If you read pretty much any advice on healthful eating, you will probably see the line to “eat plenty of fruits and vegetables.” The two food categories are often linked together, but what’s the difference between fruits and vegetables and the proper fruit vs. vegetable ratio for your diet?
It’s easy enough to get fruits into your diet, as they are naturally sweet and delicious, but many people have trouble eating enough vegetables. The trick is to eat both and keep your plate colorful to maximize your nutrition intake.
Fruit vs. Vegetable: What’s the Difference?
Fruits and vegetables are cornerstones of a healthy, nutritious diet, but what’s the difference between the two? Although most people classify the two foods based on their taste, with fruits being sweet and vegetables more savory, that’s not technically correct.
The fruit vs. vegetable classification goes by which part of the plant it comes from. Fruits come from the flowers of the plant, while vegetables come from other parts of the plant. Another distinction is that fruits contain seeds, and vegetables contain leaves and stems.
Optimal Ratio of Fruits vs. Veggies
The U.S. Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends that fruits and vegetables make up half of your plate at each meal. We are told to consume about five servings per day, or 800 grams, but is there an optimal ratio of fruit vs. vegetable?
Well, the answer to this question depends on whom you ask. The American Heart Association, for example, suggests filling at least half of your plate with fruits and vegetables at each meal.
Because fruits generally contain more sugars and calories, the ideal ratio may be closer to two servings of fruit and three servings of vegetables (or more) per day. You can certainly overdo it on fruit consumption and consume way more calories than you realized in one sitting.
Vegetables are generally lower in calories and rich in nutrients, so you can certainly load up on those leafy greens and hydrating veggies, like cucumbers.
The truth is that most of us don’t have a hard time consuming enough fruits in a day because they are sweet and satisfying. There’s even a “fruitarian diet” that involves eating fruit all day long.
However, veggies are often something many have to purposely add onto their plates. If you have a hard time getting high-quality fresh veggies, opt for frozen vegetables that you can add to meals easily. Keep them in your freezer so you always have a veggie portion ready to go.
Fruits Often Mistaken as Vegetables (and Vice Versa)
You probably have a good idea of what’s a fruit and what’s a vegetable. The sweetness of fruit is refreshing, adored by children, and often added to baked goods or summer salads. Veggies, on the other hand, are typically seasoned and added to savory dishes, like stir-fries, casseroles or soups.
There are some fruits, though, that are often mistaken as vegetables. Here’s a list of fruits that are often mistaken for (and cooked like) vegetables:
- tomato (which are actually classified as vegetables, even though they are technically fruit)
Although the fruit vs. vegetable mixup is usually related to fruits being mistaken for veggies, there aren’t many (or any) fruits that are wrongfully classified. Some vegetables have a sweeter taste than others, but botanically they are still considered veggies because they don’t come from the flower of the plant, don’t have seeds, and do contain a stem or leaves.
Some sweet vegetables include sweet potato, rutabagas and beets. These veggies are often used to make sweet desserts or to add sweetness to salads, soups and more.
In general, fruits and vegetables are part of a healthy diet because they contain high concentrations of fiber, vitamins and minerals (especially electrolytes), along with phytochemicals that provide antioxidants.
Both food groups are also naturally low in sodium, generally low in fat and have a high water content. Fruits tend to be higher in calories and contain more natural sugars than vegetables.
We are often told to “eat the rainbow” because different colored fruits and vegetables feature different nutrients. Citrus fruits, for example, provide vitamin C and beta-carotene, berries feature anti-inflammatory anthocyanins, and leafy greens are rich in lutein. These nutrients have unique benefits that promote optimal health.
It’s because of their nutrition content that many fruits and vegetables are considered superfoods, including the following:
- goji berries
- acai berries
- broccoli rabe
- sweet potatoes
1. Help Fight Disease
There’s plenty of scientific evidence proving that consuming a range of fruits and vegetables helps fight disease. One review found that low intake of fruits and vegetables is associated with chronic conditions, including:
- cardiovascular disease
- high blood pressure
- high cholesterol
- many types of cancer
- respiratory conditions
- mental health issues
Getting about five servings per day helps support optimal health, but researchers suggest that the best fruits and vegetables for fighting disease include cruciferous veggies, leafy greens, citrus fruits and dark-colored berries.
2. Support Weight Management
Fruits and vegetables are generally pretty low in calories, but they are filling and pack a nutrition punch. Research suggests that crowding these health-promoting foods into your diet can help you to maintain a healthy weight.
One study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that consuming fruits and vegetables has a beneficial effect on weight management and works to mitigate genetically associated increases in body mass index.
3. Rich in Fiber
- aiding digestion
- reducing the risk of colorectal cancer
- maintaining healthy cholesterol levels
- maintaining healthy weight
- reducing the risk of diabetes and heart disease
- helping us live longer
Fruits and vegetables are both high in soluble fiber, which forms a gel-like substance that’s fermented by bacteria in the colon. Consuming plenty of soluble fiber supports healthy digestion, gut health and immune system health.
4. Provide Antioxidants
There’s plenty of research indicating that the benefits of fruits and vegetables come from their nutrition content, as they are naturally high in antioxidants, vitamins and phytochemicals.
Antioxidants are substances that inhibit oxidation that can lead to disease. Consuming antioxidant foods helps:
- slow signs of aging
- support detoxification
- protect the body against heart disease and cognitive problems
- promote a longer life span
There are many types of antioxidants found in fruits and vegetables, including lutein, anthocyanins, beta-carotene, flavoniods and quercetin.
Risks and Side Effects
Are their risks and potential side effects of eating fruits and vegetables? Not unless you have a food allergy.
They are extremely good for you and help prevent disease while promoting healthy aging.
To reiterate, keep in mind that fruit isn’t sugar- or calorie-free, so while two to three servings per day is excellent for your health, you don’t want to take it too far.
- Fruits and vegetables are a cornerstone a healthy, nutritious diet.
- How do you tell the difference between a fruit vs. vegetable? Fruits come from flowers of plants. Vegetables come from other parts.
- In addition, fruits contain seeds, while veggies contain leaves and stems.
- The optimal fruit vs. vegetable intake isn’t clear-cut, but two to three servings of each per day (or more) is recommended. In fact, experts recommend fruits and veggies should comprise half of your plate at each meal. If you had to decide between fruit vs. vegetable intake, it’s probably better to consume slightly veggies since fruit is higher in sugar.
- Thanks to their high nutrient content, including vitamin, minerals, antioxidants and fiber, fruits and veggies help fight disease, support healthy weight management and generally help improve all aspects of health.