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What do you count as a vegetable?

I'm asking this primarily from the perspective of a nutrition standpoint as opposed to a scientific classification basis.

In addition to excluding starchy "veggies" like potatoes, corn, green beans, and peas - I also am prone to discounting vegetables that have been pickled from "veggie" classifications since I view them as having lost many nutrients and gained a lot of salt. While I view vegetables that have been fried or are covered with cheese as less healthy ways of eating vegetables - I have a hard time of even considering a pickle as a vegetable. Also, while I know that an avocado is a vegetable and has positive health attributes - I end up thinking about them like nuts as being healthy in moderation due to their fat content.

Is this just the result of growing up with a dietitian as a mother who defines foods as "real" and "fake" vegetables - or are there other people out there who do this?

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  1. I am a very healthy eater and eat a lot as an endurance sports athlete. I try and track my daily consumption by breaking down the foods I eat into categories similair to what you are doing (i think)- fruits (carbs), grains, veggies, protein, dairy and fats.
    The 'veggies' that I put into the carbs category are potatoes (although I only eat sweet potatoes not white potatoes), corn, peas, squash, beans (including lentils, garbanzo) and beets are the ones that I can think of off the top of my head. Avocados I categories as fats but keep in mind my category of fats are all healthy fats- nuts, olive/canola oils, seeds, flax, fatty fish, etc.

    1 Reply
    1. re: forzagto

      Yeah, I'm gonna guess that this is just the result of an over health conscious mind. I forgot to count lettuce and celery as "non vegetables" because they have little to no nutritional value.

    2. Green beans as a starchy veg? Avocado I do think of as a fat, but the vitamin/mineral profile is also good. Agree about corn, peas and potatoes as starches but they are still heads and shoulders above processed white starches. The closer to the origin works for me in making my hierarchy.

      1. Do you classify ketchup as a vegetable?

        3 Replies
        1. re: comestina

          No - with the exception of salsa - most condiments, despite many having veggies in them, fail to meet "veggie" classification.

          I'm quick to admit that this comes from how I was raised. When I was 11 I asked my mom if I could have onion rings - and she just gave me a look that continues to give me a sense of shame if I'm in the vicinity of them.

          1. re: cresyd

            I think you missed the joke. During the Reagan administration, one bureaucracy in the Federal government tried to classify "ketchup" as a vegetable, so that a school lunch of hamburger and fries would meet the federal guidelines of "meat and two vegetables". An obscure talk show host by the name of Johnny Carson had a field day - field month, actually - with this.

            1. re: KevinB

              Ah, well there's a bit o' age showing. During the Regan administration my bedtime didn't come within a sniff of Johnny.

        2. My father died recently at 93. The only "vegetable" I ever saw him eat, besides potatoes, was V-8 juice.

          1 Reply
          1. re: jimingso

            Interesting to hear, jimingso.
            Makes you wonder whether your father was able to get away with that just by virtue of superior genes.
            We've all been indoctrinated with the notion that you must eat multiple servings of veggies every day to keep in good health. I have to wonder how much of that is valid, and how much is just propaganda (like the dairy products propaganda).

            Veggies are certainly less expensive than many other alternative sources of nutrients, so they're worth including in the diet for reason alone.

          2. Avocados are, technically, fruits. Green beans are not starchy vegetables.

            Vegetables are, broadly speaking, the roots, stalks, leaves, flowers and immature seeds (like green corn aka sweet corn) or seed pods (like green snap beans) of vegetable plants.

            Then you have mature seeds, nuts and fruits.

            But the definition of what a vegetable is has nothing to do with its nutritional profile.

            Look at things from the perspective of a gardener rather than a dietician.

            And pickled vegetables have nutritional value - they've been used for centuries to prevent diseases like scurvy (sauerkraut, famously so).

            2 Replies
            1. re: Karl S

              Karl S is right on target with his definition of vegetable. A vegetable is an edible plant. Whether you chose to eat some and eliminate others merely because of their nutritional value has no bearing on the definition of the word.

              1. re: Karl S

                Yes, pickled vegetables used to be what got people through the winter without becoming malnourished.

