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VEGETABLES, as classified in this group, are mainly annual plants cultivated as field and garden crops in the open and under glass, and used almost exclusively for food. Vegetables grown principally for animal feed or seed should be excluded. Certain plants, normally classified as cereals and pulses, belong to this group when harvested green, such as green maize, green peas, etc. This grouping differs from international trade classifications for vegetables in that it includes melons and watermelons, which are normally considered to be fruit crops. But whereas fruit crops are virtually all permanent crops, melons and watermelons are similar to vegetables in that they are temporary crops. Chilies and green peppers are included in this grouping when they are harvested for consumption as vegetables and not processed into spices.

FAO production data for green peas and green bean refer to the total weight including pods, although some countries report on a shelled weight basis. The weight of the pod’s ranges from 40 to 50 percent for peas to up to 70 percent for broad beans. Area data on small vegetable gardens are often omitted in agricultural surveys, although production estimates may be reported.

Trade data for fresh vegetables also include chilled vegetables, meaning the temperature of the products has been reduced to around 0% without the products being frozen. Vegetables contain principally water, accounting for between 70 percent and 95 percent of their weight. They are low in nutrients, but contain minerals and vitamins. FAO covers 27 primary vegetable products. Each is listed along with its code, botanical name, or names, and a short description.

PRODUCTS DERIVED FROM VEGETABLES refer to processed products. Apart from a few main products, international trade classifications do not permit a sufficiently detailed classification of processed products according to the primary commodity used in the preparation. A similar situation prevails for frozen vegetables.

Vegetable Nutrition

Fresh vegetables are naturally low in fat, salt and sugar, making them an excellent food choice. Vegetables provide energy, vitamins, minerals and fibre and there is growing evidence of additional health benefits from a range of phytonutrients.

Some vegetables contain higher levels of carbohydrate and are often called starchy vegetables. These are usually rooting and tubers such as potatoes, yams, kumara, taro and sweet corn. The starchy vegetables are higher in energy (kilojoules) because of their carbohydrate content.

Other vegetables are classified as non-starchy. Non-starchy vegetables tend to have a higher water content, and are lower in energy but often richer in vitamins and minerals. Aim to make half your dinner vegetables and choose a range of different colored vegetables. About one-quarter of the plate should be starchy foods for energy.

Phytonutrients, these are naturally occurring plant compounds. There are thousands of these different phytonutrients in vegetables, usually in small amounts. Plants produce them for their own protection from insects or bacteria, as pigments for photosynthesis (energy production) and flavor. They are often responsible for the bright colors of fruits and vegetables, and research is showing that these compounds may help reduce the risk of disease and promote health. Examples of phytonutrients are lycopene in tomatoes, beta-carotene in carrots and glucosinolates in broccoli.

There is no single magic phytonutrient that can be isolated and turned into a daily tablet! The most protective effect comes from eating a wide variety of phytonutrients as they occur naturally in plant foods.

Phytonutrients may work in lots of different ways to protect against disease and promote health. Modes of action that are being investigated include anti-inflammatory activity, boosting the body’s antioxidant defenses, modulating gut microflora, lowering cholesterol, fighting bacteria and supporting the body’s immunity.

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