Starving Dietitian

Nutty Name Game

As I sit here studying for my Registered Dietitian exam, poring over years of notes and scribbles, I realize how confusing nutrition nomenclature can be.

Nomenclature is very simply why things are called what we call them. Like the difference between a fruit and a berry.

The most frustrating part of it all, is that it applies even to names we think we understand.

You think you know what a nut is? What if I hold up a peanut?


If you guessed that peanuts are not in fact nuts, you’d be correct, and in the minority. They are actually in the bean (legume) family.

Ok, here’s an easier one. Is a strawberry a berry?


Sadly they aren’t. In fact by some definitions they aren’t even fruits! Their actual classification is what’s known as a pseudofruit.

I can tell this is going to take some work.

By definition a berry  is a simple fruit having seeds and pulp produced from a single ovary.

Generally, if it has a fleshy exterior with non-pitted seeds on the inside, it’s a berry.

Pitted seeds, like almonds, have little holes around them.


Some of the more surprising “berries” include avocado, banana, tomato, and watermelon.

The term “fruit” itself is confusing because a mushroom cap for instance can be considered a fruiting body, but itself is not a fruit.

At least by definition, all true berries are fruits but not all fruits are berries.

Nuts and Seeds are even more tangled.


A nut is a fruit composed of a hard shell and a seed, where the hard-shelled fruit does not open to release the seed.

So in the case of walnuts, the nut includes the shell and makes up the majority of the fruit itself. At no point in it’s life does the nut open without some external force crushing or decomposing the shell.


Some odd “non-nut” foods include, almonds, cashews, pistachios, macadamias, and as mentioned before, peanuts.

The reason almonds specifically aren’t nuts is because they come from drupe fruits, otherwise known as stone fruits, which makes them a seed.

Why they ever chose to make this distinction I’m still not sure.

In trying to classify them all, I ended up with a few tips.

1) If it grows in the earth, it’s not a nut.

2) If it normally comes in a sealed, shiny, unpitted shell it’s probably a nut.

3) If you can see the seeds on the outside, it’s not a true berry.

4) If they naturally drop out of the shell, or the shell opens (think pistachios) they are likely seeds.

5) Without the original fruit, shell, or plant, it’s almost impossible to distinguish nuts from seeds.

Altogether I left feeling unsatisfied. Maybe it’s because we’re so free with our culinary use of these terms, maybe it’s because most people don’t really need to distinguish between them. All I know, is that the people who came up with these designations are nuts…or was it seeds?

Be good to each other.

– Joshua Iufer

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