              2. I also think about veggies in the same way as you do. I consider things like potatoes, squashes, etc. starches. If I eat a bowl of mashed potatoes, I don't consider it having eaten my veggies. I don't think string beans are in the same category with potatoes and corn, though. And while avocado is technically a fruit, it's a fat for my purposes. I will never eat an entire avocado in one sitting but have smaller amounts of it. And certain pickles do actually have very good health probiotic benefits -- depends on how they're made.

                As I said in another thread today, DH has a very narrow definition of vegetable -- it has to be dark green, leafy and crunchy. He would never consider braised collards as a vegetable, even though it is dark green and leafy because it has been cooked to death.

                1. Interesting question to ponder. I agree that pickles and potatoes are definitely not, and feel better when avocados are considered a fat. I guess I consider peas and corn to be vegetables but can understand an argument that classifies them a 'lesser' vegetables. I never considered green beans to be anything 'less' which makes me wonder what the qualifying characteristics are (glycemic index, ratio of nutrients per calorie). I wonder what type of squash forzagto had in mind though. I don't consider acorn sqash for example to be as much of a vegetable as, say zuchinni. Maybe that classification has only to do with how each feels in my mouth...while I'm at it, same goes for eggplant. Hmmmm...intersting...


                  1 Reply
                  1. re: enbell

                    Squash as a carb/starch may have been stretching it a bit but ones like acorn and butternut I have sort of lumped in with sweet potaotes; carbs but good ones. Eggplant I categorize as a veggie and spaghetti squash is definitely not a carb and I actually use it very often as a replacement for pasta in low carb meals.

                  2. Mostly, I don't think much of it makes a lot of sense. Anything deep fried has been compromised from a nutrition standpoint whether a vegetable or not.

                    If you pick a decent cheese, you might actually create a more healthful dish overall by adding calcium and protein to a good vegetable.

                    Pickles also haven't lost any nutrients, by the way, just gained the sodium...they're still pretty good for you overall and if you're not eating ridiculous amounts of sodium all the time, they're a great addition to a lunch.

                    According to Nutrition Data, Lettuce is: also a good source of Protein, Calcium, Magnesium and Phosphorus, and a very good source of Dietary Fiber, Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Vitamin K, Thiamin, Riboflavin, Vitamin B6, Folate, Iron, Potassium and Manganese.

                    and Celery is: a good source of Riboflavin, Vitamin B6, Pantothenic Acid, Calcium, Magnesium and Phosphorus, and a very good source of Dietary Fiber, Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Vitamin K, Folate, Potassium and Manganese.

                    8 Replies
                    1. re: ccbweb

                      The body can't absorb celery. Much like the iron in spinach - it doesn't matter how much "goodness" celery may contain, your body doesn't see any of it. One would require the cow stomach system to make the most of celery.

                      And lettuce...first of all, there's not one kind of lettuce. Also, once you start counting the protein and iron in lettuce, we are talking negligible amounts. But iceberg and other types of lettuce that are lighter in color (such as romaine), hardly contain nutrients at a level that are significant.

                      And while a moderate addition of certain cheeses to a vegetable might add some protein, that protein usually comes with a considerable amount of fat and is not a complex protein.

                      Now, I never said that pickled vegetables lost nutrients - just for some reason things such as kimchee, pickles, chutneys, etc don't end up equaling vegetable in my brain. If my original question makes no sense, it originated from the thread about "foreign" food tasting better in the US than it's country of origin. There's been much back n forth about Mexican food and vegetables - and as a "vegetable" guacamole/avocados got a call out. Personally, avocados rank up there with olive oil - and not as a fruit/vegetable so I was curious what other people's personal opinions were.

                      1. re: cresyd

                        In that context, it makes quite a lot more sense as a question, yeah!

                        I went with a green leaf lettuce.

                        Never heard/read that about celery...any idea why that is?

                        1. re: ccbweb

                          Yeah, I was trying to avoid starting a "let's bash avocados" post. Because there's nothing like a great avocado - but there's also nothing like a great olive oil. Doesn't mean I want to lump that with broccoli.

