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updated: 1/16/2013 2:37 PM

Fruits, vegetables deliver healthy living

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  • People who eat a lot of fresh fruits and vegetables are less likely to suffer from chronic illnesses.

    People who eat a lot of fresh fruits and vegetables are less likely to suffer from chronic illnesses.
    Courtesy of Abe Landes for United Fresh Produce As

By J. Hope Babowice
Kids ink

"What is the most eaten fruit in the USA?," asked a student in Jen Janik's third-grade class at Big Hollow Elementary School in Ingleside.

Let's start by understanding what a fruit is.

Shelby Rajkovich, a spokeswoman for the United Fresh Produce Association in Washington, D.C., said, "We define a fruit as something with seeds and by how it's propagated. Fruits are perennials that grow on trees or bushes."

The organization keeps records on fruit sales at grocery stores across the U.S.

The top-selling fruit in the third quarter of 2012 was berries (strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, and currants), which brought in an average of $3,755 each week to grocery stores.

The big surprise was avocados, which nearly doubled in sales over 2011. The price dropped in a year, and marketers have been pitching avocados as a great go-together with sporting events when eaten as a guacamole topping on burgers and at barbecues.

Other top-selling fruits that had strong sales -- grapes, cherries and melons -- also saw price decreases over the year before.

Haven't found a fruit you like to eat? Dr. Rebecca Unger, who is affiliated with the nutrition clinic at the Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children's Hospital of Chicago, said parents should continue to provide fruits and vegetables at every meal.

"Don't give up. Share portions. That helps children to choose healthier foods and try a bigger variety," Unger said.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Center for Nutrition and Policy and first lady Michelle Obama's "Let's Move!" campaign recommends the health benefits of eating fruits and vegetables.

People who eat a lot of fresh fruits and vegetables are less likely to suffer from chronic illnesses.

"Let's Move!" encourages schools and communities grow their own produce. Rajkovich supports that idea -- she grew up on a California cherry farm and lists cherries as her favorite fruit. "I like to eat them fresh off the tree."

Unger digs into the idea of planting your own fruits and vegetables, and tried it for the first time this past summer.

"It's really exciting when children are encouraged to grow a window box," she said.

She advised selecting a variety produce for a home garden and for your dinner plate.

"The more color, the better it is for you. Try a purple potato or dark leafy greens," Unger said, adding her garden was full of collard greens, which she enjoyed.

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