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Vegetables don’t actually exist. But here’s why you should eat them anyway

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The rumors are true: vegetables aren’t real, at least not in botany.

Although the term fruit is botanically recognized as anything that contains a seed or seeds, vegetable is actually a broad umbrella term for many types of edible plants.

You may think you know what carrots and beets are. Carrots, beets and other vegetables that grow in the ground are actually the true roots of plants. Lettuce and spinach are the leaves, while celery and asparagus are the stems, and vegetables such as broccoli, artichokes and cauliflowers are immature flowers, according to Steve Reiners, professor of horticulture at Cornell University’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

As for products that grow from flowers, such as peppers and tomatoes, the much-discussed crops are botanically classified as fruits, Reiners added. Cucumbers, pumpkins, eggplant and avocados are also classified as fruits because of their anatomy, according to the European Food Information Council.

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Vegetables are classified as the roots, stems, leaves and flowers of edible plants.

The term vegetable has no set definition when it comes to botany. However, in horticulture, the science of growing garden crops, a vegetable is defined as any herbaceous plant – a fleshy plant that completes its life cycle in one growing season – in which part of it ‘is eaten cooked or raw for the most part. of the meal, and not as a snack or dessert,” says Reiners.

The legal definition of a vegetable versus a fruit – at least in the United States – was established during a 19th century U.S. Supreme Court case that concluded that the tomato is a vegetable.

Although vegetables are really just the roots, stems and leaves of plants, experts don’t recommend eating just any roots, stems and leaves.

An example is rhubarb. The fleshy stem is the edible part of the plant, but the leaves are poisonous, Reiners said. Stay safe by eating plants that grocery stores commonly call vegetables.

“We know (vegetables) are healthy. We know the vitamin content, we know the mineral content,” says Reiners. “We know how much fiber is in it.

“We also know that the vegetables you grow or buy at a farmer’s market or grocery store are safe to eat,” he said.

Understanding the different parts of vegetables and the nutrients they contain can help people eat well, according to Sherri Stastny, a registered dietitian and professor in the department of health, nutrition and exercise sciences at North Dakota State University.

A head of broccoli is a great source of nutrients, but the stem of the greens, which is more often thrown away, is also rich in fiber and nutrients, Stastny said. Regular consumption of flowery foods such as broccoli and cauliflower has been found to be associated with a decrease in cancer risk, she added.

“Heart disease is still the number 1 cause of death in the United States, and we know that if you eat enough fruits and vegetables, you lower your risk of heart disease – and that goes along with obesity, diabetes and all these other chronic diseases,” Stastny said.

It’s important to eat a variety of vegetables because each vegetable contains different beneficial nutrients, she added. Dark leafy greens like spinach and kale are great sources of certain phytonutrients, natural plant nutrients that are beneficial to human health and help maintain sharp eye vision, while carrots help boost night vision.

“If you think of the richest, darkest and most colorful vegetables, you will find those (nutrients),” Stastny said, while potassium-rich fruits and vegetables, such as potatoes, squash and pumpkin, could help lower and maintain blood pressure .

For parents who want to get young children into eating their fruits and vegetables, breaking down the plant’s anatomy while describing its colors, taste and texture can be a fun and educational way to introduce the nutrient-rich food to early explorers.

“Start them young,” Stastny said. “If you introduce children to vegetables at a younger age, they are more likely to eat vegetables throughout their lives and therefore reduce the risk of chronic diseases.”