Fruits and vegetables are generally paired together, but they aren’t all that similar. Yes, they both are plant products, but grains are also a plant-based food source, yet they get their own category in the food pyramid. So, why are fruits and vegetables always lumped together?
Is It a Fruit or Vegetable?
Botanically speaking, fruit is the seed-bearing part of the plant produced from the ovary of a flowering plant. A vegetable is the rest of the plant (the leaves, stems, or roots).
Things get a little more confusing when looking at plants from a culinary standpoint. Many botanical fruits, like tomatoes, are treated as vegetables. The reason for differentiating fruit and vegetables on a culinary level came about due to different tax rates when importing. In 1893, the United States Supreme Court ruled tomato should be taxed as a vegetable (a lower level) because it is used in the kitchen like a vegetable.
A tomato isn’t the only culinary vegetable that is actually a fruit. Here are some other examples you may eat regularly:
Rhubarb is probably the best example of a vegetable being labelled a fruit because of its culinary use.
Are Fruits (or Vegetables) Bad For You?
Eating fruit isn’t bad for you. Some fruits are higher in sugar than others and should be limited, but you don’t need to cut them out of your diet. In fact, it’s important to eat a wide variety of fruits because different fruits have different nutrients. Don’t get your full daily quantity of fruit from one type of fruit. That will only result in you getting a lot of the same handful of nutrients. Eat a bit of many fruits. This will help you get the best balance of vitamins and minerals.
Fruit is also generally high in water and is a decent source of dietary fibre. Eating whole-fruit (not juiced/ processed) can help subside hunger and is good for digestion.
Fruit juice is when the sugar levels start to become a problem. The fruit is processed and you’re losing a lot of the important part of the fruit, like the fibre.
Fruit has gotten a lot of hate in recent years. Many popular diets warn about the high sugar levels found in fruit, and imply that there’s no more to fruit than sugar and water. That’s a lie. Fruit contain many essential vitamins and minerals, so it is important to keep it in your diet. It’s true that the large majority of the calories from fruit come from the sugars (carbohydrates), but the same is true for vegetables. Most of the calories in vegetables are from carbohydrates, but in this case, it’s often more from starches and fibre.
Not All The Same
Just like fruit isn’t as bad as some claim, vegetables aren’t always as healthy as you may think. Vegetables like potatoes, sweet potatoes, beets, carrots, and rutabagas are all good for you, but they’re also very high in carbohydrates and you need to eat them in moderation. They can become problematic when you start eating them in too high a quantity. Just because it’s a vegetable, does not mean it can’t be bad for you.
That being said, at the end of the day fruits and vegetables shouldn’t be lumped into a single nutritional category. A serving of strawberries is not equal to a serving of kale, just like kale is not equal to a potato.
Just like fruits and vegetables started to be re-categorized based on their culinary uses, food guidelines need to start breaking fruits in vegetables into more complex categories based on their nutrition profile.
We need both fruits and vegetables in our diet, but in different quantities, and this is something our food guidelines need to get better at highlighting.
Variety is important when it comes to fruits in vegetables. Some are higher in sugar, just like some are higher in vitamin C and some are higher in potassium. Getting a wide variety is important, and learning which foods contain which nutrients will help you maintain a well-balanced diet.
You can find nutritional profiles on some of our favourite foods by checking out our Good Food page.