                          Anyways, when I was thinking about it more - I realized that if I were to eat a salad with raw greens it doesn't mentally mean the same thing to me as eating kimchee or other pickled veggies.

                          But the reason the human body can't digest it (and it actually ends up leading to 0 or negative calories when consumed) is because of its cellulose composition. Celery also holds the odd distinction of being rather high in sodium.

                        2. re: cresyd

                          Do you have a link that backs up your claim that the body can't use the nutrients in celery? I found many links that touted celery's benefits, and not one that supported your assertion.

                          1. re: KevinB

                            I, too have heard the myth of negative calories in celery but have also read studies disproving it. Not that all that the gov't says is true, but this is iff the USDA website...no negative calories here.


                            Vitamin E
                            Whether it comes from foods or supplements, vitamin E seems to help ward off seasonal allergy symptoms. You’ll find it in green leafy vegetables (spinach, kale, etc.), beans, apples, carrots, celery, wheat germ and nuts. Researchers suspect that vitamin E stops your immune system from overreacting to pollens or other allergens.


                            more info: http://hubpages.com/hub/Health_Benefi...

                            1. re: enbell

                              There are calories in celery. The issue is that it requires as much effort on the human body to digest the celery that the sum total is 0.

                              1. re: cresyd

                                Yes, I have *heard* that too, but have yet to come accross a scientific study to prove that. If you know of one, I'd love to read it though.

                          2. re: cresyd

                            I thought there was a vast difference in Iceberg lettuce and Romaine lettuce (regarding nutrition).

                        3. There are a variety of food combining charts which separate starches and vegetables. Here's one example.

                          1. you can rest assured there are plenty of us who do it :)

                            it's funny that you mentioned your 'pickled' issue - i'm the same way!

                            i'm also with you on the potatoes, corn and peas, but green beans aren't starchy vegetables.

                            as for avocado, it's technically a fruit, not a vegetable...but i always put it in the "fats" category.

                            1. I consider carrot cake and zucchini bread vegetables ;-)

                              Seriously, I don't consider potatoes to be vegetables, though technically they are (and I agree with Karl S's definition of vegetable). But pickles, sauerkraut, etc. are definitely veggies. And I don't overanalyze vegetable categorization (or obsess about how many servings I've had today). I KNOW when I've eaten something that's healthy and when I've eaten something that isn't. Therefore, I wouldn't be patting myself on the back if I ate cheese fries, onion rings, and corn on the cob for lunch (technically, a 3-veg lunch).

                              BTW, I have never eaten cheese fries in my life. And I do love fries!

                              17 Replies
                              1. re: nofunlatte

                                Although I consider pickles, sauerkraut and kimchi vegetables, I don't put them in the same health category as fresh or raw vegetables. If I eat only pickles, I feel like I haven't had my vegetable servings that day. I kind of ignore them when I am doing my vegetable accounting.

                                1. re: moh

                                  Interesting. I've had days where my entire vegetable consumption has been sauerkraut (lots of it, not just one little serving). I've always thought it was kind of a health tonic! Must be the german in me.

                                  1. re: nofunlatte

                                    Nofunlatte, don't get me wrong, I am not claiming that I am correct in my assessment of pickled vegetables! I think I've been brainwashed into believing that the healthiest vegetables are raw or minimally cooked or processed. It is just a strange perception I have about "healthy vegetables". I have the same bias about canned vegetables, somehow canned vegetables seem nutritionally inferior to a raw vegetable.

                                    Pickles just taste so good, it is hard for me to believe that they aren't bad for you! But I also wonder about all the vinegar and salt and acidity.

                                    At any rate, I try to balance the simple vegetables with the more processed vegetables.

                                    I'd be happy if anyone felt the need to debunk my perception...

                                    1. re: moh

                                      moh, just enjoy your pickles and kimchi and sauerkraut. You are getting some good nutrition with them! Vitamins, fiber, etc. are still retained. I think the issue with pickled foods is the sodium content.

