You might want to think twice before taking out the trash.
Before tossing those leftover broccoli stems in the trash, think again. There are a ton of nutrients hiding in your favorite foods' remains, and you can easily repurpose those scraps into something delicious, healthy, and fresh. Not only will you boost your daily quota of essential vitamins and minerals, but you'll also save money and time in the process. These nine foods deserve a few go-arounds.
"Mushroom stems can get woody and aren't great to eat fresh or even lightly cooked, but don't throw them out," says Maggie Moon, M.S., R.D.N., author of The MIND Diet. The stems are hiding a great source of vitamin D and beta-glucans, which are known to reduce cholesterol, explains Moon.
Chop them finely and add herbs and seasoning for a satisfying, lean burger patty, suggests Moon. These can be the base for a great meatless meal, or you can add the mushrooms into the beef mixture, along with a few flavorings, such as garlic, feta, and parsley. And, here's a tip: "Sauté before blending into lean beef burgers," says Moon. "This lowers the fat and increases the nutrition of the burger while still tasting great."
There's no need to ditch your morning OJ, but there's so much more you can do with citrus than just juice it. Lemons, limes, and oranges are all great flavor enhancers, which can help you cut down on sugar, fat, and calories when cooking, says Moon. "The zest is also where more complex flavonoids are, so there's an extra antioxidant boost," she says. Use it to jazz up rice or act as a garnish.
What's more, you might miss out on some other great nutrients, such as d-limonene, which is "good for digestion and cancer prevention," says Isabel Smith, M.S., R.D., C.D.N. You can grate the rind atop chicken or fish or add zest to dressings.
Broccoli and Cauliflower Stems and Leaves
Here's a shocker: You might be throwing away the most nutritious part of this veggie. "Broccoli stems contain more calcium, iron, and vitamin C gram for gram than the florets," says Smith. Simply toss them in with your veggie stir-fry or blend into a dip.
If you find broccoli leaves on the stalks, don't rip them out. "The leaves are one of the richest sources of calcium in vegetables," says Lauren Blake, R.D., sports dietitian at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center. They also contain fiber, iron, and vitamin A. "You need vitamin A for immunity and healthy skin and bones," says Ilyse Schapiro, M.S., R.D., C.D.N. Sauté the leaves with heart-healthy olive oil and garlic or place on a baking sheet in a single layer and roast in a 400°F oven until they're dark and crispy (about 15 minutes).
You might think of celery as being high in water content and great for detoxing, but its nutritional benefits go much further, especially when it comes to the leaves. "Celery leaves are rich in magnesium, calcium, and vitamin C," says Schapiro. You can easily toss celery leaves in a kale salad, use them as part of a vegetable stock for soups and stews, or sprinkle them on top of chicken or fish as a garnish.
Another food that's often wasted and that pairs perfectly with celery leaves? The skin of an onion. Together, these throw-away scraps will amp up the flavors of a soup or stock and provide a dose of antioxidants, like quercetin, found to reduce blood pressure, she adds.
The tops of beets often get thrown away, and just like with carrot tops, they shouldn't be. "Beet greens are an excellent source of vitamins A, K, and C, which work as antioxidants in the body to fight free radicals, keeping your skin glowing and your immune system strong," says Keri Glassman R.D., C.D.N., owner of The Nutritious Life. "They even offer a healthy helping of fiber, which is great for your digestive health."
Here's what to do: Cut the greens off the top of the beet roots, wrap them in damp paper towels, slip them into a plastic storage bag, and refrigerate. Try to use them within a couple days. Mix them into salads, add them to smoothies, or even sauté or juice them.
The same goes for turnip greens. "They can be used sparingly in salads or lightly sautéed and mixed into starchy dishes like rice, beans, or quinoa, and carrot greens are great for broths, which can then be used as a base for soups and sauces," says Benjamin White, Ph.D., M.P.H., R.D., L.D.N., of Structure House.
Stop scratching your head—what the heck is aquafaba?!—and read on. This chickpea by-product is pretty versatile, and it's especially useful for vegans.
The "goopy liquid" in a can of beans—the stuff you generally wash down the drain—contains trace vitamins and minerals, as well as starch from the beans or legumes, and it's becoming popular because of its fabulous capabilities to replace an egg, says Blake. "It can be used as a vegan alternative to whipped topping, meringues, chocolate mousse, ice cream, buttercream, and more," she says.
Whether it's a baked potato or a sweet potato, the skins should always be eaten. "Potato skins contain about 3 grams of protein, about 5 grams of fiber (the flesh only has 2 grams), and B vitamins," says Smith. In fact, there's more B6 in the skin than in the flesh.
What's more, saving the skin of a sweet potato could reduce your risk of disease. "The outer layer of fruits and veggies are rich in phytochemicals, antioxidants, and fiber," says Elizabeth Stein, founder and CEO of Purely Elizabeth. "Studies have shown that phytochemicals have the potential to protect cells from damage that could lead to cancer, stimulate the immune system, and reduce inflammation."
Peeled cucumbers might be great for dipping into hummus or chopped into Greek salads, but most of the vitamins cucumbers contain are in the skin itself, says Glassman. "This is another great source of insoluble fiber, and vitamins A and K, which are good for vision and bone health," she says.
Better yet, keep the peels on when adding to a sweet pineapple cucumber salad, as the pineapple core, which is often wasted, is a rich source of anti-inflammatory bromelain, found to fight infection, she says.
Most animal parts can be used in cooking to enhance nutrition and flavor, says White. "And bones can be wonderful [flavor] enhancers for broths and soups," he says. Plus, bones are very lean, so they contribute a lot of savory flavor without many calories.
You can easily make a healthy bone broth soup at home, which allows you to control the salt and reduce the sodium over store-bought options. "Save the bones from your next roasted chicken or beef roast and make a nutritious broth that can be enjoyed on its own or used to give recipes and other dishes a nutrition boost," says Allison Stowell, M.S., R.D., C.D.N., of Guiding Stars.