We all know we should be eating more Fruits and Vegetables. But, which ones give us the biggest nutritional punch? Most people know that fruits and vegetables are good for you, but not as many are familiar with the differences between them.
You probably have a pretty good concept of which foods are considered fruits and which are considered vegetables, at least in culinary terms. In terms of structure, taste, and nutrition, there are many distinctions between fruits and vegetables.
How are Fruits and Vegetables different?
Fruits and vegetables are classified from both a botanical and culinary standpoint. On one hand, botanically, fruits and vegetables are classified depending on which part of the plant they come from. A fruit develops from the flower of a plant, while the other parts of the plant are categorized as vegetables.
Fruits contain seeds, while vegetables can consist of roots, stems, and leaves. On the other hand, from a culinary perspective, fruits and vegetables are classified based on taste. Fruits generally have a sweet or tart flavor and can be used in desserts, snacks or juices.
Not to mention, vegetables have a more mild or savory taste and are usually eaten as part of a side dish or main course. However, there are several plants that are technically fruits, though they’re often classified as vegetables because of their taste.
Tomatoes, for instance, are the most well-known and controversial examples of this. Actually, in 1893, the US Supreme Court actually ruled that tomatoes should be classified as vegetables rather than fruits under US customs regulations.
Some other common examples of fruits that are mistaken for vegetables include:
- Winter squash
Botanically speaking, tomatoes fit the definition of a fruit. However, they’re still commonly referred to as vegetables because of their flavor profile.
How Do Fruits and Vegetables Compare Nutritionally?
Fruits and vegetables have a lot of similarities in terms of nutrition. Both are high in fiber as well as vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and plant compounds. Naturally, they are also low in sodium and fat (2Trusted Source).
As you might expect given their sweet taste, fruits tend to have a higher amount of natural sugar and calories compared to most varieties of vegetables. One cup of apples, for example, contains 65 calories and 13 grams of sugar. While one cup of broccoli has just 31 calories and 2 grams of sugar.
Compared to vegetables, some types of fruits may also contain more fiber per gram. The fiber content per 100 grams for fruit ranges from 2–15 grams. At the same time, while leafy vegetables supply 1.2–4 grams of fiber for the same weight (2Trusted Source).
The water content is also highly variable. Leafy vegetables may be composed of 84–95% water, while fruits contain slightly less, with between 61–89% (2Trusted Source). There are some nutrient differences among different categories of fruits and vegetables, as well.
Here are a few nutrition highlights:
- Leafy greens: A good source of carotenoids like lutein, which has been shown to reduce the risk of heart disease, stroke, and cancer (10Trusted Source, 11Trusted Source).
- Cruciferous vegetables: Contain glucosinolates, a group of compounds that have been linked to the prevention of cancer (7Trusted Source, 8Trusted Source).
- Tubers: Rich in fiber, plus a good source of vitamin C, beta-carotene, potassium and B vitamins (5Trusted Source).
- Berries: Full of anthocyanins, anti-inflammatory compounds that have been studied for their ability to reduce oxidative stress and promote heart health (9Trusted Source).
- Citrus fruits: High in vitamin C, beta-carotene, folate and antioxidants that could offer protection against degenerative disease (6Trusted Source).
Including a good mix of fruits and vegetables in your diet can ensure you’re getting a diverse range of nutrients.
What are the Benefits of Fruits and Vegetables?
There is a good amount of research documenting the many benefits of fruit and vegetable intake on health. Several studies have found that eating more of them is associated with a decreased risk of heart disease. Particularly, from 12Trusted Source, 13Trusted Source, 14Trusted Source.
One study even found that eating more than three servings per day slashed the risk of heart disease by 70% (15Trusted Source). Because fruits and vegetables are low in calories but high in fiber, they could even help keep your weight under control.
One study followed 133,000 people over a 24-year span. It showed that when people increased their intake of fruits and non-starchy vegetables, their weight tended to decrease (16Trusted Source).
Read more about Fruits Benefit To Our General Health.
Which of them Should you be eating Daily?
Increasing your fiber intake through fruits and vegetables may even reduce your risk of cancer. Multiple studies have found that higher fruit and vegetable consumption is linked to a lower risk of colorectal cancer (17Trusted Source, 18Trusted Source).
Finally, fruit and vegetable intake may benefit your blood sugar. The fiber from these foods slows the absorption of sugar, which can keep blood sugar levels steady. One study showed that an increase in fruit and vegetable intake can actually lead to a reduction in the development of diabetes (19Trusted Source).
Note that these results applied to fruits and vegetables, but not fruit juice. Fruit juice provides a concentrated dose of the vitamins, minerals, and sugars found in fruit, but without the fiber and the health benefits that come with it.
Here are the topmost fruits and vegetables you should consider;
Blueberries contain antioxidants, specifically anthocyanidins, which is a flavonoid connected with cognitive ability. These little nuggets also contain Vitamin K1, which helps with blood clotting, as well as Vitamin C and manganese, a mineral associated with the metabolism of amino acids, proteins, carbohydrates, and lipids.
2. Bell Peppers
Bell Peppers come in a multitude of colors – green, yellow, orange and red. They are full of Vitamin A, folate and potassium. One pepper can provide 169 percent of the recommended daily allowance (RDA) of Vitamin C. They also contain antioxidants called carotenoids that help with eye health.
3. Cruciferous Vegetables
Cruciferous vegetables include broccoli, cauliflower, and brussels sprouts, to name a few. They contain phytochemicals, vitamins A, C and E, folate and fiber. They also contain antioxidants that can protect against cancer.
4. Leafy Green Vegetables
Spinach, kale and bok choy are among these nutritional powerhouses. Packed with Vitamin B and calcium, leafy greens can help lower cholesterol, improve bone health and prevent colon cancer.
Tomatoes contain lycopene, an anti-oxidant, as well as beta-carotene. They are also packed with Vitamins C and K, potassium and folate. They are believed to improve heart health, skin health and prevent cancer.
Bananas are rich in fiber, potassium and Vitamins C and B6. They contain antioxidants and phytochemicals that promote heart health. They also help the brain to produce dopamine, which can improve mood.
7. Citrus Fruits
The Vitamin C champions, including oranges, grapefruit, limes, and lemons, also contain B vitamins, phosphorus, potassium, magnesium, and copper, as well as anti-oxidants. Make sure you eat the whole fruit instead of juice to get the benefits of fiber. As well, grapefruit can interact with many prescription medications, so check with your doctor.
Garlic is known to prevent and reduce the effects of colds, improve blood pressure and cholesterol. Its active ingredients, allicin, is also found in onions. It also contains selenium, magnesium and Vitamins B6 and C.
Olives, like olive oil, are high in Vitamin E, iron, copper and calcium. They contain antioxidants and healthy fats. Avoid olives soaked in brine, is you’re watching your sodium levels.
Notably, Ginger contains natural oil, called gingerol, that has anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Ginger can help a host of problems, including tummy upsets and muscle pain and soreness. It may help with osteoarthritis, high blood sugar, and heart disease risk factors.
The Bottom Line
Botanically, there is a distinct difference between fruits and vegetables. However, they both come with an impressive set of nutrients and health benefits. From decreasing your risk of chronic disease to slimming your waistline.
Current guidelines recommend getting at least five servings of fruits and vegetables daily, with 3 cups of vegetables and 2 cups of fruit (20Trusted Source). In the end, the classification of fruits and vegetables isn’t as important as eating a variety of both to take advantage of the diverse nutrients they provide.