It’s not particularly common knowledge, but fruits and vegetables have historically been categorized by type. The foods in each category are often similar enough that they share the same general characteristics, and your kitchen--and eating habits--can often benefit from knowing just what those characteristics are, and what to eat in order to access or avoid them.
This Latin-based name originally comes from the shape of these vegetables’ flowers, which have four petals and are roughly cross-shaped. The list of cruciferous vegetables includes cauliflower, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, kale, radishes, and cabbage. Cruciferous vegetables can be delicious raw or roasted, and are particularly high in vitamin C, vitamin A, and fiber (look for dark green cruciferous vegetables to maximize vitamin content). Give these vegetables a try if you’re looking to boost your immune system or improve digestion!
A legume is a dry fruit from the plant family Fabaceae that is found within a shell or pod. From this description, you can probably guess that a few prime examples of legumes are chickpeas, lentils, peas, and an impressive variety of beans. Legumes have some great health benefits, including offering high amounts of fiber, vitamin B, protein, and even reducing cholesterol. Partly because of their high fiber and protein content, legumes are also very filling. Legumes feature prominently in foods around the world, and can easily be incorporated into other foods to provide a protein boost.
The nightshade vegetables got their ominous name from the alkaloids found in some members of the species. Alkaloids include nicotine, morphine, and caffeine; fortunately, nightshade vegetables can also be particularly delicious. Eggplant, tomatoes, potatoes, and peppers are all nightshade vegetables. While all of these vegetables contain useful vitamins (studies have found that several of them can help combat inflammation), keep in mind that nightshade vegetables (and their alkaloids) can also potentially irritate your digestive system. If you’ve been experiencing digestive problems, you might try cutting nightshade vegetables out of your diet to see if it has any effect.
Believe it or not, nuts are actually a category of fruit, although the classification can get a little complicated (peanuts, for example, are legumes!). These dry fruits have a range of tastes and textures, giving them excellent variety. They are great in salads, desserts, or even just as snacks. More importantly, nuts are full of nutrients. Nuts are loaded with fiber, protein, and antioxidants, among other benefits. Nuts are also high in fat and calories, which, depending on your diet, might be something you’re looking for or something you’d rather avoid.
If you’ve ever enjoyed the taste of onions, garlic, leeks, scallions, or chives, you’ve tasted an allium vegetable. These vegetables have such strong flavors thanks to high levels of healthy sulphur compounds. They also have some unexpected health benefits, including helping to reduce tumors and cancer. Consider adding a few allium vegetables to your next salad, roast dinner, or stir-fry for a great taste and a few extra vitamins as well!
Root vegetables are a slightly broader category. Some vegetables fit into this category as well as others; potatoes, for example, are nightshade vegetables and root vegetables, and onions are allium vegetables while also being considered root vegetables. However, root vegetables also include carrots, turnips, sweet potatoes, and yams. Many of these vegetables are very dense in vitamins. Sweet potatoes and carrots, for example, are loaded with vitamin A, which is a great vitamin for healthy teeth, skin, and vision. Turnips are rich in calcium, and potatoes are a good source of potassium. However, root vegetables also tend to have a lot of starch. Eating more starch than your body needs can result in your body turning the remaining starches into fats and sugars, which can have negative health effects. While this is something to keep in mind, overall root vegetables can be a healthy source of vitamins and minerals.