Fruits and vegetables are often lumped into the same nutritional camp. You’ll see them recommended together almost all the time. Even our Formula 7 principle of “get 5-9 servings of fruits and vegetables per day” does this. However, there’s a catch here: they’re not exactly equal, and it’s important to know why.
While fruits and veggies are both wonderful for our diets, they do different things in the body. Veggies definitely take the cake when it comes to nutrition and health… and that’s why you want to eat them both but focus on more veggies than fruits.
Here are five of the top reasons it’s best to reach for those leafy greens before that banana or to cook up that artichoke more frequently than snacking on that apple:
1. Veggies Have More Nutrients
Vegetables typically contain a better nutritional profile than fruits. Now, don’t get us wrong: fruits and vegetables do tend to contain the same vitamins and minerals overall if you eat a variety. But veggies usually have a higher amount of those nutrients per serving. Some of those important micronutrients can include:
- Vitamin A
- Vitamin B
- Vitamin C
- And much more!
These micronutrients are important for healthy function of the nervous system, muscles, bones, eyes, immune system, and more. And since people tend to eat the same foods again and again (in fact, we recommend it), it’s better to keep that veggie intake high so you get that full spectrum of nutrients.
Plus, some of the nutrients that we closely associate with certain fruits can be found in higher amounts in vegetables. Vitamin C is a good example of this. Most people associate oranges with vitamin C, and they’re right—but you might not know broccoli has a little more vitamin C than oranges, and all bell peppers have way more!
Basically, veggies help you get more bang for your buck in the nutrient per calorie department, which is super for your overall health!
2. Veggies Have More Fiber
Although there are exceptions, most vegetables tend to have a higher fiber content that fruit. Fiber is an important part of a healthy diet; it keeps things in the digestive department moving at a regular rate (if you get what we mean). Fiber is also important for prevention of diseases like colon cancer.
Some of the highest fiber veggies (and their approximate fiber count per serving) include:
- Broccoli (5 grams)
- Green peas (9 grams)
- Artichokes (10 grams)
- Spinach (4 grams)
- Collard greens (4 grams)
- Brussels sprouts (4 grams)
In comparison, some of the most common fruits and their fiber amounts include:
- Bananas (3 grams)
- Strawberries (3 grams)
- Raisins (1 gram)
- Oranges (3 grams)
- Peaches (3 grams)
(Of course, there are some fruits that are an exception to this, such as raspberries and blackberries with a whopping 8 grams of fiber per cup!)
Let’s consider this in the context of the daily recommended amounts of fiber, which is at least 21-25 grams for women and 30-38 grams for men. Focusing on vegetables along with your whole foods-based diet can get you to that number and beyond sooner.
3. Fruits Have More Sugar
Obviously, there’s a difference between the sugar found in processed foods—like candy and soda—and the natural sugar found in fruits. For example, fruits do contain fiber, nutrients, phytonutrients, and antioxidants that are good for you, fill you up, and don’t affect your blood sugar like processed sugars do.
That being said, fruit does still contain the simple sugar fructose, and more sugar content (even natural) can mean the food will be more calorically dense. Most vegetables contain very low amounts of natural sugar, so you’re getting not only lower calories per serving but also more vitamins and minerals without the sugar content.
For some people, the natural sugar in fruit can also mess with their energy levels if their blood sugar rises too quickly. This can leave you feeling irritable or tired throughout the day, so be mindful of this if you’re sensitive to that. You might consider not only focusing more on veggies but also, when you have fruit, avoid those with a high glycemic index, such as watermelon.
4. Vegetables are More Protective
The protective effects of vegetables on our bodies have shown to be higher than that of fresh fruits, according to a study by the University College London that tracked over 65,000 people’s eating habits for 12 years.
This same study showed overall risk of death was lowered by 16 percent for each daily serving of fresh vegetables. For fresh fruit, it was 4 percent. Obviously, both are good for disease prevention—but veggies are better!
5. Greens are King
We have to give green, leafy veggies a gold star here. While all vegetables are great for a balanced diet, green vegetables pack a huge nutritional punch while being low in calories. So load up on the spinach, kale, and collard greens. (You can even include them at breakfast by blending up a green smoothie!)
The amazing nutritional benefits of leafy greens is enough to make vegetables shine above fruits in the diet.
Tip: Don’t Forget Frozen and Canned!
If you’re concerned about your vegetables going bad or having to go to the store too often for fresh ones, you might consider keeping some frozen and canned varieties in your house. It’s a common misunderstanding that fresh is always better. In fact, sometimes sometimes frozen or canned can be better!
After a vegetable is picked, the nutrients begin to break down immediately and a significant amount of micronutrients can be lost just within a couple days. Frozen vegetables are often frozen within hours of being picked, and freezing locks in those nutrients.
The same goes for some canned vegetables: they’re packed quickly after picking. There’s another benefit too, though—sometimes the canning process can unbinds beta carotene (found in pumpkin and carrots) from the vegetable, which makes them easier to absorb when you eat them.
Note: just make sure any canned vegetables you get are packed in water, have no added sugar, and have low or no salt.
Bottom line when it comes to fruits and vegetables: eat a lot of both, in a diversity of colors, just focus more on vegetables—especially leafy greens. A good baseline would be 5-6 servings of veggies per day and 3-4 servings of fruits.