Proper definition of vegetables (and grains and legumes and seeds)

Answered on August 19, 2014
Created June 26, 2012 at 5:47 PM

So I'd like to tell people to eat their veggies, and then point out that that doesn't mean they should eat grains and legumes. But I also want to do it accurately. Which I guess means I have several questions regarding definitions of things in terms of colloquial, culinary, botanical, and any other usage. One thing that came to mind when I was thinking about this was the Paleo Summit talk by Mat Lalonde, where he said something like it's actually more appropriate for us to say that we avoid seeds (from memory, so not exact).

So, are grains and legumes vegetables? Are they seeds? Are seeds vegetables? I know that sometimes it's said that "vegetable oils" are really "seed oil" but is that just splitting hairs to CW people, or are they actually distinct but people would still get confused anyway because of stuff like vegetable oils?

Or maybe another way to put it, if I put a foot note to the word veggies with "(blank) are not veggies", what should go in blank?


  • 5fb654380d04ac372b750ca3faad2e99

    asked by

  • Views
  • Last Activity
    1431D AGO
Frontpage book

Get FREE instant access to our Paleo For Beginners Guide & 15 FREE Recipes!

2 Answers


on June 26, 2012
at 06:32 PM

I've found that using the term "green vegetables" is a clear enough term to get my point across to most people. They usually get that corn, potatoes, and dried beans are not in that category, and that I'm talking about broccoli, kale, etc.

Not every plant food is a vegetable. Grains are not vegetables--they are grains. Beans are not vegetables (unless we're talking snow peas or haricots verts)--they are legumes.

The terminology gets a little confusing because historically "vegetable" referred to leafy plants in general, or to products derived from them. I remember playing the old childhood guessing game where one of the first questions asked about the mystery item was, "Animal, Vegetable, or Mineral?" as a means of narrowing down possibilities--the oak kitchen table was "Vegetable" in that case because it came from a plant. But you couldn't exactly chop it up, sautee it, and serve it alongside a steak!

So when 19th century industrial chemists started coming up with oils derived from various plant seeds, calling them "vegetable" oils made sense, given the common classifications for things at the time.

And I also suspect that the term "vegetable oil" has stuck because of marketing. Vegetables are commonly perceived as wholesome, healthy foods, and have been since the first seed oils hit the market. So using the term "vegetable oil" implies that these seed oils have the same healthful, nutritious properties as the "vegetables" they are derived from.



on June 26, 2012
at 05:56 PM

From Wiki:

"The noun vegetable means an edible plant or part of a plant, but usually excludes seeds and most sweet fruit. This typically means the leaf, stem, or root of a plant."

"In a non-biological sense, the meaning of this word is largely based on culinary and cultural tradition. Therefore, the application of the word is somewhat arbitrary and subjective. For example, some people consider mushrooms to be vegetables even though they are not biologically plants, while others consider them a separate food category."

So vegetable can mean any thing that is a plant, which would be almost all non-animal food. But from a paleo perspective, tubers, seeds (nuts/legumes/cereal grains) and fruit are not veggies. Everything else is. As Humpty Dumpty says to Alice: "Words can mean whatever I want them to mean."

Although tomatoes and avocados are obvious exceptions (fruits that are considered vegetables).

Answer Question

Get FREE instant access to our
Paleo For Beginners Guide & 15 FREE Recipes!