Vegetables are parts of plants that are consumed by humans as food as part of a meal. The original term is still commonly used and is applied to plants collectively to refer to all edible plant matter, including the flowers, fruits, stems, leaves, roots, and seeds. The alternate definition of the term vegetable is applied somewhat arbitrarily, often by culinary and cultural tradition. It may exclude foods derived from some plants that are fruits, nuts, and cereal grains, but include fruits from others such as tomatoes and courgettes and seeds such as pulses.
Originally, vegetables were collected from the wild by hunter-gatherers and entered cultivation in several parts of the world, probably during the period 10,000 BC to 7,000 BC, when a new agricultural way of life developed. At first, plants which grew locally would have been cultivated, but as time went on, trade brought exotic crops from elsewhere to add to domestic types. Nowadays, most vegetables are grown all over the world as climate permits, and crops may be cultivated in protected environments in less suitable locations. China is the largest producer of vegetables and global trade in agricultural products allows consumers to purchase vegetables grown in faraway countries. The scale of production varies from subsistence farmers supplying the needs of their family for food, to agribusinesses with vast acreages of single-product crops. Depending on the type of vegetable concerned, harvesting the crop is followed by grading, storing, processing, and marketing.
Vegetables can be eaten either raw or cooked and play an important role in human nutrition, being mostly low in fat and carbohydrates, but high in vitamins, minerals and dietary fiber. Many nutritionists encourage people to consume plenty of fruit and vegetables, five or more portions a day often being recommended.
Nutrition and health
Vegetables play an important role in human nutrition. Most are low in fat and calories but are bulky and filling.They supply dietary fiber and are important sources of essential vitamins, minerals, and trace elements. Particularly important are the antioxidant vitamins A, C, and E. When vegetables are included in the diet, there is found to be a reduction in the incidence of cancer, stroke, cardiovascular disease, and other chronic ailments. Research has shown that, compared with individuals who eat less than three servings of fruits and vegetables each day, those that eat more than five servings have an approximately twenty percent lower risk of developing coronary heart disease or stroke The nutritional content of vegetables varies considerably; some contain useful amounts of protein though generally they contain little fat, and varying proportions of vitamins such as vitamin A, vitamin K, and vitamin B6; provitamins; dietary minerals; and carbohydrates.
However, vegetables often also contain toxins and antinutrients which interfere with the absorption of nutrients. These include α-solanine, α-chaconine, enzyme inhibitors (of cholinesterase, protease, amylase, etc.), cyanide and cyanide precursors, oxalic acid, and others. These toxins are natural defenses, used to ward off the insects, predators and fungi that might attack the plant. Some beans contain phytohaemagglutinin, and cassava roots contain cyanogenic glycoside as do bamboo shoots. These toxins can be deactivated by adequate cooking. Green potatoes contain glycoalkaloids and should be avoided.
Fruit and vegetables, particularly leafy vegetables, have been implicated in nearly half the gastrointestinal infections caused by norovirus in the United States. These foods are commonly eaten raw and may become contaminated during their preparation by an infected food handler. Hygiene is important when handling foods to be eaten raw, and such products need to be properly cleaned, handled, and stored to limit contamination.