Fruits and vegetables are, in general, low in calories and fat but high in vitamins, minerals and dietary fiber. Because fruits contain the natural sugar fructose, they offer more calories per serving than vegetables. It is recommended that most adults consume approximately 2 cups of fruits and 2.5 cups of vegetables daily.
Vegetables are categorized into five subgroups, based on their nutrient content and include: dark green, starchy, orange, dried beans and peas, and other vegetables. Examples of dark green vegetables are bok choy, spinach and broccoli. Starchy vegetables include potatoes, lima beans, peas and corn. Vegetables in the 'orange' category include pumpkin, acorn/butternut squash, yams and carrots. Dried peas and beans such as kidney beans, black beans, soybeans and lentils are often categorized as vegetables. Other vegetables include asparagus, bell peppers, cucumbers and eggplant.
Nutrients in Vegetables
Vegetables are sources of many nutrients, especially potassium, folate, the antioxidant vitamins A and E, and dietary fiber. These nutrients help support body function in many ways, which makes vegetables an important component of a healthy diet. For example, potassium helps to maintain healthy blood pressure, folate (folic acid) helps with red blood cell production, vitamin A enhances immune function, and vitamin E protects cells from free radicals.
Unlike vegetables, fruits are not categorized into subgroups, though there are different types such as citrus, berries and melons. Each type offers different qualities, flavors and nutrients. The caloric content of fruits are generally higher than that of vegetables, and average about 60 to 80 calories per serving, less than 1g of fat, with no cholesterol. Fruits canned in syrup or juice are higher in calories due to added sugars.
Nutrients in Fruit
Major nutrient contributions of fruits include potassium, folate and dietary fiber. Where vegetables are an excellent food source of vitamins A/beta-carotene and E, fruits offer more substantial amounts of another antioxidant nutrient— vitamin C. Vitamin C helps heal cuts and wounds and keeps teeth and gums healthy. It also aids in iron absorption, protects the body's cells from oxidative damage due to free radicals, and enhances immune system function.
Antioxidants and phytochemicals, disease-fighting nutrients found in plant foods, offer protection against cellular damage (which may lead to tumor formation). Fruits and vegetables are particularly high in anti-cancer nutrients. According to the American Cancer Society, those that offer the most protection against the development of cancer include citrus fruits, and red fruits and vegetables such as berries, red onions, watermelon, pomegranate and beets. Cruciferous vegetables, such as cabbage, onions, garlic, cauliflower and broccoli offer phytochemicals that directly inhibit the growth of cancer cells and development of tumors.