Fruits, vegetables, and nutrition
August 4, 2010 11:48 AM   Subscribe

In nutritional terms, what is the difference between fruits and vegetables? Are there substances in one that are severely lacking in the other?

I'm not interested in the botanic difference between fruits and vegetables. I'm just wondering if someone eating a fruit-rich, vegetable-poor diet (or vice versa) would be missing something nutritionally. Obviously this answer will depend to some extent on which fruits and vegetables are chosen, but are there any general trends?
posted by philosophygeek to Food & Drink (13 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
 
My understanding is that you get the same basic list of nutrients from both, which is why they are in one food group. However, fruits tend to have more sugar in them, generally speaking, which is why little kids stereotypically don't go for veggies as much as they go for fruit.
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 11:53 AM on August 4, 2010


I think that there are generally more nutrients in vegetables, in higher concentrations. Fruits often have a lot of water and a lot of sugar.
posted by amtho at 11:57 AM on August 4, 2010 [2 favorites]


Unfortunately I can't find it now, but there is a site which provides detailed nutritional information on all sorts of foods, including amino acids, vitamins, etc. I'd look look at that (assuming someone can post the link) and compare some selected fruits and vegetables.
posted by sanko at 12:12 PM on August 4, 2010


You might find this list of some of the most nutritious fruits and vegetables useful. That might be what sanko was referring to. The link for each food goes to a chart that shows the main nutrients in that food. For instance, is there any fruit that gives you a vitamin K boost the way kale does?

I'm not a nutrition expert, but I'd be curious to know if there's any credible source that recommends a diet that's low in vegetables, with large amounts of fruit to compensate. I'm guessing not.
posted by Jaltcoh at 12:15 PM on August 4, 2010


The nutrients in yellow, orange, and green plants, which are usually but not always vegetables, are different than the nutrients in red and purple plants, which are usually but not always fruits. Also, the sugar level and therefore the glycemic index varies a LOT.

Basically, cherries aren't kale, carrots aren't blueberries, bananas aren't zucchini. they're all good for you, though.
posted by KathrynT at 12:17 PM on August 4, 2010


I'm not interested in the botanic difference between fruits and vegetables.

It seems like this is the key to your question, though. Fruits are there to carry seeds and to be tantalizing enough that animals want to eat them and disperse those seeds. Therefore: high caloric density and SUGAR. Sweet is at a premium in the wild.

Most vegetables I can think of are leaves and stems and tubers, so they actually contain nutrients.

If you eat the peel of your fruits, you do get a good deal of fiber you'd miss out on otherwise.
posted by fiercecupcake at 12:20 PM on August 4, 2010 [3 favorites]


NutritionData might be the site sanko was referring to. Everything you could possibly want to know to sort out whether or not you're making the best nutrition choices.
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 12:33 PM on August 4, 2010


I don't care for vegetables, and a few years ago I read the book A Mom's Guide to Meal Makeovers, which said that there is no nutrient that is found in vegetables that can't be found elsewhere; the great thing about vegetables is that they have a variety of nutrients very efficiently packaged with (usually) less sugar and more fiber than other sources. The book has a chart in it that lists vegetables, the nutrients and vitamins in them, and then other sources of the same nutrients, that I found very helpful. My sense was that as a non-vegetable eating person I would have to work harder and be more mindful to get a good mix of nutrients than I would if I loved a big plate o' broccoli and kale, but this book was also the first thing I read on nutrition that didn't pretty much say, "Hey, you person who retches from the taste and texture of vegetables, you're going to die soon."
posted by not that girl at 12:52 PM on August 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


Fruits are a better source of citric acid and ascorbic acid.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 2:44 PM on August 4, 2010


There will certainly be a bunch of differences in terms of which specific micro-nutrients (vitamins, minerals) are easier to get from one source or another. You would have to look at that on a case-by-case basis. But the biggest global nutritional difference is that per calorie the vegetables are much higher in nutrients. I use the "CRON-O-METER" software for this sort of thing. Example: I entered 200 calories worth of a few common fruits, and 200 calories worth of a few common vegetables, and the vegetables came out at roughly 3.5x better (that's an eyeballed average over a bunch of vitamins/minerals).
posted by madmethods at 3:07 PM on August 4, 2010


It seems like this is the key to your question, though. Fruits are there to carry seeds and to be tantalizing enough that animals want to eat them and disperse those seeds. Therefore: high caloric density and SUGAR. Sweet is at a premium in the wild.

Most vegetables I can think of are leaves and stems and tubers, so they actually contain nutrients.


Well, there are a lot of vegetables which are also the fruit of the plant. Tomatoes, eggplant, peppers, squashes, cucumbers, peas, beans.

But philosophygeek, I think judging how nutritionally limited a fruits-but-no-veggies diet would be depends upon how you're defining fruit vs vegetable in the non-botanical sense, and how diverse of a fruit selection you've got.
posted by desuetude at 4:59 PM on August 4, 2010


four thoughts come to mind relating to the sugar content of fruit:

1. fruit is going to give you a substantially higher calorie to nutrient ratio as compared to vegetables (and conversely vegetables will be higher in the nutrient to calorie ratio)

2. fruit have a significant glycemic impact as compared to vegetables (which can to some degree mitigated with consumption of protein or fats) and so can have hormonal implications on their own and in terms of cravings of other sweet/carbs.

3. fruit has fructose, which unlike vegetables, can increase leptin levels which in turn is associated with weight gain and obesity.

4. Bottom line: eating lots of F&V is good, but there's basically no downside from eating tons of veg, and plenty of downsides from eating too much fruit.

FWIW: I've recently switched to a strict paleo diet (meat, veg, fats, some fruit) and all of my carb cravings have basically disappeared and I actually now LIKE the taste of vegetables.
posted by kch at 6:46 PM on August 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


Coming in a bit late but I think that nutritionally, the difference is that fruits have less of a range of nutrients, and have high sugar, as most people have said.

I submit, however, that the difference is negligible and you'd suffer very little by restricting yourself to the "fruit" section of your farmers market. Obviously some vegetables like carrots or beets (Sugar beets anyone?) can have a lot of sugar. There is a reason they make carrot cake and not, say, eggplant cake. Also avocados, tomatoes, zucchini and eggplant (or courgettes and aubergines if you are a Brit) are all botanically "fruits." but are gastronomically vegetables *.

So my hypothesis is that if you restrict yourself the the sweet tasting, can be eaten out-of-hand end of the fruit/vegetable continuum (gastronomical fruits) you might get marginally fewer calories and marginally more sugar, but you'd still be way ahead. I think the sugar danger from fruits as kch mentioned is a bit overstated. Fruits - *any fruits* - like vegetables contain so much water and fiber that I think it would be hard to eat so much of it to have the sugar/hormone spike mentioned. And well potatoes are amongst the worst offenders in these.

* actually don't know where to place the avocado in the fruit/vegetable sort if we are talking about gastronomy.


Fruits are a better source of citric acid and ascorbic acid.

Not necessarily true, Apples, pears etc. are no great ascorbic acid reservoirs, while almost all members of the cabbage family, especially broccoli give you amounts of vitamin C that even citrus could only dream of. Even potatoes are pretty good sources of C, certainly helping poor people in Ireland, Poland, etc. from getting deficiency diseases.
posted by xetere at 2:17 PM on August 6, 2010


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