Nuts are one of the most popular snack foods. They’re not only tasty but also good for you, especially when it comes to heart health.
However, you may wonder which food group nuts belong to — fruits or vegetables?
This article digs into the details.
To understand whether nuts are vegetables or fruits, it’s important to understand the differences between these two food groups.
Fruits and vegetables are divided into botanical and culinary classifications.
Botanical classification is based on the structure and functions of plants. While fruits grow from the flowers of plants and have seeds for reproduction, vegetables are all other parts of the plant, including the roots, stems, and leaves (1).
On the other hand, culinary classification depends on taste. In this case, fruits tend to be sweet or tart and work best in desserts, snacks, smoothies, pastries, or juices. Conversely, vegetables are mild, savory, or bitter and work better in sides, stews, soups, salads, and casseroles.
Botanically, fruits grow from the flowers of plants and contain seeds, while vegetables are the plant’s other parts. Yet, from a culinary perspective, fruits are sweet or tart, while vegetables are mild, savory, or bitter.
Botanically, nuts are classified as a fruit that has a single edible seed with a hard, inedible outer shell. They’re considered indehiscent, which means that their shell doesn’t open when ripe (2).
However, a lot of foods that people consider nuts are really the seeds of drupes — fruits whose flesh surrounds a single shell with a seed inside (3).
For example, almonds, cashews, Brazil nuts, walnuts, pecans, macadamia nuts, pistachios, pine nuts, and most other nuts are botanically the seeds of drupes.
Meanwhile, true nuts include chestnuts, acorns, and hazelnuts.
Interestingly, peanuts — one of the most popular nuts in the world — are technically a legume and thus botanically a vegetable. However, peanuts’ nutrient profile and characteristics are closer to that of other nuts.
Nutritionally, most nuts’ nutrient composition resembles legumes rather than fruit due to their high protein content.
From a culinary perspective, the term “nuts” is more relaxed and in line with what most people think are nuts — large, oily kernels found within a shell.
Botanically, most nuts are the seeds of a fruit, while true nuts — such as chestnuts, acorns, and hazelnuts — are fruits in and of themselves. Peanuts are the exception, as they’re legumes — and thus technically vegetables.
Although most nuts are botanically considered seeds, they’re still very healthy.
Nuts are an excellent source of plant-based protein, fat, fiber, antioxidants, and key vitamins and minerals, including vitamin E, magnesium, copper, and selenium (
In addition, they have been linked to many health benefits, such as reduced inflammation and improved heart health, blood sugar control, and digestion (
Current dietary guidelines in the United States treat nuts as a protein source rather than fruits or vegetables due to their high protein content (
However, as nuts are also high in calories, 0.5 ounces (14 grams) of nuts or seeds is considered equivalent to 1 ounce (28 grams) of other protein sources, such as meat, poultry, eggs, or seafood.
As such, you should eat nuts in small portions and in place of other protein-rich foods (
Nuts are versatile and can be enjoyed whole, chopped, or as nut butters. They’re widely available and can be bought roasted, raw, salted, unsalted, and flavored.
That said, some packaged varieties harbor additives, including salt, sugar, and preservatives. Thus, it’s best to check the ingredient list and choose raw or dry-roasted options when possible.
Nuts are a scrumptious food loaded with protein, healthy fat, fiber, and several vitamins and minerals. They’re best consumed in moderation due to their high calorie count.
Most nuts, such as almonds, walnuts, and cashews, are botanically defined as seeds rather than fruit. Yet, a handful of true nuts like chestnuts and hazelnuts are technically fruits.
The lone exception is peanuts, which are a legume.
From a culinary perspective, nuts are widely utilized as a plant-based protein and make a healthy, simple addition to your diet.