The next time you're snacking on an orange or juicing a lemon, consider holding onto the peel. Not only do citrus peels offer bright flavor, they're also packed with nutritional value. Citrus peels contain essential nutrients, like vitamin C, along with health-boosting antioxidants.
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Because citrus peel is low in calories -- 1/4 cup of lemon and orange peel contains 11 and 23 calories, respectively -- it makes a diet-friendly addition to your regimen. Use citrus peel to add flavor to your recipes so you can cut down on salt, for example, to reduce your sodium intake. Even though it's low-cal, citrus peel contains a significant amount of fiber, a nutrient that fights constipation and prevents hemorrhoids. A serving of either orange or lemon peel offers 2.5 grams of fiber -- that's between 7 and 8 percent of the daily needs for men and 10 to 12 percent of the need for women.
Vitamin C Content
Citrus peels, like citrus fruits, also offer ample vitamin C. A serving of lemon peel contains 31 milligrams -- that's 34 percent of the daily intake recommendation for men and 41 percent for women; a serving of orange peel offers 33 milligrams. Vitamin C acts as a cofactor, helping to activate cellular enzymes, including those needed to make collagen, a protein that keeps your tissues strong. This vitamin is also an antioxidant, and a diet that includes lots of C-rich foods reduces your cardiovascular disease risk.
Other Potential Benefits
The essential oils found in citrus peels also offer antioxidant benefits, according to a study published in the "Journal of Essential Oil Bearing Plants" in 2012. The study found that grapefruit peel oil had the highest levels of phenols, a type of antioxidant. It also noted that citrus peel oils had antimicrobial properties and fought the growth of several pathogens including E. coli and salmonella. However, it's still not well understood whether citrus peel oil's antimicrobial properties offer significant benefits for preventing bacterial growth in food.
Serving Suggestions and Tips
Because of citrus peel's strong and slightly bitter taste, you likely won't want to eat it on its own -- unless it's the candied variety, which is packed with sugar. However, you can easily boost your intake by including it in recipes. Add finely grated lemon peel, also called lemon zest, to homemade salad dressings and marinade -- it works particularly well with a mixture of apple cider vinegar, olive oil and herbs de Provence. Add orange zest to stews and soups -- you'd be surprised how a bit of orange flavor adds brightness to pureed carrot and apple soup, or chicken Provencal. If you're in the mood for a decadent treat, try simmering olives in a mixture or orange and lemon peel, olive oil and thinly sliced fennel for a warmed olive appetizer. Use any leftover simmering liquid as a warm dressing for wilted spinach salad.