Fruits and Vegetables: What's the Difference?

Fruits and vegetables are natural plant foods that are rich in vitamins, minerals, and fiber. They are an essential part of a healthy diet. When eaten daily, in large amounts, they provide numerous health benefits. While most people are aware of the nutritional benefits of fruits and vegetables, not as many know the differences between them. In terms of taste, structure, and nutrition, there are many ways fruits and vegetables differ from each other. In this article, we look at the difference between fruits and vegetables, how they are classified, and their nutritional similarities and differences.

What Distinguishes Fruits from Vegetables?

Most people would regard any plant food that has a sweet or tart taste as fruits and automatically term savory produce as vegetables. However, there are other ways to determine the difference between vegetables and fruits. Vegetables and fruits are grouped from both a botanical and culinary perspective. 

From the culinary standpoint, fruits are sweet or tart. They can be eaten raw as snacks, juiced, or used in desserts. Vegetables, on the other hand, are categorized as the savory or flavorful part of a plant that is usually used in making meals. In the science world, botanists would term any edible plant food that develops from a flower as a fruit. In this regard, fruits are mature ovaries of seed plants. They contain seed(s) that enable them to reproduce further. Some fruits like cherries and avocados produce only one seed. Other fruits like watermelon, banana, and tomato have hundreds of seeds. 

Vegetables are defined by botanists as other parts of plants that are edible such as leaves, stems, and roots. In this light, some plant foods popularly regarded as vegetables because of their tastes are technically fruits. Some fruits are found in shells, examples are almonds and coconuts. Some popular spices like vanilla bean and fennel are also fruits.

Types of Vegetables

Vegetables are grouped according to the part of the plant:

Leafy vegetables - Kale, beet greens, spinach, and collard greens.

Edible Flowers: Some flowers are edible and can be eaten raw or cooked. Examples are cauliflower, bean, broccoli, and okra.

Stems - sugar cane, fig, and asparagus.

Root vegetables: these are edible roots of plants. Plants typically store energy in the form of carbohydrates in storage organs. However, some of these storage organs are edible and pack loads of nutrients.

  • Root-like stems - Florida arrowroot.
  • Taproots - Turnips, beets, carrots, and radishes.
  • Bulb vegetables - Leeks, onions, and garlic.
  • Modified plant stems - ginger, turmeric, and taro.
  • Tuberous roots - potatoes, yam, and Jerusalem artichoke.

Fruits Often Misclassified as Vegetables

It is quite common for some fruits to be mistaken for vegetables because of their savory taste and the fact that they are mostly used in cooking. Also, culinary experts and botanists often disagree on how some fruits and vegetables are to be classified. Here are some plant foods regarded as vegetables in the culinary world but are technically fruits.

  • Tomatoes
  • Egg Plant
  • Okra
  • Corn
  • Cucumbers
  • Peppers
  • Olives
  • Avocadoes

Nutritional Benefits of Fruits and Vegetables 

Fruits and vegetables have a similar nutritional profile. Both are high in vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. They are also both rich in fiber and naturally low in sodium and fat. Typically, fruits contain more natural sugar and calories than vegetables because of their sweet taste. For example, one cup of broccoli contains 1 gram of sugar and 31 calories, while one cup of raspberries contains 5 grams of sugar and 65 calories. However, starchy tubers like sweet potatoes and beets have high sugar and calorie content.

Also, fruits may contain more fiber compared to vegetables. Leafy vegetables contain 1.2–4 grams of fiber per 100 grams, whereas fruits contain 2–15 grams of fiber per 100 grams. In terms of water content, the difference is largely based on the species of plants. While most fruits are known to contain high amounts of water, leafy vegetables have high water content as they are composed of 84 to 95% water.

To get the most nutrition from plant-based foods, it is best to include a wide variety of colorful fruits and vegetables in your diet. Color in vegetables and fruits indicates an abundance of nutrients and bioactive plant compounds that are beneficial to your health. Red fruits and vegetables are typically high in lycopene. Green-colored foods mostly contain carotenoids, purple and blue fruits are known for their high anthocyanin content.

The Bottom Line

There is a clear difference between fruits and vegetables. Plant scientists maintain that fruits have seeds and are products of a plant’s ovaries, while other parts of the plant are classified as vegetables. Experts in the cooking arena believe fruits are sweet and vegetables are savory. Culinary experts often group fruits like eggplant, cucumbers, and tomatoes as vegetables.

In the end, fruits and vegetables are both valuable in any diet as they are both filled with vitamins, minerals, fiber, and antioxidants. Eating enough fruits and vegetables can help you lose weight and control your blood sugar while lowering your chances of developing heart disease and cancer.