Fruits and vegetables are great for your health and are associated with “eating healthy”. However, some foods you think of as vegetables might actually be a type of fruit, which can get confusing!
There are several differences between fruits and vegetables, including their nutritional profiles, taste, and culinary uses. The main thing that sets them apart botanically: fruits have seeds and vegetables don’t! We’ll explain more about the differences between fruits and vegetables in this article.
Botanical differences between fruits and vegetables
Fruits and vegetables are both plant-based foods, but what classifies them as a fruit or a vegetable? It has nothing to do with their sweetness, as evidenced by tomatoes and avocados (both types of fruit)!
Botanically speaking (the more scientific classification of what separates fruits and vegetables), fruits develop from the flower of a plant, which plays a role in the plant’s reproductive cycle. Vegetables, on the other hand, come from parts of the plant that aren’t involved with the reproductive cycle of the plant.
Another way to differentiate vegetables from fruit: “anything that grows on a plant and is the means by which that plant gets its seeds out into the world is a fruit” (according to Merriam-Webster). So that’s why tomatoes and avocados are considered a fruit – they contain the seeds!
Another tip (because it truly gets confusing!) – fruit tends to have seeds, whereas vegetables consist of leaves, roots, stems, and tubers!
Nutritional differences between fruits and vegetables
Fruits and vegetables are both primarily made of carbohydrates, one of three macronutrients your body uses to obtain energy. Carbohydrates are then broken down into three types:
While both fruits and vegetables are generally good sources of fiber, one of the main differences between fruit and vegetables is their sugar content. Fruit tends to be higher in sugar than vegetables, and vegetables tend to be higher in starch than fruit. (Unripe fruit is higher in starch, which changes to sugar as the fruit ripens.)
Speaking of starch, the term “starchy vegetables” refers to vegetables that are higher in starch compared to others. Here are a few examples of starchy vegetables:
- Corn (not actually a vegetable; we’ll explain soon!)
- Beans (garbanzo beans, black beans, etc.)
Fruit and vegetables aren’t generally a great source of protein or fat. The main exceptions regarding fat are avocados and coconuts, which are high-fat fruits.
Let’s look at a few examples including a non-starchy vegetable (broccoli), a starchy vegetable (white potato), a high-fat fruit (avocado), and a typical “regular” fruit (apple).
|100-gram serving||Calories||Fat||Total carbs||Fiber||Sugar||Protein|
|Broccoli||34||0.4 g||7 g||2.6 g||1.7 g||2.8 g|
|White potato||77||0.1 g||17 g||2.2 g||0.8 g||2 g|
|Avocado||167||15.4 g||8.6 g||6.8 g||0.3 g||2 g|
|Apple||52||0.2 g||14 g||2.4 g||10 g||0.3 g|
Culinary differences between fruits and vegetables
Culinary-wise, fruit is generally used in sweet dishes or to complement savory flavors. Some sweet examples: fruit salad, fruit pies, and ice cream. For savory, some examples: adding strawberries to salads with vegetables and savory protein like chicken, and to top Hawaiian pizza along with Canadian bacon and cheese.
Vegetables are generally used in more savory dishes like soups/stews, salads, and casseroles, among many other uses.
Vegetables (particularly non-starchy vegetables) are more common in lower-carb cooking and keto dishes because they are usually lower in carbs than fruit.
Fruits that are commonly mistaken for vegetables
Since most people consider fruits to be sweet (wouldn’t it be nice if it was that simple?), there are many fruits that are commonly mistaken for vegetables. Let’s look at several fruits many think of as fruits (and they are also used more like vegetables culinary-wise)!
- Bell peppers
- Chili peppers
- Corn (also considered a grain, corn is technically a fruit even though it’s considered a starchy “vegetable”)
- Olives (the pits contain the seed!)
As you can see, these fruits are used in more savory ways culinary-wise and aren’t very sweet, which is why many of us associate them with vegetables. And interestingly enough, there really aren’t any vegetables that are mistaken as fruit!
Jalapenos are a fruit because they contain seeds and come from a flower!
Bell peppers are a type of fruit – just look at all of the seeds they contain!