                                      1. re: moh

                                        I wonder, is there ANYTHING bad about kimchi other than the salt? I also wonder if there is a huge nutritional difference between kimchi that's been pickled with salted fish or with vinegar.

                                        1. re: bitsubeats

                                          I would think the chili spices could pose a problem over time depending on the person. A small amount is OK, but Koreans do eat quite a bit of spicy food.

                                          1. re: Miss Needle

                                            isn't spicy food good for you? At least mom says it is....it helps you sweat out the toxins

                                            1. re: bitsubeats

                                              Spicy food is good for you depending on the person. If you're the type of person who gets overheated, spiciness can cause a lot of problems. A friend of mine literally gets acne 15 minutes after ingesting anything spicy. And if I eat really, really spicy food, I end up paying for it on the porcelain toilet later. Problem is I love really, really spicy food.

                                            2. re: Miss Needle

                                              Have any of you heard about a connection between chiles and stomach cancer? I know there is a certain genetic predisposition to gastric cancer amongst the Korean/Japanese population, but i also wonder about the irritation caused by a regularly spicy diet. Please take note, I am merely speculating, I haven't seriously researched this. I am merely asking.

                                              1. re: moh

                                                Yeah, I've heard of that. I think there are a lot of views, and perhaps they all contribute to the gastric cancer thing. Some say it's genes, some say it's spice and some say it's salt. In terms of spice and salt, in Oriental medicine, too much salt and spice lead to a concept we call "dampness." And "dampness" can lead to something we call "phlegm" which can become tumors (tumors are viewed as masses of "phlegm").

                                                1. re: moh

                                                  The leading theory (and I don't think its proven) is the high salt intake in the Korean & Japanese diets. Other populations who eat similar amounts of Chile don't have elevated gastric cancer rates... as a matter of fact they have lower gastric cancer rates than populations that don't eat chiles.

                                                  Further almost all spices whether Chiles, Cinanmmon, Cloves etc., are absolutely packed with good phytochemicals. Consider that Cinammon has a compound that acts similarly as Aspirin with regards to improving cardiovascular vitals.

                                                  1. re: Eat_Nopal

                                                    The salt is indeed the leading theory right now. I know that there are places where chile spice is common without the same gastric cancer rates as Koreans and Japanese. That's where the genes, salt and perhaps many fermented foods may come in. The Koreans and Japanese do both share their love for pickles. While fermentation is indeed seen as a healthy thing, perhaps too much of it can cause problems. Too much of anything, no matter how good it is, will cause problems. I've seen problems from people taking too much acai berry, even though it's touted as a "superfood." When I'm talking about spice, I was referring to the chiles. Too much chile spice can lead to what I call "dampness." Cinnamon, garlic, cloves, etc are actually known as beneficial spices. In Oriental medicine, cinnamon is seeing as increasing circulation (hence the improvement in cardiovascular trials), strengthening the Kidneys and helping pain, especially where pain is coming from cold issues, and is widely used in Traditional herbal formulas. But too much of anything will lead to imbalances and problems in people.

                                                    There's always new stuff coming up all the time, and you see lots of people jumping on the bandwagon, perhaps doing more harm to their bodies. And then you've got people who think they know almost everything there is about the human body. We've only scratched the surface. The human body is a marvelous, complicated thing. I think there is something to be said to listen to wisdom from centuries of observations people have made. While a lot of people were saying this for years and years, it was just a few months ago that they decided to classify shift work as a carcinogen. And I also think it's prudent to continue doing research. Both things need to be taken into account. We don't live in the same type of world as people thousands of years ago did when these observations were made.

                                                    1. re: Miss Needle

                                                      Native Mexico also has an advanced body of Holistic Medicine.... not as well documented or promoted is that in India or the Far East but certainly its equal. Its interesting that it has some similar concepts of Hot & Cold foods as in Ayurvedic & other Eastern traditions & so forth.

                                                      During the colonial era several Europeans did an exhaustive cataloging of Mesoamerican medicine and many herbs became part of mainstream European traditions/

                                                      With that said Chiles are highly venerated in Mesoamerican medicine (the Holistic tradition that has the greatest experience with Chiles.... only 6,000 years of extensive use). Everything in moderation.

