Is It a Fruit or a Vegetable?

Photo courtesy of morguefile.com

My kids have a computer game that keeps them entertained during road trips. One of my kids thinks of an object and then the hand-held computerized game poses a series of “yes/no/sometimes” questions to try to guess their thoughts.

Although they try hard to trick the computer, usually it deduces the answer correctly.

Sometimes my job is a little like that game. I try to figure out answers to questions, although usually not as well as the hand-held computer.

Here’s an example posed by a child during an Extension Service nutrition education class. “If corn is a vegetable, then why is cornmeal in the grain group? Aren’t they made out of the same thing?”

Yes, that was a good “head-scratching” question. That child was thinking.

As we teach about foods, we want our participants to be able to classify foods. We would like them to know where foods fit in the scheme of a healthy diet.

Another child had learned that fruits have seeds. “If fruits have seeds, then why are tomatoes in the vegetable group? Tomatoes have seeds, too. Does that make cucumbers and squash fruits, too?”

After a while your head starts hurting.

The answer to whether it is a fruit or vegetable depends on your perspective. If you are looking at tomatoes and cucumbers as a botanist, yes, they’re fruits. They’re “the mature ovaries of a plant.”

Vegetables, on the other hand, usually are roots, stems and leaves. Carrots, onions, lettuce and potatoes fit the description. In MyPlate, our latest nutrition guide, however, you’ll find squash, pumpkin and cucumbers in the vegetable section.

We in nutrition usually don’t think of fruits as “mature ovaries.” We classify foods based on their typical use in recipes and menus. Tomatoes generally are used in salads or pasta sauces, so we consider them vegetables.

What about corn and cornmeal? Corn is considered a starchy vegetable. Cornmeal, on the other hand, is in the grain group and is used in breadlike items, such as muffins.

If you’re taking a botany class, you will want to know the right answers for an exam. If you’re in a nutrition class, you’ll need to change your perspective.

Overall, we in nutrition really don’t mind if you count your tomatoes as fruits. Bottom line: We really want you to eat more fruits and vegetables for all their health benefits.

We also encourage you to enjoy a wider variety of colorful fruits and vegetables. People fall short of the orange and dark green subcategories of vegetables, so make a point of adding more squash, sweet potatoes, dark green leafy lettuce and broccoli to your plate.

Here’s a nutrient-packed recipe from the University of Connecticut Extension Service. It features a botanical fruit used as a vegetable. For more information about nutrition, visit our new Web site at http://www.ndsu.edu/eatsmart.

Squash Soup

1 Tbsp. olive oil
2 medium onions, chopped
2 medium carrots, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 c. canned tomato puree
5 c. chicken or vegetable broth, low-sodium
4 c. winter squash, cooked
1 1/2 Tbsp. dried oregano
1 1/2 Tbsp. dried basil

Bake or cook squash until soft and refrigerate until ready to use. In a large saucepan, warm oil over medium heat. Stir in onions, carrots and garlic. Cook for about five minutes, covered. Stir in the tomato puree, chicken broth, cooked squash and herbs. Bring soup to a simmer, cover and cook for 30 minutes.

Makes six servings. Each serving has 150 calories, 3 grams (g) of fat, 28 g of carbohydrate, 7 g of fiber, 220 percent of the daily recommendation for vitamin A (as beta carotene) and 50 percent of the daily recommendation for vitamin C.

 

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