A quest for answers on fruit
April 9, 2007 4:04 AM   Subscribe

Is fruit absolutely necessary to a wholesome, healthful vegetarian diet?

My meals these days are primarily vegan, larded with an occasional bite of cheese or a weekly fish dish. I aim for a good balance of raw and cooked veggies, soy milk, nuts, lentils, water, brown rice and whole wheat. The soy, nuts and raw veggies give me more than enough fiber, along with protein and other nutrients. So far so good.

Problem is, I'm not much for fruit. Okay, I enjoy a cantelope on special occasions, or a handful of grapes. But on a day to day basis, I end up eating half a banana for breakfast, if that. Some days I'm fruitless.

Compounding things, I've found that the "fullness/calorie" ratio of juice is on the low side, so I'm cutting back on juices as well. I'm not much of a juice or smoothy person anyway.

-Am I harming myself by not including fruit in my primarily vegan diet?
-If the answer to the above is "yes," what's the best "go-to" fruit for vegetarians? I'd be looking for a fruit that maxes out the nutrients I'd be missing otherwise.
posted by Gordion Knott to Health & Fitness (13 answers total)
No, don't worry about it. "Fruit" and "vegetable" are pretty arbitrary labels, botanically speaking. Provided you're eating a varied diet, which it sounds like you are, your vitamin intake will be fine and all you'll be missing out on is fructose - no big loss.

(IANANutritionist, but I am a person who has been near-fruitless for six months and suffered no ill effects.)
posted by clavicle at 4:20 AM on April 9, 2007

I'd agree with clavicle, and I appear to get away with worse.
I'm also no nutritionist (as the following will prove), but I've been vegan for nearly twenty years now yet retain an English working class aversion to anything like "healthy food" (chips and beans for me). I'm never ill and right in the middle of the ideal band for all the height/weight chart stuff.
posted by Abiezer at 5:22 AM on April 9, 2007

I don't think you're seriously harming yourself (although I'll admit to being a chips-and-bread person). However, consider the concealment options offered by nut butter, as applied to apples and bananas.... Also consider freezing grapes and eating them (frozen) as a snack food in warmer months, it's amazing how many grapes one can eat without noticing.
posted by anaelith at 6:02 AM on April 9, 2007

I work for an orchard part of the year. I'm a little nuts for fruit. So it's hard for me to put myself in your place. But I'll give it a shot.

I would hesitate to recommend a go-to fruit -- beyond saying that whatever is in season at the time is probably a good bet. Maybe you could have stuff on hand that keeps well. That way you could vary your diet over time without having to worry about stuff going bad. I'm thinking about maybe some apples, some oranges. And then maybe some frozen peach slices and berries, where you can just help yourself to a few and seal the bag back up.

Fruit juices are pretty worthless, in my opinion. They're fine as a treat if you really like them, but that's about it.

I'm tempted to ask what it is you don't like about fruit as a category, but I also understand that a lot of this stuff is just a matter of preference and can't be explained.
posted by veggieboy at 6:03 AM on April 9, 2007

I'd just make sure you're getting enough vitamin C, A, and whatever else fruits are especially good for.

You probably know this, but tomato is a fruit! If you eat tomatoes, you're getting _some_ fruit.
posted by amtho at 6:06 AM on April 9, 2007

Maybe some dried fruit? Raisins, sultanas, apricots, prunes, dates...

The primary goodness of fruit comes from the fibre it provides. There are no unique nutrients, AFAIK, that are only provided by fruits.
posted by humblepigeon at 6:15 AM on April 9, 2007

Check it out, amtho - I just learned from a quick googling that red peppers have way more vitamin C ounce for ounce than oranges and carrots have more vitamin A than a whole lot of fruits. I think oranges just have a really good PR team.
posted by clavicle at 6:43 AM on April 9, 2007

Eating fruits isn't simply about getting vitamins and minerals--there are many more important, and still misunderstood, health benefits related to fruits that are essential to the human body (particularly for vegans).

I am a vegan, and I would say my "go-to" fruits are definitely apples, bananas, oranges, blueberries, raspberries, pineapple and plums. And by go-to I mean that I consume each of these multiple times a week.

Of course, you can survive with next to no fruit in your diet and still get your vitamins from other sources--I did it for years. But fruits are absolutely delicious and I think you'll find once you start consuming them regularly and in quantity your body will respond accordingly and you'll be quite addicted to eating the reproductive parts of plants--or as wikipedia puts it: the "ripened ovaries" of plants.
posted by dead_ at 6:53 AM on April 9, 2007

To me, the best argument for fruit is that plants 'want' you (you animal!) to eat their attractive fruit. You become their seed dispersal mechanism thereby, and it is only very rarely in their best interests to poison you in any way-- in fact they would prefer that you prosper, on the whole, and so they include compounds that might help you do that, typically. Plants would mostly like to discourage you from eating any other part of them, and they have evolved an amazing and amazingly varied array of ways of doing so, from killing you later that same day, to reducing your fertility and the fertility of your offspring.

They particularly have worked to protect their seeds, and this makes it hard for vegetarians to get enough fat without running a bit of a risk, despite all the detoxifying millenia of selective breeding and seed processing (as well, it must be admitted, as the selective force of things like seed hoarding) have been able to accomplish. From this point of view, avocados and olives appear as ideal fruit for vegetarians.
posted by jamjam at 9:34 AM on April 9, 2007

Thanks, clavicle! I'm not too surprised by the A in carrots. Aren't peppers a fruit, though? (whether or not the OP didn't intend to include peppers in his definition of "fruit").

I have heard that broccoli and other green vegetables have a lot of vitamin C, but am not sure whether that's really available in regular digestion, or whether cooking "removes" the vitamin C.

Also: One of the main reasons I've eaten fruit was for acid content, to aid my absorption of iron (i.e., I might have oranges and beets together, or spinach and grapefruit).
posted by amtho at 10:46 AM on April 9, 2007

As amtho pointed out, you can eat fruits and vegetables together. I really enjoy apples and walnuts in spinach salad, for example. But if you're eating a really wide variety of vegies, I don't think fruit is necessary. As many people have said, the whole fruit/vegetable distinction is botanically incorrect.
posted by oneirodynia at 10:53 AM on April 9, 2007

fruits, along with their healthy fibre, water, and vitamins, are also good for their antioxidant colour pigments (flavonoids). so make sure to eat colourful vegetables, like red cabbage, carrot, squash, and beets. you can also get flavonoids in green and black tea, dark chocolate, and red wine-- pretty much anything healthy that has a colour-adjective strongly associated with it.

also remember, if it has seeds, it's a fruit. cucumbers, squash, pumpkins, peppers, and tomatoes are all fruits. vegetables are any non-reproductive plant part (stalks, leaves, roots). so as others have mentioned, things we think of as vegetables are often fruits- you probably mean you don't like "sweet" fruits, i guess? but if you're eating beets, carrots, and tomatoes (for vitamin C and acid), i'm no nutritionist, but i'd venture to say that you're all good.
posted by twistofrhyme at 1:10 PM on April 9, 2007

You seem to be close to a macrobiotic diet -- maybe useful to google for "macrbiotic nutrition."

As other posters have pointed out, "fruit" and "vegetable" are pretty arbitrary categories when it comes to nutrition, and a nicely varied range of produce is the most important thing. One tip is to eat veggies of as many different bright colors as possible.

Another thing I'll mention is that varying the types of soy you eat is great for helping you digest & use protein -- especially useful would be to see if you like fermented soy (try tempeh, miso and natto if you can find them).
posted by allterrainbrain at 3:12 PM on April 9, 2007

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