Dear Lucy: I’ve heard that an individual on a 2,000-calorie-per-day diet should be eating two cups of fruit and two and a half cups of vegetables per day. I happen to like veggies more than fruit. Can I substitute an additional cup of vegetables for one of the cups of fruit? —Age of Asparagus
Dear Asparagus: Fruit and vegetable recommendations are often the source of much discussion. But the real question is this: From the perspective of a balanced, healthy diet, what is the difference between fruits and vegetables?
Not much, answers MIT Medical nutritionist Anna Jasonides, R.D. “Fruits and vegetables provide many of the same nutrients, including vitamin A, vitamin C, potassium, folate, and dietary fiber,” Jasonides tells Lucy. In fact, many foods that would be botanically classified as fruits (defined as “the mature ovary of a seed plant”) are considered vegetables by most people— including cucumbers, eggplant, green or red peppers, tomatoes, and zucchini.
The bottom line, Jasonides concludes, is that as long as you are eating a variety of types and colors, fruit-vegetable substitution is fine, in either direction. Just watch your calories, she warns. “In general, fruits have about twice the number of calories as vegetables,” she notes, so substituting veggies for fruits will mean making up the calorie difference by eating more, while substituting fruits for veggies will require borrowing calories from your discretionary allowance.
Happy veggie eating! — Lucy