                                                      1. re: Eat_Nopal

                                                        So true about the moderation. I do find a lot of traditional systems of medicine fascinating. If I'm visiting a new country, I try to seek it out to learn more about it. Interesting about the traditional Mexican medicine and how it embodies those hot and cold concepts.

                                                        Energetically, your namesake is seen as a very cold food. Perhaps that balances out a lot of chiles in the cuisine.

                                                        1. re: Miss Needle

                                                          Fascinating... I think Nopales are also considered a Cold food in Mexican tradition.

                                          2. re: nofunlatte

                                            Fermented pickled vegetables can actually have more bioavailable nutritional value than raw. That's why they are so good for you!

                                      2. Since I'm diabetic I tend to categorize foods according to carbohydrate content first, fat and protein content second. This is just from the standpoint of planning a balanced meal -- obviously, these are not the only nutrients that matter. Anything with more than about 3-4g carbohydrate per ounce counts as a starch, rather than a vegetable (unless it's a fruit). For example, potatoes are about 5g carb per ounce, sweet potatoes 7-9g per ounce: definitely starches. Green beans, at 2g carb per ounce, are clearly vegetables, not starches. I know a lot of people count winter squash as starches, but they're typically in the range of 3g carb per ounce, so as far as I'm concerned they're vegetables. I count avocados as fats, more or less the same category as nuts, though nuts also have more proteins.

                                        I have to say, though, that I find this way of looking at food deeply depressing. For the first few years after I was diagnosed with diabetes, I weighed and measured everything I ate and looked up all the carb, fat, and protein values in a big nutritional reference book. After about five years of this I got to the point where I could look at a plate of food and think "okay, that's about 4 units of insulin, and it's low enough in fat that I don't have to do a combination bolus" or "let's see, I've got a sandwich, so if I'm figuring 6 units of insulin total for the meal I that's a nectarine and half a cup of yogurt." And then, mercifully, I sit down and enjoy my meal. In other words, most of the calculations now go under the radar, for which I am duly grateful. I certainly eat a healthier and in most ways more satisfying diet than I did before I was diagnosed with diabetes, but these days I look back at the period when I was obsessing about nutrients and think "I'm so glad that's over."

                                        2 Replies
                                        1. re: jlafler

                                          Jlafler, I am very impressed with how much effort you put into controlling your diabetes. I see a lot of patients with end stage diabetes, and I can tell you it can be a very difficult disease. I have also seen some really amazing health benefits from controlling diabetes, and I can honestly say you are doing the right thing. It can be difficult, but keep up the good work, it will be worth it in the end. I wish all my patients could be as diligent as you are.

                                          1. re: jlafler

                                            I'm a type II, and I feel for you, my friend. My last boss was an insulin-dependent diabetic, and when we went out for lunch, I could see the wheels turning as he calculated the amount of insulin he needed. All I need to do if I have a very carb heavy meal is take an extra pill.

                                            But, like you, carb calculations figure greatly in my meal planning. I used to eat a lot of corn, potatoes, and peas, and thought I was doing good by myself, until I learned that I was doing the exact opposite. Now, my vegetables are limited to lettuces, cucumbers, tomatoes, bell peppers, onions, broccoli, cabbage, carrots, and cauliflower. (I classify avocados and olives as fruits.) I might have a baked potato once a month, but I scoop out and discard most of the flesh (and if I'm having it at Wendy's, fill the inside with their chili to add more protein and fibre). Sweet potatoes and squash are only enjoyed occasionally, although I like using spaghetti squash in place of pastas when I can find it.

                                            Fruits were a real disappointment; I found that many of the things I thought were healthy, like melons and citrus fruit, were very high in carbs and sugars. Now I'm mostly limited to apples, peaches, and pears, along with berries. And juices are almost all out of the question (although I've noticed an increasing number of "light" cocktails, with some of the sugar replaced with Splenda; I can take these in moderation.)

                                            It's a nuisance counting carbs, but it's better than the alternative! I wish you the best of luck combatting this insidious disease.

