Have you ever wondered if a tomato is a fruit or a vegetable? And what is the difference between the two? Here’s a breakdown of what makes fruits and vegetables unique.
Fruits vs. Vegetables
Most fruits contain seeds, which makes them capable of developing into new plants. A fruit is a matured and ripened ovary of a plant, which is why it contains seeds for plant reproduction.
Most vegetables lack seeds, which makes them different than a fruit, though some vegetables are used in plant reproduction. A vegetable can also be any edible part of the plant, not just the ovary.
Vegetables that are Fruits
There are exceptions to these rules listed above. We know that some vegetables have seeds, so they are technically a fruit. This is why tomatoes and cucumbers are classified as fruits, even though they aren’t sweet like most fruits. If we follow this rule, avocadoes, bell peppers, pumpkins, squash, pea pods, zucchini, and olives should be classified as fruits.
Believe it or not, nuts and grains are also considered fruits. Why? It is because we are eating their seeds. When we eat nuts, we throw away the shell and eat the seed inside (which is the actual nut). When we eat grains, we are eating the entire seed of the plant.
Exceptions to the Rule
To further add to this debate, there are other exceptions to this rule. There are fruits with no visible seeds (like bananas). There are also fruits that have their seeds on the outside of the fruit (like strawberries).
Can a Fruit be a Vegetable? Or is a Vegetable a Fruit?
Most fruits contain a naturally occurring sugar called fructose, which gives a fruit its sweet flavor. This sweetness attracts birds and other animals. Once animals eat the fruit, its seeds can then be dispersed, allowing for new plants to grow. Vegetables contain less fructose, which is why they are not as sweet. So while a fruit can technically be a vegetable (like tomatoes), a vegetable cannot be a fruit.
So Who Wins This Debate?
We now know that fruits are the ripened ovaries of a plant that typically contain seeds. Vegetables are any edible parts of the plant, not just the ovaries. So if you get into an argument with your co-worker over whether or not a tomato is a fruit or vegetable, the answer is that you are both right! The real winner is the person that eats a large variety of fruits and vegetables as part of their daily diet. The health benefits of consuming both fruits and vegetables are numerous, and include decreased risk of heart disease, stroke, and cancer. So fill up your plate with fruits and vegetable and call them what you like!
Carmen Roberts, M.S., R.D., L.D.N., is a registered dietitian, receiving her undergraduate degree in dietetics from James Madison University and her master’s degree in health education and administration from Towson University. She is a certified specialist in adult weight management and teaches cooking classes. Carmen enjoys educating her clients about how nutrition affects the body and its role in overall health and wellness. She also loves volunteering, including as a Girl Scout troop leader.