In culinary terms, a vegetable is an edible plant or its part, intended for cooking or eating raw.
The non-biological definition of a vegetable is largely based on culinary and cultural tradition. Apart from vegetables, other main types of plant food are fruits, grains and nuts. Vegetables are most often consumed as salads or cooked in savory or salty dishes, while culinary fruits are usually sweet and used for desserts, but it is not the universal rule. Therefore, the division is somewhat arbitrary, based on cultural views. For example, some people consider mushrooms to be vegetables even though they are not biologically plants, while others consider them a separate food category; some cultures group potatoes with cereal products such as noodles or rice, while most English speakers would consider them vegetables.
Some vegetables can be consumed raw, while some, such as cassava, must be cooked to destroy certain natural toxins or microbes in order to be edible. A number of processed food items available on the market contain vegetable ingredients and can be referred to as “vegetable derived” products. These products may or may not maintain the nutritional integrity of the vegetable used to produce them.
Vegetables are eaten in a variety of ways, as part of main meals and as snacks. The nutritional content of vegetables varies considerably, though generally they contain little protein or fat, and varying proportions of vitamins such as Vitamin A, Vitamin K and Vitamin B6, provitamins, dietary minerals and carbohydrates. Vegetables contain a great variety of other phytochemicals, some of which have been claimed to have antioxidant, antibacterial, antifungal, antiviral and anticarcinogenic properties. Some vegetables also contain fiber, important for gastrointestinal function. Vegetables contain important nutrients necessary for healthy hair and skin as well. A person who refrains from dairy and meat products, and eats only plants (including vegetables) are known as a vegan.