good guys; they support the immune system, protect the heart, moderate reactions linked with ageing, keep the brain happy, and turn on some healthy inflammatory processes. Measurements have shown that the peel of a pomegranate has over 10 times the amount of antioxidant polyphenols as does the pulp.
We cannot easily digest the peel of a fruit like the pomegranate, but we can capture its antioxidant capacity by pressing the whole fruit with its peel.
Try this at home. Prepare one glass of pomegranate juice in the conventional way, without the peel or membranes. Make another by pressing the entire fruit. Compare the two. You will see that the whole fruit juice is darker with substantial bitterness compared to the other. It also leaves the kind of tingling aftertaste that usually indicates something good is happening inside.
The pomegranate is not the only fruit in our new whole fruit juice diet. Apple peel has over 80 percent more phytochemicals than the stuff inside. Most of the Vitamin C of a kiwi lives in its peel. Orange peel has 20 times more of a heart-healthy polyphenol called a flavanoid than does its pulp. And the skin of a tomato has rich amounts of lycopene that has been shown to decrease the risks for prostate cancer.
In each case, simply crush the whole fruit with its peel in your juicer rather than only squeezing juice from the pulp.
Critics argue that consuming juice from whole fruits will subject the body to pesticides. But organic food consultant Meghna Raj advises that in conventionally grown foods, removing a peel may only have a cosmetic effect. “The application of pesticides to foods is as insidious as fumigating a house. Even if you move out of the room being fumigated, you will still smell and sense the chemicals. Pesticides penetrate past the skin of fruits, so simply removing the peels is not the answer.” What is? Raj advises going organic. However when asked whether we have sufficient options to go organic in India she quickly admits, “No, but we are working on it!”
Until then, wash what you can and let your boosted antioxidants do the rest.
Dr. Kumar, and our health team, can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org