Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Fruit or Veggie?

Interesting read here. And the point of this post? Well, it makes me wonder how nutritionists can say you need to eat a certain amount of fruits or veggies a day, when some foods that are considered veggies are, botanically speaking, actually fruits. Does this mean that we could actually add the number of servings of fruits to the number of servings of veggies we're supposed to eat, and that it doesn't really matter if you get 4 servings of fruit and 4 servings of veggie, as long as you get 8 servings in some combination (1 and 7, 2 and 6, 3 and 5) and it meets your requirements of what you like and what your body wants?
I can say that I knew tomatoes are a fruit, but I didn't know that cucumbers, avocadoes, string beans, squash, eggplant, green pepper and okra are all technically fruits, too.
Totally lost?

OK, in the world of botany, a fruit is the structure that bears the seeds of a plant. It is formed in the plant's flower. In the center, the female parts of the flower include the ovary. The ovary has structures inside that become the seeds when fertilized. So the ovary will develop into the fruit.

To the plant, fruits are basically a means of spreading the seeds around, generally by wind or animal poop. In the latter case, fruits such as raspberries become thicker and accumulate sugars and bright colors, thereby attracting birds or other animals that eat and then "we say, they deposit the seeds in a package of fertilizer," Litt said. In other cases, the fruit dries out and opens and the winds carries the seeds to their next home to start the cycle over again. A good example is cotton or a milkweed pod.

How about vegetables?

The term vegetable has no meaning in botany, which is the study of plants, Litt explained. Instead, the other produce is also classified, like the fruits, by whatever part of the plant they are. For example, rhubarb and celery are the stems, albeit very enlarged and juicy stems, of a leaf.

Lettuce, kale, spinach and cabbage are the leaves of a plant.

What about legumes? They're easier because that is one situation where consumer lingo mirrors botany's. Legumes are family of plants and they all have the same type of fruit - a bean , actually, that is technically called a legume. Examples: snow peas, string beans or sugar snap peas. All fruits (of the legume variety).

Peas (also kidney beans, chick peas and fava beans) might fool you. They are fleshy and don't look like stems or leaves, but they are not fruit. The pea (or bean) is the seed. They all grow in the same kind of pod that is the fruit, and are very high in protein. The plant, the pod and the vegetable are all called legumes, Litt said.

So maybe nutritionists should recommend that we get a certain number of servings of produce a day instead of saying you need X number of veggies and X number of fruits. It would be a lot easier than trying to remember what is considered a fruit and what is considered a veggie.


  1. So technically, vegetables don't actually exist?

    Sort of like Keyser Söze...

  2. Botanically speaking, there is no such thing as a vegetable. At least, that's the way I read the article.

  3. Uh, I don't know how this is being read to mean vegetables don't exist, but anyways...
    This is why many people get confused by fruitatarians who eat things like eggplants (i.e., any parts which do not kill/harm the plant when taken).

  4. My Fiance is a food scientist so it always entertains him when people talk about deciding that something is no longer a vegetable.

    There really is no such thing in the scientific world.

  5. I always assumed that fruits were included in the number of veges a day rule. A bit off topic but I watced a TV programme yesterday that said when people eat organic vegetables they actually eat less vegetables because they cost more. Hmmm.

  6. Yeah, vegetables don't actually exist, all 'veggies' are fruits or some other part of a plant.

    I always figured it was five servings of fruits AND/OR veggies a day and you were good. *shrug* I try.

  7. I wish I could remember where I saw this, but a few years ago I remember reading some articles that basically talked about how, for little kids, fruits and vegetables are largely interchangeable. That, as parents, if your kid is eating a bunch of fruit and not too many vegetables, chances are they're doing all right anyway, because nutritionally fruits and vegetables are very similar, with the primary difference being vegetables tend to have less sugar. And since little kids' caloric needs are not the same as adults', the extra sugar is not a concern.

    I've kind of thought about that ever since, and wondered if the whole veggies-over-fruits thing is mostly one of those crazy anti-sugar things people thought up a while ago that somehow stuck. Sort of like the claim that juice and soda are equally "bad" for you, because they have similar numbers of calories - veggies MUST be better for you because they have less sugar, and "everyone knows" sugar is bad. Or something along those lines.

    But still - interesting that botanically speaking there's no such thing as a vegetable. Very interesting indeed.

  8. We're eating more veg now that I'm buying organic and from the farmer's market. They cost so much, I'm horrified at the thought of taking them out of the fridge in a few weeks all rotted and nasty. I'm making an effort to cook them every night, where before, I'd be like, too much bother tonight, I'll do it tomorrow (and tomorrow would never come).

    I've only recently come back to eating fruit. I was on this low carb diet years ago and they only thing that stuck long term, oddly enough, was avoiding fruit. In my mind, it became "bad" for me, so even long after I fell off the low carb wagon, I'd avoid fruit. I know. Really stupid.

  9. vidya - I think what they're saying is that, botanically/scientifically, there isn't any such thing as a vegetable because the part of the plant we eat is either the fruit, seed, root, stem, or leaves, depending on which plant you're talking about and what part of it is eaten. I think the term 'vegetable' is just a convenient way of distinguishing certain produce from others.

    blablover5 - yeah, that's what I got out of the article. Certainly changes my view of what I eat and why.

    intuitiveeating - I think the number of fruits/veggies you're supposed to eat daily depends on which food pyramid or which diet you're following at the time. I don't go by any of those, I go by what my body tells me it wants. Some days it's grapes, other days it's oranges or apples, some days it's green beans or broccoli or cauliflower.
    I can also see eating less produce if it's organic and more expensive if you're on a limited budget. Personally, I can't afford organic, so we eat a lot of fresh, in-season produce, and in the winter time, a lot of frozen produce.

    jen - trying is all you can do, according to what you can afford and what you like/want. It's what I do, so I'm not about to tell anyone else how they should go about eating what they need.

    thorn - that sounds like a very interesting article. I'll have to do a search and see if I can find any information along those lines. I really don't think the sugar in fruits is bad for adults either, unless the adult is diabetic and has to watch carbs in order to control blood sugar. But even then, fruit isn't totally ruled out, you just have to adjust the other things you eat around the carbs in fruit or whatever.

    rose campion - it's not stupid, it's just how brainwashing can stick with you and influence you years after you've learned otherwise. It's hard to overcome that kind of conditioning, especially when it's blared at you all the time. Like - eat fruit and veggies, X number of servings a day, but watch the calories/fat/sugar. I want to tell those idiots who make up those recommendations to make up their minds - either we need to eat X amounts of these kinds of foods and forget the calories, or STFU.

  10. A vegetable is any edible part of a plan, fruit is the matured ovary of a plant. All fruits are vegetables but not all vegetables are fruits.

  11. anonymous - I think I'll go with what botanists and scientists have to say about produce.

  12. Essentially I think vegetable is a culinary term, seperate from botanical terms (sort of like how cuts of meat don't necessarily correspond to anatomical classifications) meaning any edible plant part, especially 'savoury' ones (though I know some people use eg. avocado in sweets).
    And with regards to the recommended amount of fruit/veg per day, it's worth noting that those recommndations vary quite a lot across different countries. I remember seeing a newspaper article a while back where they looked at it. Basically just between the EU countries anything from about 500g to over 1kg was recommended.

  13. seriously, jamboree, this stuff can get way too confusing.

    vote number 2064102461087264128 for INTUITIVE EATING in my book :)



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