Squash peels are the outer skins of squashes, such as butternut squash, acorn squash, and pumpkin. Squash peels are typically removed and discarded before eating the flesh of the squash, but some people choose to eat them for potential health benefits.
– Squash peels contain fiber, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, so they may provide some health benefits. However, evidence is limited.
– The main benefits linked to eating squash peels are getting more fiber, vitamin A, vitamin C, potassium and folate.
– Risks depend on whether the squash is waxed/coated with pesticides. Organic, uncoated and thoroughly washed peels are considered safest.
– Butternut, acorn and pumpkin peels are most often consumed, as they tend to be thinner and less tough than peels of squash like hubbard.
– Squash peels are often eaten raw, such as in salads, or cooked along with the flesh, in soups and baked goods. They can also be boiled or roasted.
Nutrition in Squash Peels
Squash peels contain a number of vitamins, minerals and other nutrients:
One of the main benefits of eating squash peels is that they are high in fiber. Fiber has many health benefits including improving digestive health, keeping you feeling fuller for longer, maintaining steady blood sugar levels and promoting heart health.
The flesh of squash has 2-3 grams of fiber per cup, while leaving the peel on can provide a significant fiber boost. For example, 1 cup of cubed butternut squash with the peel provides 5 grams of fiber, meeting about 20% of the daily value.
This makes squash peels an easy way to add more fiber to your diet. Fiber is important, with most guidelines recommending 25-30 grams per day for optimal health.
Squash peels, especially from orange-fleshed winter squash, are high in beta carotene. The body converts this compound into active vitamin A.
Vitamin A plays key roles in immune function, vision, reproduction and cellular communication. Consuming foods high in vitamin A and beta carotene has also been linked to a reduced risk of certain cancers.
One cup of butternut squash cubes with peel contains over 100% of the daily vitamin A needs for most adults.
Getting enough vitamin C is also crucial for health. This water-soluble vitamin acts as an antioxidant, promotes immune function and aids the absorption of iron.
Many types of winter squash pack up to 28% of the daily vitamin C into just one cup. Leaving the peel on squash can provide an even bigger vitamin C boost.
Potassium is an electrolyte that is important for muscle contractions, fluid balance, nerve transmission and blood pressure. Most people don’t get enough potassium from their diets.
Winter squash flesh is high in potassium, with nearly one-third of the recommended 4,700 mg per day in just 1 cup. The peel provides an extra potassium boost.
Folate, also known as vitamin B9, is a B vitamin that plays a key role in many important processes in the body. These include DNA and cell production, growth and nutrient metabolism.
Folate intake is especially important for pregnant women, as it can reduce the risk of birth defects. While folate is found in the flesh of squash, leaving on the peel provides up to 4 times more.
Along with these specific nutrients, winter squash peels also contain smaller amounts of magnesium, calcium and vitamins K, E and B6.
They are also rich in antioxidants, including the orange-red antioxidant beta-carotene that gives these squash their bright color. Antioxidants help reduce oxidative damage and inflammation in the body.
Potential Benefits of Eating Squash Peels
Due to their stellar nutrient profile, eating squash peels could potentially provide several health benefits. However, it’s important to note that most research has focused on the flesh and seeds of winter squash. Specific research on peels is limited.
May promote digestive health
Due to their high fiber content, squash peels may benefit digestion. Fiber moves through the intestines undigested, adding bulk to stool and promoting regularity. It also feeds the healthy bacteria in your gut microbiome.
Eating more squash peels can help prevent constipation, reduce digestive issues like gas and bloating and may lower the risk of certain digestive conditions.
Can help manage blood sugar
Fiber helps slow the absorption of sugar from foods into the bloodstream, preventing unhealthy spikes in blood sugar after eating.
Fibrous foods like squash peels, with their low glycemic index, are thought to be particularly beneficial for controlling blood sugar in people with diabetes. More research is needed specifically on peels.
May lower heart disease risk
Getting enough fiber, potassium, folate and vitamin C from food sources like squash peels may help reduce the risk of heart disease.
Fiber helps lower cholesterol levels. Folate lowers homocysteine, which is linked to heart disease when elevated. Potassium supports healthy blood pressure. Vitamin C improves artery function.
Could reduce inflammation
Chronic inflammation is at the root of many diseases. Antioxidants like beta-carotene found in squash peels can help reduce inflammation.
Fiber can also help lower inflammation levels. Inflammation has been linked to cancer, diabetes, autoimmune disorders and more.
May decrease cancer risk
Diets rich in squash, pumpkin and their seeds have been associated with a lower risk of some cancers, such as lung and prostate. This effect is likely due to their antioxidant content and nutrients.
More research is needed focused on the anti-cancer effects of squash and pumpkin peels specifically.
