Nutrition-wise blog

Fruit or vegetable — Do you know the difference?

By Jennifer K. Nelson, R.D., L.D. and Katherine Zeratsky, R.D., L.D. August 15, 2012

According to botanists (those who study plants) a fruit is the part of the plant that develops from a flower. It's also the section of the plant that contains the seeds. The other parts of plants are considered vegetables. These include the stems, leaves and roots — and even the flower bud.

The following are technically fruits: avocado, beans, peapods, corn kernels, cucumbers, grains, nuts, olives peppers, pumpkin, squash, sunflower seeds and tomatoes. Vegetables include celery (stem), lettuce (leaves), cauliflower and broccoli (buds), and beets, carrots and potatoes (roots).

From a culinary standpoint, vegetables are less sweet — or more savory — and served as part of the main dish. Fruits are more sweet and tart and are most often served as a dessert or snack. Both fruits and vegetables can be made into juice for a refreshing beverage. Some fruits are "grains" or "nuts" or "seeds" — and are served accordingly.

Nutritionally speaking, fruits and vegetables are similar. Compared with animal products, they're generally lower in calories and fat, but higher in fiber. Fruits and vegetables also contain health-enhancing plant compounds such as antioxidants. And they're loaded with vitamins and minerals.

One serving (half a cup) of most fruits has a bit more calories than one serving of vegetables. Exceptions would be dense, starchy vegetables such as potatoes or beets.

One thing that is simple to understand about fruit and vegetables is that most people don't eat enough of them. According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, you should aim for two or more cups of fruit a day, and two and one-half cups of vegetables. The usual adult eats one cup of fruit and about one and a half cups of vegetables a day.

In 2009 no state met the Healthy People 2010 targets for fruit or vegetable consumption. In fact, there's been a decline in consumption of fruit and vegetables. Between 1999 and 2008, the actual number of servings of fruit and vegetables declined by about 10 percent and 7 percent, respectively.

We also know that not eating enough fruits and vegetable plays a role in cancer, heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke and diabetes.

Fruit or vegetable — the simple fact is we should eat more of them. However, doing that doesn't seem so simple. Something to chew on. What are your thoughts?

- Jennifer

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Aug. 15, 2012