                                          2. No disrespect for your mother... but much of the things the ADA used to endorse a few decades ago has been discounted by more recent evidence & generations of dietitians. My wife is an R.D. and is part of the wave of Holistic minded scientists who are weary of simplistic dietary regulations. She would no doubt scoff at the idea of fake vegetables.... the misunderstood potato, for example, is a nutrient super power... one of the best sources of Potassium & Vitamin C around.

                                            Pickling vegetables great improves many of their anti-oxidant abilities (the vinegar itself is an anti-oxidant... not all pickles are high in Sodium or Salt)... and the process often makes some nutrients & phytochemicals MORE available than methods traditional Nutrition might advocate (steaming which leaches a huge % of water soluble vitamins).

                                            2 Replies
                                            1. re: Eat_Nopal

                                              While my mother's perspective food has influenced how I think - I in no way wanted to put forth my opinions as those of the Dietetic profession at all. My issue with pickling (and green beans) is entirely related to how I see food. I also happen to think of parsnips as vegetables - despite knowing that factually they're about as starchy as potatoes.

                                              And the notion of "fake vegetables" is in line with the idea of someone having fried potatoes and ketchup and calling that two vegetables. My mom primarily works with overweight kids and teens who come from low income homes - where that kind of thinking does exist. She had one family where they talked about "drinking salad" because they'd use that much ranch dressing that they'd consume their ice berg lettuce and ranch with a spoon. So "fake vegetables" doesn't come from the idea that they can't be healthy and offer quality nutrients - just the way that they're often consumed (as a replacement for a dark leafy green or after being prepared in an unhealthy manner) doesn't provide that.

                                              My inquiry is more along the lines of seeing how people view "healthy" vs "unhealthy" food either based on what they do/eat now or how they were raised.

                                              1. re: cresyd

                                                speaking of "drinking salad"...ugh reminds me of that awful hidden valley ranch dressing commercial. You know the one where kids are eating popcorn containers of cauliflowers (made to look like popcorn) and DOUSING it in ranch dressing to kind of simulate melted butter. I bet that's just as bad for you as fake melted butter

                                            2. I consider and avocado a fruit, and do not waste my time counting my veggies on a daily basis. I know I get enough by eating a balanced diet

                                              1 Reply
                                              1. re: swsidejim

                                                Eating a balanced diet is so easy if you don't overthink it. Unfortunately most Americans have been too far assaulted with conflicting claims & most importantly marketing claims. Further, in a consumerist society where a typical supermarket store has 5,000 + items to choose from, and most people can afford most types of food.... there is absolutely no connection to nature, the seasons etc.,

                                                But eating right is rather easy.... if your urine is clear, you crap 1 to 3 times a day, the consistency is right, and your weight is stable.... that is pretty much all you have to think about.

                                              2. I don't overthink it. Potatoes and sweetcorn are starches, everything else savoury and 'growing' is a vegetable. Sweet potato and squash are vegetables if you eat them without adding sugar (add sugar and they instantly become dessert!) Not counting condiments of course... you don't eat enough condiments in a sitting for them to count as 'a vegetable', they're a flavouring for the rest of your meal. I don't really count pickles as a vegetable either, because you're only eating about four slices at a time - they're a condiment too.

                                                2 Replies
                                                1. re: Kajikit

                                                  I think you are still overthinking it.... it sounds like you are counting vegetables in the traditional American sense that a meal SHOULD have your protein, your starch, your vegetable etc., There isn't any thing wrong with a balance... but people should be approaching meals by how its going to make their bodies feel and not penny pinching on "did I get my vegetable this meal"... so much of the American psyche about food relates to... what is the least effort I have to put in to get X... instead of just focusing on the end result. Piss well. Crap well. Sleep well. Live well.

                                                  1. re: Kajikit

                                                    Potatoes and corn ARE vegetables. All right.... starchy vegetables, but vegetables none the less. Potatoes are a good source of Potassium. That's very important to me since I am consistenly low in vitamin K....and yes I know there are other sources too.

                                                  2. pico de gallo is my daily veg --