Best Types of Squash Peels to Eat
While all edible squash peels add nutrients, some are better suited for consumption than others based on flavor and texture. The peels of these types are most often eaten:
Butternut squash has a long shelf life and its peel is relatively thin and tender compared to other winter squash. The peel can be consumed raw or cooked.
Acorn squash also has tender flesh and skin, especially when roasted which helps soften it. Its unique ridges allow flavor to seep into the peel.
Pumpkin peels are edible, with many recipes incorporating them into soups and baked goods. Look for small, fresh pie pumpkins rather than large carving pumpkins, which have thicker, tougher peels.
Delicate squash is one of the only types eaten whole with its edible skin thanks to its thin, delicate peel that softens when cooked.
Kabocha is a Japanese variety with tender, edible skin. Its flavor is sweet with notes of chestnut. The peel softens with cooking or roasting.
Other winter squash with edible but tougher, thicker peels include hubbard, banana, calabaza, spaghetti squash and buttercup squash. Their peels are harder to eat raw but can be cooked to soften them.
Are There Any Risks of Eating Squash Peels?
Squash peels are completely edible and can be safely consumed. However, there are a few things to keep in mind:
Many conventionally grown squashes may contain pesticide residues even after washing. Choosing organic squash when possible can minimize exposure to these residues.
Peeling conventionally grown squash will reduce pesticide content, but leaves behind some nutrients.
Bacteria can collect in the grooves, ridges and nicks of squash peels. Be sure to thoroughly scrub peels under running water before eating. Peeling or cooking peels can further reduce any bacteria.
People with reduced immunity may want to avoid eating raw squash peels.
Those with food allergies to squash or other foods in the gourd family may want to avoid squash peels, or at least cooked before consuming.
An extremely bitter compound called cucurbitacin found in traces in squash flesh tends to concentrate mostly in the peels and stems. High intakes can cause stomach upset, so peel in moderation.
Improperly prepared squash peels may contain dirt or be tough and fibrous. Take care to thoroughly wash peels and use cooking methods like steaming, boiling or baking to help soften peels.
Overall, squash peels can be safely enjoyed with proper handling and preparation. Those at risk of foodborne illness may want to cook peels before eating.
How to Eat and Prepare Squash Peels
There are many ways to eat squash peels:
Tender, thin peels like delicata can be consumed raw in slaws, salads and stir fries. Peels add a great fresh crunch.
Roasting, boiling, steaming and baking peels along with squash flesh softens and enhances their texture and flavor.
Added to baked goods and breads
Try adding peeled and pureed or grated squash peels into recipes for muffins, breads, pancakes and waffles. They add moisture and nutrients.
Simmering squash peels in soups allows their flavors to infuse into the broth. Just remove peels before serving if fibrous.
Juiced or blended
Add peeled and chopped squash to smoothies. Juice peels and flesh together for an extra dose of nutrients like vitamin A.
Dehydrating thinly sliced peels creates vegetable chips for snacking. Toss in oil and spices first.
Try quick-pickling peeled and sliced pieces of squash peel for a tangy condiment to top salads, tacos and more.
When cooking squash peels, aim for fork-tender doneness without overcooking to a mushy consistency. Crunchy-tender peels are ideal.
Do You Have to Peel Squash Before Eating?
Peeling is not required from a safety standpoint for organic, thoroughly washed squash consumed shortly after purchase. Peels offer extra nutrition.
However, some choose to peel squash if:
– Using conventionally grown squash to remove pesticides
– Wanting a more tender consistency without extra chewiness from skins
– Following a recipe that requires peeling (ex. for smooth pureed soups)
– Preferring flavor of flesh only
– Wanting to remove bitterness concentrated in skins
– Reducing possible dirt or bacteria on surface of peels
With thinner-peeled, organic squash varieties, the peel can be left on if desired. Just take care to scrub the exterior and trim off any bruised portions.
Some find peels unappealing, difficult to chew or simplyprefer the flavor and texture of just the flesh. Personal preferences guide whether to peel squash or leave the skins on.
Squash peels are edible and contain a concentrated source of fiber, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants compared to flesh alone.
While research specifically on the health benefits of squash peels is limited, they may promote digestive health, reduce disease risk factors, lower inflammation and decrease cancer risk due to their stellar nutrient profile.
Peels with the most tender textures and sweetest flavors come from thinner-skinned varieties like delicata, acorn and butternut squash. Safely consuming peels involves thoroughly scrubbing and cooking them, especially if immunocompromised.
While peeling squash discards some nutrients, reasons some choose to remove peels include personal preference, avoiding pesticides, smooth texture or following recipes.
Ultimately, eating squash peels can provide extra nutrition from a typically wasted part of the vegetable. But peeling or removing them before eating is fine too. Enjoying squash with or without its peel can be a healthful, delicious choice.