Are Vegetables Not Real?


Recent CNN Food article carries an eye catching headline, ‘There’s actually no such thing as vegetables’. “While the term fruit is recognized botanically as anything that contains a seed or seeds, vegetable is actually a broad umbrella term for many types of edible plants,” writes Taylor Nicioli, the author of the article.

Steve Reiners, a professor of horticulture at Cornell University’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, told CNN that the carrots, beets, and similar root crops that we classify as vegetables are actually the roots of plants. Meanwhile, lettuce and spinach are considered leaves, celery and asparagus are stems, and vegetables like broccoli and cauliflower are the premature flowers of plants. Likewise, peppers and tomatoes are botanically classified as fruits.

The European Food Information Council classifies the cucumbers, squash, eggplant and avocados as fruit due to their anatomy.

Then, what are vegetables?

According to Reiners, botanically speaking, there is no precise definition of the term “vegetables”, but in horticulture it refers to herbaceous plants that complete their life cycle within a single season, which are primarily consumed as part of a meal, rather than as snacks or deserts.

The legal definition of a vegetable versus a fruit — at least in the United States — was determined during a 19th century US Supreme Court case that concluded that the tomato is a vegetable.

-CNN Food

Reiners, further added to CNN:

  • “We know (vegetables) are healthy. We know the vitamin content, we know the mineral content. We know how much fiber is in all of it.
  • “We also know that the vegetables that you either grow or you’re purchasing at a farmers market or grocery store are safe to eat.

Vegetables in our diets

Sherri Stastny, a registered dietitian and a professor in the department of health, nutrition and exercises sciences at North Dakota State University, told CNN Food that understanding the nutritional content in various vegetables can help us eat a healthy diet. For example, while the broccoli flowers are commonly consumed, but its stems that are loaded with fiber and nutrients are often discarded. Cruciferous vegetables, like broccoli, cauliflowers and others are linked to reduced risks of cancers. Like wise, spinach and kale, rich in phytonutrients, support eye health, while carrots are known to enhance night vision.

Stastny told CNN Foods, “If you think of the richest, darkest, most colorful vegetables, that’s where you’re going to find those (nutrients), while potassium-rich vegetables and fruit, such as potatoes, pumpkin and squash, could help to lower and maintain blood pressure”.

“Start them young. If you introduce children to vegetables at a younger age … they’re more likely to eat vegetables throughout their lifespan and therefore decrease the risk of chronic disease,” she added.